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New Zealand

North Island Road Trip


Often forgotten in the wake of the South Island West Coast runs but never to be missed!

If youre looking for a multitude of various grade rivers, East Capes rugged ranges and many gorges will satisfy the most discerning of white water enthusiasts. North of East Cape there are one or two rivers, but realistically on arrival to Auckland airport take a trip to central Aucklands The Backpackers basement of cars for sale; and this is about all you need to see of the big smoke. 

Heres a few to get you on your way, its certainly not the be all and end all list. The more people you talk to I am sure they will have their favorite extras to add to the tour! So take these on board, but keep flexible for the ones recommended upon the way.

Kaituna River Grade (III IV)

 Head south and if you havent bought boats then Sun Spots, Rotorua is a good place to start. Rotorua is a thermal capital, so likely youll smell it before you get there! Rotoruas Kaituna river is conveniently just around the corner from Sun Spots atOkere Falls township


(good caf too!). Its thrashed by rafters and kayakers so if you are in need of some mates then this is more than likely to be a good spot to start. Its one of theNorth Island classics with Tutea falls very picturesque and featured on most NZ DVDs.

A stunning bush cloaked gorge is short but makes up for it with a big personality of drops, waves and falls, not to forget the world class play hole at the get out where you can show off all those free style moves to the general public and kayaking mates alike.

Down below this run is Awesome Gorge and Knarley Gorge. Both have been run, but Awesome Gorge is the more common by far. If you want to attempt Knarley gorge find a daring local who has done it, or make sure you fully inspect first.

Watch your cars. Hide or take all valuables on the river. If youre going to get broken into itll be here.

Wairoa River (IV+ – V)

As New Zealand is plentiful in water, the power companies have made good use of this for dams. However they have recently come to the party with many rivers giving releases to suit the water rats of society; Wairoa being one of the best of these, not to miss.

TheWairoa River is not far from Tauranga, just an hour from Rotorua. This releases every Sunday in the extended summer season from 10 4pm. Water gushes into the gorge and brings to life many rapids to keep you on your toes. The get in is an impressive 6m rock seal launch for the keen. Steep rapids such as double trouble, toaster and mothers nightmare and devils elbow bring you to the rollercoaster. This is worth a look if you havent run it before, and is easily scoutable from river right. Walking options exist but dont miss portage rock or else you in it and not the place you want to be!

I wont ruin the surprise but you can pick your line depending on how brave youre feeling. Cauldron being the middle line, with a diagonal feeder wave straight into… well the cauldron! with a weir less than three meters down stream. This is a good river run to do with others who know the river. This shouldnt be hard with so many paddlers coming every Sunday to make the most of this decent run during summer. After rollercoaster it eases out to fun class 3 rock gardens, play waves and a drop. For those not so confident on the upper run there is a half way get in which still leaves fun to be had.

There is the Teva Wairoa Extreme Race on every year around the second weekend of February. Great event, awesome spot prizes (I should know I just won a boat this year!!)

A fairly short run (1 hours) so many take the opportunity to do it 2 or 3 times. Shuttles are not an issue with so many cars and people around. If youre really unlucky and theres no one around for a shuttle it is possible to walk it. Not that far, and all the motorists will have a laugh at these people walking up the main road in funny gear!

Rangitaiki (mainly III, one longer IV)

This river, deep in the heart of Murapara forestry is one of my favorite, not for the hugeness, but for the pure scenery aspect. You definitely need permits for this one which can be gained from the forestry office on the way into the river. Should these not be obtained, the forestry authorities have the right to confiscate your car and belongings….! The excitement all happens at the beginning with Slalom rapid leading into Fantail falls and finally Jeffs Joy. Slalom is a tight, technical rapid, with Rock A and Rock B hosting hazardous undercuts. Although not a difficult rapid for a solid grade 3 paddler, this needs to be taken with care. Fantail falls has a few surprising big holes and Jeffs Joy a nice elongated drop into a big pool below to reunite paddlers and their gear!

