Friday, January 15, 2010

Murchison, NZ

If you have a packraft and you are coming to NZ, Murchison should be your first stop. The campground is full of Class II and III boaters and it’s simple to jump on a shuttle for one of the dozen or so runs within a thirty minute drive from the riverside campground.

It’s a four hour drive from Christchurch to Murchison and if you get an early start then there’s time to do an easy run on the Buller, like the Doctor’s Creek run. There’s stuff to play on and a pretty canyon and it’s good to loosen up after the long flight on something really easy. It’s a big river, especially after rain, but perfectly suited for a packraft. I got my first moving current roll on the Doc Creek run and Allen O’Bannon, my substitute for Forrest got his packraft roll on it, too.

We’d forgotten to put thigh straps in one of our boats and when we switched I felt awful without them, like I was going to fall out of the boat at any minute. The seat in Allen’s boat without the straps (it had the D-rings, just no straps) had been cut free and moved forward and big ole’ Allen felt cramped – until he had the thigh straps in.

Anyway, “Once you go strapped, you’ll never go back” seems to be the sentiment of those who’ve used packrafts with straps. The control and the feeling of wearing your boat is really a qualitative change in boating.

One of the NOLS instructors that Allen knew, Dale, was at the campsite and told us it had been raining for the last week. The Buller was up around 140 cumecs (cubic feet per second – multiply by 35 to get cfs) and the Matiri was running at a really fun level he said.

“It’s a good next step after Doctor’s Run,” he said after I’d said that run had been pretty boring. Dale introduced us to Alex, a kid from Montana who’d come to Murchison to learn how to Kayak and was up to come along.

The Matiri was super fun, about 1,000 cfs or so, I reckon, in its short little gorgy section. The last bit was also good, a classic NZ giant boulder garden, I guess Class III-. It took us two hours and the day was beautiful. I did some more rolls, but it always took me one try to get it. It was satisfying to be rolling in a river.

Unfortunately Allen lost track of his jacket, and while he drove back to look for it, Alex invited me to join him and a couple young women and a Mexican engineer, Luis. Later I’d learn that Louis now works in Oz where he misses his homeland's food. Go figure. Anyway, this bunch were piling in to their mini-vans to run the Granity Creek section of the Buller.

Granity has a big powerful solid Class III, maybe Class III+ at the 115 cumecs we ran it at. The drop runs between a rocky cliff and a low alluvial bench. One of the girls was a kayak instructor and she was a bit worried about me in my packraft, especially after I flipped while surfing and didn’t roll it up. When we climbed out to scout it she said I could walk around it to the left, but it looked perfectly doable, sort of like Campground Rapids multiplied by five in volume, length and wave height, but pretty straight forward and fun.

Well I missed her line immediately, right at the top, hit a small hole there, flipped and pushed out of my boat, holding on to it and my paddle while I got flushed all the way down the 100 m run.

Jumping back in my boat when the water settled down, with Lois nearby giving me back-up, I paddled to shore where we regrouped and asked if they minded that I was going back up to try it again. They said I was a good swimmer and that they’d set safety at the narrow spot.

I ran it clean and down the middle and over the tops of the six foot waves in the beautiful blue water. It was great. Unfortunately all my roll attempts failed on the Buller today.

We went back to camp and picked up Allen, who’d found his jacket with cell phone and wallet hanging on a fence post just down from our take-out on the Matiri where some passing motorist on the country road had hung it for its owner to find. New Zealand really is like the US was in the 60s.

Dale had said the lower “Matak”, short for earthquake run on the lower Matakitaki, was his favorite run here. It’s short but technical and has a big drop and high volume, several thousand cfs it looked like to me.

At the put in it looked like the Karamea had, with big boulders from the 1929 landslide. Ferrying over to a rock I caught my left pinky nail on a tie down that I’d stupidly placed along the side of my boat and ripped the whole nail right off to the base. Eddied in the middle, I thought about just ripping it off but felt that would hurt, so I asked Dee, the kayak instructor, if she had any tape. She said no, but I remembered Allen had my black paddle with duct tape and he gave that to me and I wrapped my finger.

The rest of the run was good fun and the final crux big rapid was full-on wavy and powerful. Louis got knocked over by a wave near the end of the run and couldn’t fight his way back up, so he swam. Alex pulled him to shore, Allen grabbed his paddle and I grabbed his boat. Alex then paddled over to me and we emptied Lois’ swamped kayak and Alex towed it to shore.

It’s a great scene here, with kayakers from all around the world and all pretty much intermediates or beginners, so there’s no posturing or pretention. Everyone is here to learn and have fun and the concentration of short runs is amazing and when the sun shines it’s really beautiful.

Murchison offers a wonderful introduction to New Zealand paddling for kayakers and packrafters alike. Of course these are all roadside runs, none needing more than a ten minute walk, but to get a feeling for the water and your skills is super. A wet suit and paddle jacket is all most people wear, unless it’s raining, it seems enough.

But the real boating for we packrafters lies out there on the tracks and in the bush. Allan and Rob and I are heading out for a first descent mission in the S. Fork Mokenui for three days.

Should be interesting.


  1. Roman, good that there are no photos, I might have just come down to NZ (after that trip to Fuji ;). It sounds heaps fun and that there are friendly & honest people all around.

    Looking forward to the trip report. You may include a photo or two, but only if you pay my ticket to NZ!

    (And as this is cross cultural communication via the internet, I'd just let you know that I was slightly sarcastic in the first and last sentence.)

  2. Sounds like way to much fun! I am so envois... wish I was there.


  3. I'm stoked! I'll be down there to join you in 13 days!

    Tim Johnson

  4. To jump on some of the harder runs & meet some great core paddlers you should stop by Lake Mahinapua about 10 minutes south of Hokitika and see who's camping out. There are usually a collection of boaters around there to hook up with for the heli-runs. I'll be in Christchurch & driving out your way in 8 days!!!! The shoulder is feeling much better & I'm too excited for my own good.

    Tim Johnson


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