After years of driving along the banks of lake Wanaka to go kayaking in Makarora or the West Coast there has always been one river that caught our attention and some one would always say “I wonder whats up there.” That river is Boundary Creek. Hearing only rumors of a team attempting it more than a decade ago. Invloving tales of a very close call involving a must run hydraulic and a boxed in 30ft waterfall early on in the run. This resulted in the team climbing out of the canyon and the legend of what remained in this boxed in gorge only 1 hour from Wanaka remained. But no-one dared venturing in again to check it out for themselves. That was until January of 2017 when curiosity finally got the better of Sam Walton who alongside local legend Shannon Mast decided to go and check it out for themselves. After 3 days of scouting a crew of 6 kayakers was assembled from around the South Island to complete the first full decent with kayaks. After a big day of kayaking It was clear. We had an instant classic that popped out right next to the road. Boundary is a very different character to anything I have seen before in New Zealand especially for the South Island. With many of the rapids being waterfalls and slides something much more reminsiscent of what you would expect to find in the granite wonderland of California not in New Zealand.
Getting to the river involves a steep drive up a farm road leaving lake Wanaka far below. Epic views of the Makarora valley as you crawl your way higher. After an hour the road takes a turn and you get your first glimpse of boundary creek 300 meters below. From there the river resembles nothing of the quality that lies downstream. Steep sharp rocks make up the wide river bed providing no good kayaking for the first kilometer. From here you need to continue on foot up the valley. Once you drive past this point there is no way to turn around(remnants still remain of a truck that rolled 100 meters trying to reverse back, just weeks before the first decent). Once you find a safe place to get down to the river the best option is to carry your boat downstream. Walking down the river bed is steep and loose once the walls begin to close in the good whitewater begins.
This run eases you into the action with 2 small slides a series of 3 small drops. From here the gradient of the run reveals itself and the only way out is down. Over the next 500 meters the river drops and slides over 100 meters in gradient and it is all good to go! With 4 significant rapids. starting with a 5 meter slide into a 7 meter drop that drops you into a beautiful schist corridor this rapid sets the tone for this section. A small drop into a quick portage puts you at Safety Sam’s Stupendous Super Slide! A twisting and turning slide entry into a 10 meter near vertical slide, with a surprisingly soft reconnect at the bottom, that is sure to send any one skipping across the pool below with a huge grin on their face. The next drop is a slide with a curling lip that launches you off a very clean 6 meter waterfall quite easily my favorite rapid in the whole section. The final major rapid is Mastitis. It has a very tight, steep and fast lead in to a sharp right turn on the lip of a 15 meter waterfall. This rapid has been run with varying levels of success. The lip can be punishing, sending kayakers over the handlebars and landing upside down into the pool below. This drop is by far the hardest rapid in the section and has been portaged more than it has been run. This is usually done by jumping the 15 meters into the pool below and throwing boats after. From here a few more small slides finish the section of good clean whitewater. Another kilometer of hard portaging and kayaking follows. There are still a few big rapids in this section that are yet to be paddled with feasible lines. Just as you are ready for it to be over the road bridge comes into view and hopefully you left a few cold beers in the river to celebrate.
In New Zealand kayaking rivers of Boundary Creek’s character are as rare as hens teeth. With only two other sections springing to mind on the South Island being – Red Granite Creek on the West Coast and another on Edwards River near Aurthers Pass both only being discovered in the last few years. The polished slides and waterfalls are much more like something you would expect to find in the High Sierras of California or Chile’s Rio Claro. Like many rivers in the South Island the rock in Boundary and Edwards is schist. Usually when we look for rivers where schist makes up the river bed, we think boulder gardens where a good amount of water is required to make for good kayaking. These schist canyons are often too tight, too steep and more suited to canyoning than kayaking. Finding a river like Boundary Creek that still offers remarkable sections of paddleable whitewater despite it’s low volume and steep gradient opens up possibilities of what else could be viable for similar kayaking in the South Island.
words by Barny Young