On down the river is easy pick a path scenic grade 3. There is also a half way put in at the flat mile you wont miss it! For those not so confident on the upper section.

Lower Rangitaiki has a great waterfall Aniwhenua, at the get in, which has been done for photography more times in a day than you could imagine! Also there is a nice camping spot here.

Tongiriro River (III IV)

Other good releases around are on the Tongiriro river; Access 10, Access 13 and Access 14 sections. Good fun runs and fantastic scenery, including the pillars of Hercules. The walk outs are um not paths! So take good shoes!! Access 14 is first getting in at the Rangipo dam. It has a must make get out, before plunging into Tree Trunk Gorge where you dont want to be and even the most ambitious of kayakers turn this one down. However in saying that, it has been done once or twice, but not again!

The walk around this is too easy. So take that option and Access 13 is a short run but well worth it to complete the day out. Dont be put off by the horror stories of the walk out its well worth it!

Access 10 is runable even if not releasing. Its 73 rapids keep you continually working! Near here is Potu falls. Great one for the photo album. Apparently the section above and below can be run also, its a little hair raising and the portages/ walking is a mission, so most people just go for the falls.

On the waterfalls front stop and drop! With NZs geological rock types it is perfect for the kayaker getting a buzz from finding the highest/ knarliest falls to drop off.

Others include: Potu (as above), Tawhai (near the Chateau, up by the skiing) … (near Waioru), Huka and many others that are locatable on the map. Many a paddling mission has ended up in search of the perfect waterfall!

Waikato River (V)

On the way down through the North Island a trip wouldnt be complete with out a trip to the famous Huka Falls. This is an impressive tourist attraction and the envy of many kayakers who have it on their ultimate list of 101 things to do before I die! This short gorge is fully scoutable due to the tourist nature of the site. Make sure you have a photographer with you, its a photo opp not to miss! The flow is controlled by the gates atLake Taupo and can be anywhere between 30 300 cumecs. Also it can change with out warning so caution is required. A good first flow to attempt the run is 40 80 cumecs and there is good info in Graeme Charles New Zealand White Water book.

TheWaikato River near its source is also host to several other interesting hydro features (?!) including Aratiatia rapids and Full James surf wave. Aratiatia has been run but its pretty knarley. This is also on releases that happen twice a day. Full James has unfortunately been subject to land owner disputes, so is now a paddle down from the jet operations. Not just a park and play spot anymore. Although apparently if you offer the gate keeper a few dollars it goes a long way to gaining access most likely as well as a doz beer!

Rangitikei River (IV V)

Next stop isRangitikei River (not to be confused with Rangitaiki!) This river just out of Taihape is also the home to Bliss Stick kayak manufacturing, where if you are looking for work in the factory, accommodation or on the river guiding and photographing, this could be a good place to start. You can also work off boats in a week or so work I hear!

 I am going to quote from the NZ White water book because there is an excellent piece with in all humor is very true and a good explanation of the places river and most importantly its hive of kayaking character!

If there was one single river with every ingredient for the evolutionary recipe of trip into epic into story into legend, it is the Rangitikei day of striding out. Take one reasonably accessed yet wild flowing river through a spectacular, deep gorge. Add several challenging drops and one extremely cool play hole. Attach a large catchment that causes the river to rise and fall dramatically in short periods of time. Put a lodge with hot showers, a big open fire place and a bar at the take out. And if the stories dont rise to great heights on their own, add Richard Sage who works the river, has evolved his own innovative style of rock paddling, and whose unique storytelling ability has rapidly become a legend in its self.

That sums it up nicely. Make sure you diary out a few days to spend up at River Valley lodge and paddle this fantastic grade 4 5+ river, youll probably be there a week!

