Wairaurahiri River (II+)

Packraft the southern tip of Te Waipounamu

This is a magnificent packrafting mission with loads of variety: a gorgeous remote lake, a grade II+ river, great huts, fascinating history and loads of route options, depending on time, preference and weather.

Although ‘just’ grade II+ this river is challenging for the grade; so it is not recommended for beginners.

Despite being relatively remote, it is frequently traveled by jetboats (commercial and private). Packrafters should let the commercial jet boat companies (Wairaurahiri Jet and Wairaurahiri Wilderness Jet) know the time and date they expect to start downriver. There is a river users logbook at Teal Bay hut. It is essential that groups read the book and enter thier intentions. See the hazards section of this page for more information about staying safe around jetboats.

Thanks to Jamie McAuley for the descriptions and Janet Musker, Dan Clearwater, Alan Swann & Philip Watson for the photographs. Also to Sue Galloway for feedback and suggestions.

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Trip options

There are loads of ways to bring together a trip involving the Wairaurahiri. Below are a few options, no doubt there are more!

4-5 day loop from Rarakau Carpark/Te Waewae Bay

  1. Rarakau to the Hump, to Teal bay (10hrs. With a tent, time and fine weather, camp near the Hump!)
  2. Paddle the Wairaurahiri to Wairaurahiri Hut, (roughly 5-6hrs)
  3. South Coast Track to Port Craig Hut (6hrs DOC time)
  4. Port Craig Hut to Rarakau Carpark (7hrs DOC time)

5 day loop from Lake Hauroko

  1. Hauroko boat ramp to Teal Bay (via Teal Bay Track 9kms, 9 hours, DOC times. Or lake paddle 4-5hrs in calm conditions)
  2. Paddle the Wairaurahiri to Wairaurahiri Hut (roughly 5-6hrs)
  3. Via the Hump Ridge Track to Okaka Lodge (bookings needed) or tops camp (4-5hrs)
  4. Okaka to Teal Bay (5-6hrs)
  5. Teal Bay to Hauroko Boat Ramp

4 day through trip: Hauroko to Rarakau Carpark

  1. Hauroko boat ramp to Teal Bay (via Teal Bay Track 9kms, 9 hours, DOC times. Or lake paddle 4-5hrs in calm conditions)
  2. Paddle the Wairaurahiri to Wairaurahiri Hut (roughly 5-6hrs)
  3. South Coast Track to Port Craig Hut (6hrs DOC time)
  4. Port Craig Hut to Rarakau Carpark (7hrs DOC time)

Jetboat weekenders

Depending on your packrafting ethics and time constraints, Jetboats can be used to cross Lake Hauroko, as well as shuttle up (and down!) the Wairaurahiri River. These generally mean you’ll need to stay locally on the night before your trip (either at the Hauroko boat ramp or in a nearby town)

Approach options

 A few words about some of the ways for getting to the start of the paddle..

Paddling Lake Hauroko – extreme caution required.

The paddle is about 14km, following the southern coastline of Lake Hauroko. This is a significant distance on flat water in a packraft, with real hazards to manage. Between the boat ramp and the point south of Mary Island, there are plenty of beach landings (subject to lake level!). South of here is more committing, with few beaches until south of the Caroline Burn (a large stream on the opposite western shore)

According to the Kā Huru Manu / Ngāi Tahu Cultural Atlas, the name Hauroko refers to the soughing (rushing/rustling sound) of the wind – a hint at the potential dangers!

Hauroko is the deepest lake in New Zealand, and is well known for extreme winds and rapid changes of weather. Gales from nowhere and waves of several meters are common – enough that local boaties treat Hauroko with extreme caution. Look for a very calm forecast for the whole day, and set off early before any day breezes have a chance to develop.

Once beyond the point south of Mary Island, any wind would mean your options for avoiding the rough water would only include waiting at a beach camp, or escaping by bush bashing up to the Teal Bay Track (which would be rather challenging to state the obvious). Do not underestimate this lake on your packraft!

Have a read of the open water/lake crossing discussion, hazards, techniques and strategies to stay safe on the Hollyford/Pyke page.

If in any doubt, plan to walk the track, or alternatively Johan from Wairaurahiri Jet can take you as far as the outlet for a fee. He runs trips down the river almost daily in the peak season, and dishes out fascinating history about the lake and the river. He can also take drop packs at Wairarahiri Hut or Waitutu Lodge.

Wairaurahiri Wilderness Jet Is another jetboat operator on the river, which may also be able to help with transport/logistics.

Tramping from Rarakau Carpark (South Coast) to Teal Bay

Teal Bay can also be reached from the South Coast via the Hump Ridge (17km, 10 hours). Great alpine tops, with views over the whole route. Provides a nice loop back to your car (either at the beginning or the end). This section of route does not travel on track managed by the Hump Ridge Trust (see below).

Wairaurahiri River (II+)

The steepest commercially jet boated river in the world, the Wairaurahiri drops 150m over 25kms from Lake Hauroko to Foveaux Straight.

Although it is ‘just’ grade II+, it is reasonably challenging for the grade: this paddle is for teams of boaters who are confident and capable at grade II+ as well as efficient at self-rescue.


Continuous sections of whitewater: The river does have pools and large eddies, but there are also long sections of continuous rapids with either micro-eddies or no eddies at all. A flip can mean a very long swim, resulting in extra exposure to the strainers and foot entrapment hazards. Excellent self-rescue and team-rescue skills are required.

Flow dependant. At higher flows there can be some quite large wave trains, which are intimidating for the grade. Also, micro-eddies wash out, making it continuous even for technically competent paddlers.

