Organiser: Niklas Pechan
Trip report: Toni Schollum
---see glossary at end of trip report---
Over the last weekend of April 2023, 12 up-and-coming AUCC paddlers returned to the much-loved Kawerau Scout Hall for a weekend of upskilling on the Rangitaiki and Tarawera rivers. The skill level of the attendees in the group varied from fresh-faced Seconders to experienced Instructors. The focus of the weekend was to get those keen Seconders, already mostly self-sufficient on class II whitewater, to refine their technique, push themselves to make harder moves on the river, and generally get more boat time (and also learn how to surf and look cool 😎). Also, very excitingly, 50% of the paddlers on the trip were female!
On Saturday morning, we intended to drive in convoy to the Āniwaniwa take-out, but that didn’t happen because neither Dion or Anna had food and had to stop at the supermarket. Luckily everyone still made it with no accidental detours via Rotorua. After a safety briefing led by the Assistant Instructors, a few people had to learn how to wear a double-tunnel dry-top, and then we were on river before 10am. Ben started things spicy by sending Āniwaniwa falls rather than getting in below the powerstation like someone with a fully-developed prefrontal cortex.
We split into two groups, with Aaron helping us out leading one group, and Niklas leading the other. Lots of focus at the start of the run on paddling and eddy-turning technique and using the river to do the work for us saw this first run take a speedy 3h. A few people had to learn how to hold their paddle correctly, but others were doing combat rolls left right and centre, and giving surfing a good go!
At the start of the second lap Ben and Aaron went off to run Crystal Rapids (III+) above the falls, and were going to catch us up... We made quicker work of the second lap, and the highlight for several people was actually catching several eddies on the way down Humpty Dumpty (long wave rapid), rather than chasing beginners down and being prepared for impending carnage. This lap also saw some more skillful surfing and definitely no-one swam at the big surf wave.
Aaron caught us up about 2/3 of the way down, with no Ben. This was because he put a “small” crack in the bottom of his dad’s Titan Nymph, by going left-ish off the falls and landing on a ledge. Oops.
The rest of the lap was uneventful. Some people practised their paddle tosses, and visualised not getting their paddle stuck in a tree.
Somehow we didn’t get off river until 4pm, and wouldn’t make it back in time for the free Kawerau hot pools, instead we forked out $9 each to soak in the slippery silicaery Awakeri hot pools. Dinner ended up a bit late, some of it burnt, and with far too much rice, but that’s all just water under the bridge. The apple crumble/cobbler/thing was delicious.
Basically a sleep-in till almost 8am on Sunday, and we were still on river by 9am! Efficiency. Several laps of lots of repetitions of the same eddies saw heaps of improvement on the main rapid. We then progressed to the upper rugby field rapid, with some bigger waves and a slightly more challenging move to make.
By the end of the day, there had been a mixture of intentional and unintentional swims on the main rapid, some awful throwbagging (we’re gonna practise!), and a final result of 12 exhausted AUCCers.
A kayaker who has a combat river roll and is mostly self-sufficient on class II whitewater. Some say they should be ‘beatering their way down class III’.
Usually these are the keen beginners who have stuck around from the previous year, and are hence in their second year of paddling. There are however exceptions to this.
Whippy or Whippie:
A manoeuvre where a kayaker sinks the tail of their boat in an eddy or boil line, raising the nose of their boat to as close to vertical as possible.
Also known as a ‘stern squirt’ or an ‘tail-y’.
A strong paddle stroke combined with abdominal muscle engagement to lift the nose of the kayak over a hole or drop, maintaining forward momentum, rather than nose-diving into the feature.
Hole or Hydraulic:
A river feature where water drops over an obstruction (e.g. a rock) into deeper water on the downstream side. This causes water on the surface to be drawn back toward the rock.
