Since the early 1990’s the development of plastic, shorter and more maneuverable kayaks has allowed paddlers to explore many rivers on the west coast that were previously deemed impossible. Due to picturesque appeal, the niche idea of helicopter access and their steep, remote nature, many of the runs on the West Coast have risen to international acclaim. With rivers such as the Arahura, Whitcombe, Hokitika rating highly on any international kayakers hit list. It is the “old school” local legends such as Bruce Barnes, however, that can be attributed with finding many of these classic West Coast runs we know and love today.
Nowadays finding quality new runs is much more difficult and often requires hours spent scouring the internet with the use of devices such as Google earth . The evolution in gear design and paddler’s ability and mentality, however, has allowed us to push higher and run some of the steeper, more committing sections of popular runs. Along with a solid local crew including Jordy Searle, Justin Venable, Ari walker, Keith Riley and Kev England over the years we have managed to use this knowledge to push higher up many of the common runs and find new gems that hav’nt been paddled before.
One such run was the Upper Upper Whataroa which was first descended in 2012 by a crew consisting of Dylan, Simon, Trent, Jordy and myself. On our first descent of this classic run I still remember the anxious looks that were shared as we flew above some of the steepest whitewater any of us would paddle in our lifes. Anticipation ran high as we all knew if it looked this steep from the helicopter it would be off the Richter at river level. With the gradient averaging well over 100m/km we were shocked how much quality whitewater we were able to paddle and came away from this trip feeling like we had added another ‘classic” section of whitewater to the Westcoast hairboaters quiver and all vowed we would return soon.
Despite being eager to get back it was’nt until this summer (5 years after our first descent in 2012) that we were finally able to allign a weather, team and flow window to get back in and complete the 2nd descent of this remarkable stretch of whitewater. Unlike most stretches of whitewater on the Coast where we are constantly wishing for rain the upper Whataroa is abit of an anomally and requires a drought. This year we completed our trip after a period of 24 days with no rain as most other major rivers on the coast were down to a trickle and were still shocked to find much higher flows than the first trip.
This year with a small team of 3 including Ari Walker, Carson Lindsay our Californian import and myself we were able to make quick progress but had to portage a few stretches that we ran on the first descent that resembled a roller coast ride to hell with the higher water. In some drops however the extra water opened up new channels or provided extra cushioning on the rocks allowing us to paddle a handful of new rapids. Even with a small and efficient crew with no mishaps this 6km stretch of whitewater took us 7 hours and at the conclusion of the day we were excited to spot the confluence of the butler and were ready for the warmth and buffet we had waiting for us at Butler Hut.
The following morning the first layer of drizzle the coast had seen in weeks set in so we made quick progress out through the normal Whataroa section. Portaging the infamous Portals of Doom and enjoying the paddle out through the spectacular lower rafting run. On completion the boys agreed that they would love to go back in, hopefully the next trip wont be another 5 years in the making!!