Waipara tramping and kayaking adventure
Timon Maxey
/ Categories: Kayaking & Outdoors

Waipara tramping and kayaking adventure

In early January, myself and Eric Bradshaw, seasoned alpine adventurer, went exploring up the Waipara River, hoping to climb up to Cloudmaker Lake. I hoped to get a few good photographs to use as reference for new artworks. We had a good weather window of three days. The Waipara River is a tributary of the large Arawhata River which enters the sea at Jacksons Bay.

It would normally be a 30km walk up the Arawhata valley to the Waipara confluence, but as we had limited time, we decided instead to helicopter up the Waipara, past a horrendously steep looking gorge as far as the edge of the wilderness zone. Eric wasn't so keen on this choppering business as he prefers entirely self propelled adventuring, which I am usually also inclined towards. However, there was no other way to get in and out of this remote place in such a short timeframe.

Choppers are not allowed into the wilderness zone. We stashed our inflatable 'Sally' kayaks at the drop-off point, just downstream of Sutherland Creek and prepared to tramp up the valley to find a campsite. As it is designated a wilderness area, there are no tracks, which makes for pretty heavy going.

There was plenty of burrowing through dense undergrowth and grovelling over and around boulders until we emerged from a gorge to where the valley opened out into a beautiful and remarkable 2 hectare grassy flat where Campbell Creek joins, a perfect campsite.

Our aim the next morning, perhaps an ambitious one, was to climb up Apparition Spur to Lake Cloudmaker, a beautiful Alpine Lake. It took until about 4pm to get to the top of the spur. The last hour or two was very difficult and slow progress through really dense abrasive subalpine scrub. At the top of the spur we met a big band of cliffs hindering further progress. My boots were not up to attempting the cliff, but better equipped Eric went up for a look around while I lay back in the sun and admired the amazing view, while being harassed by a Kea. One day was well short of enough time to get to the lake. Once Eric returned, it took until about 10pm to get back to camp to die for the night.

Next morning we packed up camp and headed off down the valley towards where the kayaks awaited us. We took an easier route along the river bank than on the way up, and avoided a lot of grovelling through the jungle by swimming the river to easier terrain on the other shore, using our packs as boogie boards (not really!). We were a bit apprehensive about the 42km kayak trip ahead, having seen the extreme nature of the river and terrain on the flight in. We found that our packs fitted neatly in the back of the boats when deflated. Subsequent inflation gave a very snug fit. I had no spray-skirt and Eric effectively didn't either, as his combing was largely detached from his boat. I paddled a couple of decent drops that had safe run-outs and got thoroughly swamped.

A couple of portages with boats and packs over rough terrain got us worried about what would be involved when we got to the 500m section of continuous grade six rapids. When we reached this point, the portage around the rapids was so rugged we had to deflate and pack up the boats in order to clamber up and down cliffs and through dense bush carrying the boats and packs together. This took about an hour and a half. When we reached calmer waters (relatively), we unpacked the boats once more to find that the nozzle on the pump had parted company. It seemed we were destined for a huge walk out carrying huge loads and in bad weather, what's more! Thankfully, it proved possible to inflate the boats fully just by pressing the pipe-end onto the valve! Once underway again, I got stuck on a rock just above a rapid, and before I had time to capsize, I leapt from the boat which shot off downriver independently - a careless, but humorous predicament. I sprinted off downstream over boulders, eventually catching it and telling it off. Eric couldn't come to my aid because he was upstream, duct-taping the side of his boat which he had ruptured while inserting his pack up it's back end with excessive vigour.

From here on, the paddle involved about 35km of flat paddling into a head wind down the Arawhata valley. I was pretty pooped by the end, but really enjoyed the adventure.

We got off the river too late to get over Haast Pass before they closed the road for the evening, so we camped by the river and awoke to the forecast deluge which turned the tent into a small pond. Good for ducks!

NB: If you'd like to see a map of the area showing our route, click the map thumbnail at the bottom of the article


Above: Timon at camp

Below Left: Nearing top of Apparition Spur

Below Right: Eric (the speck) about to descend the bluff

Above: Moonraker and Waipara River

Below left: Timon walking upstream

Below Right: The Cabin Boy (Stream), looking down the Waipara Valley

Right: A tricky clamber

Below: Timon swimming with pack

Right: Preparing for the kayak leg

Above Right: Timon entering a rapid

Below: The end of the paddling at the mouth of the Arawhata at Neil's Beach

Above: Eric and the Chopper

Below: The Waipara River near the landing site



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Timon Maxey

+64 21 137 5614

 Timon Maxey Artist