The Young is well established as a hard-shell kayaking trip when the river is up and a bit discolored. At those flows, Whitewater NZ River guide site talks about a crux IV/V rapid.
At normal flows, it is a fantastic day trip for strong packrafters, easily accessible from the Haast Pass highway.
The Young is situated in the Makarora area of Mount Aspiring National Park and is a part of the popular Gillespies Pass circuit, which can be turned into a packrafting trip by paddling out the lower Wilkin.
On the Young, the rapids are generally in the Class III / IV range for the first 5km, before easing off to class II and I for the last 2km from Ram Flat to the Makarora confluence. In normal flows the water is crystal clear, and flows through well worn schist boulder gardens. All rapids are easily portaged, either at river level, or using the walking track. At low flows, some rapids become quite bony and are better portaged.
Thanks to Dave Cassaidy for the information and photos for this trip. Check out the video below from Packrafting Queenstown.
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Getting to the mouth of the Young River
Park at the DOC car park at the southern end of Sawmill Flat and walk about 1km following the marked DOC trail to the mouth of the Young River. Here the river can be crossed to join the walking track that follows the TL of the Young to Toung Forks.
It may be better to cross the Makarora downstream of the confluence, and then cross the Young itself to pick up the walking track on the TL bank. The Makarora can be forded upstream of the Young confluence, but if you ford upstream of the bluffs it will connect you with the Blue-Young Link track, which will add a 15-minute climb up and around the bluff before bringing you back to the confluence.
If the river is too high to safely ford the river then you will need to decide at that point if this is the day you want to go paddling as it will almost certainly mean a rowdy trip with more committing rapids and a lower margin of error. In this scenario it might be better to go and paddle the Makarora section past the Blue Pools which goes well at any flow.
Another option for access is to arrange a ride with Wilkin River Jets to the mouth of the Young.
Some paddlers may opt to paddle to the confluence by starting from Bridge Flat, though it is debatable as to whether this is any time saver after accounting for the time to do a shuttle or hitch back to your vehicle.
As of 2023, unfortunately, the Young does have didymo. Make sure you CHECK, CLEAN, DRY your boat to avoid the spread of other unwanted organisms into the Young, as well as preventing didymo getting into other catchments.
From the Young River mouth to put in (2 hours)
The track up the Young allows easy travel on a well formed and well maintained track through beech forest and flats. There are good vantage points along the way to scout some of the rapids.
At GR 953991 there is an obvious slip. Take note of this on the walk-in as the slip is a great place to take out if you want to bypass the crux IV section. You can follow the walking track around the crux section and put on again about 1 km downstream, just as the track comes close to the river again before Ram Flat.
After approximately 2 hours walk you emerge onto river flats about 1500m downstream of the confluence of the North and South branches of the Young. This is the put-in.
On the river
Young Forks to Ram Flat (III+ / IV) ~2 hours
From the put in you can ease into the paddling with some Class II before the first Class III rapids appear as the river leaves the flats. The pools are long and plentiful so there is lots of time to get out and scout.
Depending on flow some rapids may be too burly or too bony but everything is easily portaged. Intermediate paddlers could do this section but expect to portage more of the rapids.
If you’re planning to bypass the IV section, make sure you take out at the slip which you noted on the walk in…..
Just upstream of Ram Flat there is a sequence of steeper and complex rapids which are in the Class IV range. You can scout everything, and pick out the bits you want to paddle. Portaging is best on TR. At above normal flows the speed of the river will make the eddies much smaller and harder to catch. At high flows, hardshell kayakers note a long crux IV/V rapid….
There is one very classy 3m drop in this section that is runnable, but inspect before attempting and set safety.
Ram Flat to take out. (II / I) ~ 1 hour
Immediately above Ram Flat are some Class II boulder gardens.
Which then give way to scenic Class I for the remaining float out to the mouth of the river.
After meeting the Makarora River, continue floating downstream to take out at the walking track directly opposite the Sawmill Flat carpark.
There is no flow gauge for the Young River. If it has been fine for at least a day it is likely to be running clear. After a prolonged dry spell it will probably be too low to be much fun. Putting on up to 5 days after a rain event should be about optimal.
Note: Dave paddled the Young a day after 50mm of rain in the Young catchment, and the flow was fast and pushy. The upper section was all good (a couple of portages) but we opted to walk around the crux section because it was too burly.
Putting on again 3 days later the river was back to low flow and a lot less committing. A couple of rapids were too bony to paddle but everything else was awesome.