Lots of strainer hazards: the banks are tree-lined, with lots of strainers present. They are generally easy enough to avoid, if you are looking ahead and staying alert. Strainer rescue kit, such as a folding wood saw, throw-bags, pulleys and the knowledge of what to do is highly reccomended.

Shallow, rocky river: the river is relatively shallow, with lots of boulders, which present a foot-entrapment hazard.

Jetboats: This section has two commercial jetboat operators, plus it is popular with private jet boaters. This can get a bit awkward on the relatively narrow and continuous sections, where neither packrafters nor jet boaters can really stop. Keep your ears peeled, and try to get all to the same side of the river if you hear something coming…. Read the advice about paddling with Jetboats for more general info/tips about keeping safe. It is a good idea to contact Wairaurahiri Jet and Wairaurahiri Wilderness Jet to let them know that you’ll be on the river. They’ll have a great idea of current conditions too.. There is a river users intentions book at Teal Bay Hut, it is essential that you read the book and log your group’s intentions there.


Near the coast, on the true left of the Wairaurahiri is the DOC owned Wairaurahiri Hut. There’s a swingbridge immediately upstream of the hut, which can also be seen from the river.

A few minutes further on, keep an eye out for the sign on the bank for Waitututu Forest Lodge on the true right. (You can see the ocean from the sign!)

It is a unique and cozy backcountry lodge with some creature comforts (pillows, hot showers, full kitchen, drying room, flush toilets etc). It’s owned and run by Waitutu Corporation on land returned under the ‘Landless Natives Act’ 1907, and run as a back to basics ecotourism venture.

Accom is very affordable, with linen and blankets for a modest extra fee. A caretaker is present. Confusingly, Waitutu Lodge is at the mouth of the Wairaurahiri River (true right). (Waitutu River is further west..). If you are walking out from Waitutu lodge, there’s a track from the lodge on the true right of the river which takes you back to the South Coast Track, near the swingbridge.

Return on Foot

Wairaurahiri Hut to Rarakau Carpark via Port Craig and South Coast track.

Walking along old tramways this flat walk takes you over some massive timber viaducts built for getting rimu logs to the sawmill town at Port Craig. Now enveloped in bush, the only buildings remaining at Port Craig are the Lodge (owned by The Hump Ridge Track) and the Old Schoolhouse, which is now the Port Craig School DOC Hut $15 per night.

  • Wairaurahiri to Port Craig – 6 hours, 16 kms.
  • Port Craig to Rarakau carpark – 7 hours 20 km. DOC times.

The track is in excellent condition, so fit walkers can make pretty good time.

Wairaurahiri Hut to Teal Bay Hut/Lake Hauroko via Hump Ridge

This track provides a simple loop back to a car parked at Lake Hauroko, and gets in a stunning alpine traverse. From the Edward Burn Viaduct, head up the Hump Ridge Track toward the Okaka Lodge (private lodge run by the Hump Ridge Trust. From Okaka lodge is ~ 7kms of straightforward tops travel along to ‘the hump’ to join the South Coast to Teal bay track (info above).

The track from Edward Burn was built is managed and maintained by the Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track Trust – a community based charitable organisation. Their staff and legendary volunteers maintain the track and boardwalk in addition to all shelters, toilets, and Okaka lodge itself.

With that in mind, a little additional respect is asked when travelling on this track. The trust requests that you;

  • Call ahead to register that you will be on the track – and consider making a small donation to trail maintenance.
  • Camp at least 500m from the track, and not near the tarns above Okaka lodge (from which they gain water supply). If you head a little further along the ridge there are plenty of good campsites.
  • Take care with your toilet waste, the area is highly visited.
  • Respect the hard work of the trust and the unique culture of this track in NZ.
  • Consider spending some $ in Tuatapere (nights accom/post trip beer) to help out the community!


The river flows from Lake Hauroko, so is usually in condition to paddle. Best bet is to nicely ask one of the jetboat operators about current conditions and flows.

2 Trip reports Log your trip

  1. Julie Paterson says:

    Due to logistical constraints (weather, jetboats not operating dsily etc) we ended up doing a day trip: jetboat to river. Paddled the river. Got jetboat back ftom the coast to boat ramp. Cost was $250 pp for jetboat. We went with Wairaurahiri Wilderness Jet (Roffy) who waited for all packrafters at the beach below the first three bigger rapids in the first third of the river. We met him at Waitutu lodge at the end and returned after a cup of tea. Roffy is very flexible, professional and helpful. If you are having problems with any logistics, just call him to discuss There is also the option of him picking up your raft/gear after the paddle so you csn walk out without it.

    • Date of your trip -29.1.25
    • Estimated/gauge flow -45-50
    • When did it last rain and how much? -28.1.24, steady rain for a few hours in the afternoon
    • How long did it take to paddle the section described here? -3.5 hrs
    • Any new hazards? -No
  2. Matt says:

    Awesome pack raft trip with many options for access.
    We decided to take the jet boat in to Teal bay, left our packs at the hut and went up the hump for the afternoon!
    Very chill paddle out to the coast the following morning and on to Port Craig. If conditions where good a paddling straight across the bay to the mouth of the Waikoau would be the move. We walked the south coast track back to Rarakau carpark. Wairaurahiri jet where happy to help with the shuttle.

    • Date of your trip -8/1/24
    • Estimated/gauge flow -normal/low
    • When did it last rain and how much? -
    • How long did it take to paddle the section described here? -3.5hrs
    • Any new hazards? -n/a

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