Mangahao (IV – IV+)

This river is also run on a release system, but only twice a year. The shuttle is massive, so a shuttle bunny is an absolute necessity. Contact the local clubs who thrive on the river when releasing and always keen to help out a tourist. If youre lucky (and nice!) theyll probably put you up for a night of two aswell. The biggest rapid on the river is dog leg, with a nasty tree and undercut at the bottom which is best to avoid.

Dog Leg

There is always plenty of people hanging around to speculate and see the carnage, so throw ropes are often plentiful on the banks. There are several other great slides, holes and steep boulder gardens, so either play boats or creekers are fine on this river however! The last hour paddle is flat, so bear that in mind with boat choice!

On the way up you will pass the Mangore Stream which has been developed into a white water park hosting a world class slalom site in the bush, which also (kind of) caters for the play boater enthusiast. A great place to spend a day chilling out, playing and taking photos. There is also free camping here as well. This site only works when power is being produced, so ring the flow phone to check.


There is a mass of other rivers around as you will see in the guidebook. Others worth a look if you have time are; Mokau, Tawarau, Mohaka, Waiari, Ohinepangu, Whakapapa, Waihohonu, Hutt Gorge and Whakapapa. Depending on how much time you have, these are certainly worth a look, even if it is for kiwiana value as apposed to big water!

Heading off Shore

New Zealand, being a group of islands has many awesome surf spots. The more commonly known ones are at Raglan,Mt. Maunganui (The Mount, Tauranga), New Plymouth and Castle Point and then just about anywhere you can find the sea, depending on which way the wind is going and what the tides are doing. So if its dry, too wet or you just want to show off the surf moves, then there are always plenty of options for the salty action.

Theres enough to start the back bones of anyNorth Island paddling mission. There are many, many others to explore should you have the time, and its raining. And although it doesnt have the heli trips of theSouth Island, I am definitely a fan of theNorth Islands variety of extremely cool runs :0)

Really Important River Environmentally Stuff

Dydimo, Rock Snot what ever you call it we dont want it in our rivers! Didymo is an algae which has been found inSouth Island rivers and the spread of this would be a disaster for kayakers with river access bans being imposed. Strong measures are required to attempt to restrict the spread. The only way we can protect our rivers in the long term is to: Check, Clean, Dry all your kayaking gear before entering another river or lake, anywhere in New Zealand. Check, Clean, Dry is now part of the New Zealand kayak way of life and you will need to organise your own system for cleaning your kayaking gear (we suggest a simple system using a large plastic bin, the cleaning agent and a sponge) which can be taken with you when required.

While boats and paddles are generally pretty resilient to cleaning, other kayaking gear (e.g., buoyancy aids, drytops and clothing, spraydecks) has to be handled with some care. Investigation by the NZRCA (New Zealand national kayaking body) and the Whitewater Canoe Club in Christchurch suggests that the best cleaning option for cleaning your gear is biodegradable laundry or dishwashing detergent. This is the cleaning agent appears to be the one that is least likely to harm your kayaking gear. At least washing with tap water or salt is better than doing nothing.

Please help to protect our beautiful rivers.

Whats it going to cost? (all in NZ$, divide by 2.8 to get GBP):

Flights depending on time of year – around $3000

Car something that goes and has style you wouldnt see in UK!?!-$1200

Boats if you dont bring you own, second hand – $600 – $1500

Living costs per day (food catering yourself, camping, fuel etc.) – $50 80 or less if you really want to cheap it. Often there is camping by rivers that there is no cost for.


Release flow dates can be found on the NZRCA website

Flights via USA have larger luggage allowance as apposed toAsia (63kg vs. 25kg respectively big diff!)

BA, Air New Zealand, Quantas etc all do great services to NZ aswell as many others companies. There has been varying good and bad reports on getting boats on flights with different companies, so I guess its a bit pot luck really, smile at the check ins and youll be right mate!

Theres something for everyone – So beg, borrow or steel yourself a New Zealand White water book by Graeme Charles (the latest has just been put out last year in 2006), a boat, a car and get here!