PACKRAFTING – Fiorldland

Packrafting and Fiordland go hand in hand.  With such rugged and spectacular country but so few roads, often the easiest way to get into remote Fiordland is to take advantage of its rivers, lakes, and sounds.  Using a packraft allows you to connect these features, carrying your boat on your back, and create an incredible backcountry experience.

While it is possible for experienced outdoors people to craft their own exploratory expeditions, it is recommended that visiting packrafters opt for one of a number of iconic trips as an introduction to the region before tackling bigger adventures. And first time packrafters who want a taste of the best Fiordland has to offer are advised to get in touch with the area’s only commercial packraft operator, Packrafting New Zealand, which offers professionally guided outings catering to all tastes and abilities. 


A few  trips have become popular enough to become classics, and these include:

The Monument–Inflate your boat on Lake Manapouri’s Fraser’s Beach before paddling to Surprise bay and finding the short 500 meter portage that leads to George Bay. From there its a few kilometers around the corner and into Rawiri and the start of the Monument track. After bagging this diminutive but iconic Fiordland Summit, you can either reverse the morning’s paddle back to Manapouri (which can make for a long day) or head into Hope Arm for a night’s rest. 

The next morning, saunter back to civilization via the 10 km track, or take the more scenic route via Back Valley and conquer one of Fiordland’s most accessible three wire bridges. At the end either route, a final crossing of the Waiau River outlet provides one final opportunity to use your packraft. 

The Waiau River–The paddle down the Waiau river between lakes Te Anau and Manapouri is not to be missed.  Famous for its inclusion in the Lord of the Rings movies, the waters of the Waiau are deep, fast, crystal clear, and fantastic.  While there are a few rapids and hazards, the river is suitable for most paddlers with general river reading experience, or absolute beginners that make the journey with a commercial outfit. 


Because it borders the famous Kepler track (one of New Zealand’s Great Walks) for its entire length, it is possible to form trips of virtually any length, from a few hours to a full day.  But we highly recommend taking it slow and paddling all the way down to Shallow Bay in Lake Manapouri and enjoying a night at the hut there before walking out the next morning.  Or if conditions permit, set off across the lake instead for a climb of the Monument (see above) and make the most of a long weekend. 


The Eglinton Gorge–One of the best short packrafting trips ever, a float through the Eglinton Gorge can be done from Te Anau in approximately half a day.  Putting in at Walker Creek campground requires only a short walk across a field of lupines (spectacular in summer). The river starts off as a shallow maze of braided channels before plunging into a sheer walled gorge filled with placid deep pools and several waterfalls.  The paddling isn’t hard but the narrower chutes and occasional tree to avoid require either a guide or confidence on Class II moving water. 


The trip ends a few corners past the end of the gorge and with a short walk up through farmland and the Milford road. The take-out can be hard to miss, so it’s advisable to either get advice from the folks at Packrafting New Zealand, or to go with a local who’s done the trip before. 

The Hollyford-Pyke loop–This is the perhaps the Holy Grail of NZ packrafting trips.  It’s remote, has the perfect balance of paddling and walking, covers epic country, has great huts, greater history, plenty of wildlife, an ideal mix of moving and flat water, and (for the intrepid), can even be done in winter.  The route travels down the Hollyford River from the end of the Hollyford road all the way to the sea at Martin’s Bay in two days of paddling and walking. It then heads up the coast to Big Bay before crossing inland to the upper Pyke Valley, where the Pyke river flows back to join the Hollyford, creating a lollipop of sorts. The well-formed Hollyford track leads back to the road end.  All up the journey can take between three and eight days (depending on how big you want to make the days), and it is commercially guided in six. 


From beginning to end the trip is a real wilderness expedition where one can’t help but be in awe of the majesty of their surroundings, dwarfed by snow-capped mountains, listening to the thundering west-coast surf, or gazing across broad valleys at waterfalls cascading down a hundred meters or more.  This truly is the trip of a lifetime.


It’s suitable for self-guided groups with strong outdoor skills and solid class II boating abilities. For those keen to experience this ultimate adventure but whom can’t tick these boxes, the commercial outfit provides a day of paddle training as part of their guided expedition around the circuit, making it an accessible option for those with water confidence but relatively little paddling experience,

The Wairaurahiri–On the other end of Fiordland from the Hollyford-Pyke, lies what is known as the ‘longest waterfall in New Zealand,’ the Wairaurahiri river. Flowing out of New Zealand’s deepest lake, Lake Hauroko, and into the Southern Ocean, the river is a near constant jumble of waves as it drops at a steady gradient for most of its length. While it never really gets harder than class II+, it is almost all class II, and so suitable either only for very proficient packrafters in self-guided parties or those with some prior packrafting experience as part of a commercial (or otherwise guided) trip. 


There are several ways to access the thrill-a-minute river, all leading to Teal Bay Hut at the river’s head. You can paddle across Lake Hauroko or take an arduous 16 km walk along the Teal Bay route, both options leaving from the end of the Lilburn Valley Road, or start your trek further south at the Rarakau Car Park and walk up over the true Hump of the Hump Ridge. 


At the end of the river you find the South Coast Track and both the Wairaurahiri Hut (DOC) and the slightly fancier Waitutu lodge, with linen service and hot showers. From here its a 30 odd km walk back to civilization, passing over several historic viaducts, including one over the Percy Burn which is the highest remaining wooden viaduct in the world! 

Packrafting New Zealand

Mobile: +64 21 0231 2315

Mail:[email protected]

Web: Packraftingnz

Related Articles

Back to top button