Paddling the Hurunui – Have you seen the get out?!

On a dusty gravel road a few hours out of Christchurch there lives a river called the Hurunui. Described by the Guidebook (or ‘The book of lies’ as I’ve heard it only half-jokingly called) as a local classic, a perfect intermediate river, it was what we had been aiming for in our frantic dash around Christchurch to get paddling kit.

Having spent a few days in Murch paddling with various bits of hired kit, we knew we needed to head to a bigger town for more 2nd hand gear options and so we decided to drive over to ChCh where we’d already located a boat for J. After a frustrating few days, and a suddenly productive 2 hours, we were finally on our way all kitted up.

The drive was gravelly, dusty and super bumpy in our little old L300. We almost lost heart when it seemed to just keep going, but eventually we reached what we worked out to be the ‘camp spot’ (again, another classically NZ loose description), at least it was mostly flatish and right next to the river. We parked up and set ourselves up for the night, with me scanning the guidebook to make sure we sort of knew what was coming.

We did read the guidebook it just didn’t have exactly what we needed in it which we didn’t really realise until we were on the river looking for the get out. But let’s back it up…

It was looking a bit low but we got on nevertheless and after the initial 50m it was fine levels wise. Crashy wave trains made up the first few rapids and all was going very well. I was surprisingly relaxed (if you’ve ever been on a river with me you know this is sometimes not the case ha) and paddling just the two of us was a really nice way of doing things. J would drift ahead when a horizon line came and more often than not give a quick line from what he could see and I would follow at a distance.20200105_175406

The scenery you get to see whilst paddling is amazing I must say. You’re in quite a remote spot in the bottom of a valley with huge mountains on all sides and not a person or paddler in sight. As the river gorges up the rapids become a bit harder and more defined. I experienced my first kiwi sub-aqua experience when I was power flipped by a cheeky rock hidden halfway down a drop. Luckily I discovered I can still roll on a river despite the intervening 3 or 4 years since I’d done it.

This gorgey section is without a doubt the best part of the river, with G3+ rapids that are pure joy to paddle. The water is deep and blue and the stillness is just indescribable away from the rush of the rapids.

It was as the gorgey rapids eased off that we realised we were probably almost done, and we started trying to look for possible get offs river right. The road runs river-side intermittently for a lot of it (not that you really notice) but it veers away significantly after the end of the gorge so really that’s your last chance to get out. Ha…

We were just having too much fun! That, and Jordan thought the get out was a field where you could see the road (still not sure why he thought this tbh). And I thought the get off was a track (as described in the guidebook) that lead up to the road and could be seen from river level. Turns out we were both pretty wrong! Finally we pulled up in an eddy and decided we probably shouldn’t go any further, we knew the river was only supposed to be about 8km and we also knew that we were already pushing that distance. With a tiny bit of signal we managed to get gps up on J’s phone and realised we were WAY past the last point where the road meets the river. Oh dear…

20200105_174118There was no way we could scramble up the cliff faces around us, and the dense forest in NZ is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced back home so knew that was a huge no-go even if we did somehow make it up the near-vertical scrambles. One short almost-shouting match later to dissuade J from doing just this, we decided our only option was to paddle/drag/carry/wade our way back up river left. It was getting HOT by this point, but luckily the river left was a mixture of shallowish eddies, smaller boulders and sand so in that sense we were lucky – it could have been so much worse.

When we thought we’d gone a coupe of hundred metres J ferried across to try and see a track, but no joy, so we had no choice but to just keep going. Eventually we came back to where the ‘gorge’ section clearly ended and just had to scour the right bank for a way out – we couldn’t get any further! Eventually, behind a huge tooth-shaped boulder we finally found a ‘track’. It was steep to the point we had to carry a boat between us and then have a sit down at the top… It was weird because when we’d passed this rock earlier it had quite a large eddy behind it and I had a strange feeling about it, almost like ‘yeh that looks like one of those get out eddies and its sort of about where we need to be, maybe too early though?’. Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn’t it 😛 ?

Finally up on the side of the dusty gravel road, we sat and had our snacks. You might be wondering, yo JJ, you guys ran some sort of shuttle right? Well, no is the simple answer. For some reason I decided I wanted to join the ranks of certain paddlers I know and RUN the shuttle. Seemed like a good idea you know, before we’d dragged our boats a km back upstream. But run it I had to, as we had no other option. I’d packed some running things in a dry bag so in true kayaker fashion I got a little bit naked on the side of a road to change, laced up my trainers and set off on what I hoped would be about a 10km run.

In the 24 hours that we’d been in the valley we’d seen about 3 cars go up and down the gravel road so hitching was out of the question we thought. Plod plod plod I ran in the afternoon heat, cursing my lack of running in the last few months. Was the road this long when we drove it?! And suddenly, a ute was right behind me and without thinking I stuck my thumb out as I stumbled to the side of the road. I was over this running lark, I wanted shade and water… Winding down the window, a family of 3 stared out at me – a crazy person running along a track in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, this is New Zealand and no one really questions the crazy things like this that people do. And so despite my protestations a woman in a gorgeously dusky pink full hijab jumped out, told me to take the front seat whilst she jumped in the flatbed and told her husband to crack on. Ha! Oh man I love kiwis. In the husband’s words “I’m from Morocco, but my wife she kiwi and she crazy!” After about 25 mins the van finally came into view and I insisted they drop me off, I could run the last km. After lots of thank yous and ‘sweet as’s they were on their way.

And that is the story of our Hurunui adventure really. What a day! Like many of the weird and wonderful adventures over here it was made better with some help and company from locals. Kayaking, NZ style.

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