An Extension (13th-14th May 2023)
Two weekends later, with too much water around causing cancellation of the May beginners trip, 5 members of the earlier Seconders trip ventured further afield to the Waioeka and Whirinaki rivers. With clear and cold weather forecast and the river flows looking juicy, there was much excitement. Ben T was paddling the newly-welded Titian Nymph : )
Meeting in Ōpōtiki just before 9am, our party grew in size to 7, and we headed up into the Waioeka gorge and out of reception. The plan was to run the Hell’s Gate section of the Waioeka river, from Wairata road down to just below Hell’s Gate, a class II+ section, with the two most notable rapids being Tumble Dryer (about half-way down, big hole on river left) and Hell’s Gate.
the top of Hell's Gate Rapid
After some sprayskirt shenanigans from Taya, we were all on the river by 10:30, boogying down some wide shingle-bed rapids. The sun was shining and the surf waves were plentiful. We also were lucky enough to see many whio throughout the entire day 🦆. Some of the favourite rapids were a horse-shoe wall rapid, and a rapid with a 4 metre wide (!) green surf wave. There was also some good practising of boofing over pour-over rocks (but not by Ben in the welded boat of course…)
With the river at a reasonably high 2.15m (80 cumecs), at the Waioeka Cableway gauge, scouting of Tumble Dryer proved unsuccessful because the rocks on river right had water all around them, and then Nik’s beta of “go right of the rock in the middle to avoid the hole” wasn’t that helpful because said rock was invisible underwater. Despite this, we all made it though with clean lines.
Near the end of the run, after the confluence with the Waiata Stream (not to be confused with Wairata), we came to Hell’s Gate. We were able to get out on river right to scout this time. With the line clear in our minds, we all cruised down the right tongue and drove left of a rock, except Lexi who executed a very stylish rock splat and roll.
We dropped to six paddlers for the 2nd run, but Peter was a g and helped us run shuttle. Josh, Nik, and Ben went on an expedition to explore the class III-IV Opato stream, which confluenced with the Waioeka within about 500m below our Waioeka put-in. The rest of us took our time putting on, and floated down to wait at the confluence. The boys appeared after about half an hour, luckily with no carnage, and reports of a very tight gorge and steep boulder garden and a car upside down on a rock mid-stream. We took a quicker pace for the rest of the run, aware of the sun going behind the hills, but also got to enjoy golden-hour on river 🤩.
We finished off a spectacular day with a very chilly ocean dip on the way back to the Scout hall.
On Sunday morning we made our way across the Rangitaiki plains to the Whirinaki river. The Okui gorge of the Whirinaki is a section which is notorious for wood, and we didn’t know of anyone who had run it since Cyclone Gabrielle. Our party grew in size to 10, so having more experienced paddlers around was a bit of a confidence boost…but less of a confidence boost when one of them whippied himself into a tree literally on the 2nd corner after the put-in.
We made it through the hour of willows to Okui Hut without further incident.
With fingers and toes finally warming up a bit, we entered the gorge and said goodbye to our hopes of more sunshine. The 30m waterfall visible high in the bush-clad slopes after the first few bends kinda made up for it. It was good to finally get some rapids, and at 45 cumecs on the gauge at Whirinaki road, they weren’t scrapey! It did however build into class II+ much sooner than expected, due to more water than we’d previously run it at. A decent amount of boat control and good line choice was required to pick our way down the rapids and avoid the biggest holes - definitely a bit more than we’d bargained for & we weren’t even at the class III rapids yet!
After a brief but stressful pin for Taya, we made it down through the big waves of Gabe’s Rapid (named after a previous swim), and the next challenge was the Boulder-Slot rapid. Rather than clear slots between the boulders seen on previous trips, there was a lot more water pouring over the boulders. I [Toni] insisted I wanted to portage, and Taya and Lexi successfully joined me in a eddy on river right to bush-bash around the drop. The rest of the crew all ran it successfully, either through the centre slot or the easier line hard-left. The next few rapids saw some excellent combat rolls after being flipped in holes, and a 2m wide gap to make it past the log-jam. We then faced the final class III rapid, Doctor’s Call, with some fun waves and holes down the left. This rapid caught out both Lexi and Taya, and we got our 1st swim of the weekend, luckily with lots of space to collect gear.
From here out, the gradient decreased and the rapids calmed down to class II again, which was a bit of a relief for some, but also sad to gradually leave the wilderness and return to the farmland and willows.
paying respects to the river gods
Big shout out to all the seconders involved! So stoked to see everyone pushing their comfort zones and improving heaps. Keep paddling to keep improving!!