Great to have Chris from Kayak HQ along for the Lee River run. Photo: Grant Stirling 

After being rained off a 3-day training trip on the Buller in November, it seemed unlikely that we would have the experience with the Alpaca Packrafts to make it feasible to attempt the challenging Rapids and continuous white water of the Upper Waiau. Plans were drawn for another 2 days in the boats... 

Wairoa river - Photo: Deane Parker

Wairoa river - Photo: Deane Parker

Lee River

torrential rain overnight pushed the local rivers pretty high but the flow gauge looked to have peaked so even though it was still raining lightly we headed to the put in of a coffee coloured bank to bank Lee River.  Normally a fun grade 2 run with a fresh, as we pushed off the rolling brown monster looked more like the Zambesi.
— Deane Parker

Originally intending on meeting at Murchison again, as the date approached the weather forecast warned of approaching NW heavy rain. A revised plan was quickly hatched to meet in Nelson where the rain bomb was likely to fill the catchments and top up the rivers that needed rain to make navigable.

initially once on the water we were paddling well and making the moves needed. The action quickly picked up and the standing waves were growing with laterals slapping the little packrafts around.  Damian was the first to capsize and within a few minutes complete carnage ensued. At this point things could have become serious but the team rallied, didn't fly to pieces and through good management we avoided a complete yard sale. At the take out without doubt we were all peaking and wondering how it would at all be possible to paddle anything with bike on board.

Wairoa river

Needless to say that after the previous day’s performance there was a significant amount of pressure to find competency quickly as this was likely to be the last day in the packrafts before the expedition. The Wairoa at a good flow is definitely grade 3 with plenty of steep drop-pool rocky rapids and chutes quite similar to conditions we would face on the Upper Waiau.
— Deane Parker

The second day dawned sunny and calm, the flow gauge on the Wairoa river put it at a prefect level and with hopes the water colour would be clearing, Damian and I (maybe the survivors), headed up to drop the bikes at a point where we could access the river and paddle the lower and easier section with bikes, finally.

Damian came a long way with his self rescue skills early in the piece but he quickly settled into the routine of boat scouting and running these chunky Rapids. I admit that we both portaged the 'Squeeze', but ran all the other rapids and by the time we reached the lower section and our bikes I was feeling confident of my skills and the boats ability.


Strapping the bikes to the boats felt a little surreal after so much anticipation but as soon as I dipped my paddle in the water I was at ease, YES! was the word resounding in my head through the first bouncy rapids. The major difference in manoeuvring with the extra weight was the ability to plow through stuff. The boat did feel slightly more tippy, within a short time however it felt as if the bike wasn't there, We paddled for roughly 2 hours that afternoon and by the time we reached the take out we were both beaming, yep this was doable, bring on Late February!

Photo: Grant Stirling Great to try out are new Kayak HQ supplied gear the Astral Brewer river shoe and Accent - Collapsible paddles See are gear review of this equipment