After our first taste of New Zealand whitewater on the Shotover River we headed for the Hollyford River. The Hollyford River is only about 50km to the North West of the Shotover River. Although driving there isn’t so simple, it’s almost a 300km trip. From Queenstown you drive about 110km South, before heading West for 60km, then another 150km North.
We stayed the night at Gunn’s Camp, which was absolutely swarming with blood sucking sand flies. We put up our tent as quick as possible and tried to hide from the swarm, but it didn’t to much good. Any spot on your body that wasn’t covered got bitten, and was itchy as hell for the next few weeks!
The next morning after getting organised, we left Gunn’s camp to paddle the Hollyford River. We were to paddle from Falls Creek to Gunn’s Camp. There is an alternate access point at Marian Swing Bridge. So anybody can take out before the harder stretch through to Gunn’s Camp.
Once we arrived at the swing bridge, Rebekah decided she’d had her fun for the day. The rest of us; Duncan, Al, Lucas, Tristan and Allen headed off for Gunn’s camp. Below the swing bridge there is at least 1km of easy water before the rapids start to pick up again.
The rapid pictured below was one of my personal favourites. The river zigzagged from the right hand bank, across to the left, then back to the right, making its way around a large boulder. From above, could see the river heading left, but the view of the river heading back to the right was blocked by the large boulder.
Tristan jumped out to scout and gave the signal that the passage was safe, so off we went, one by one. As each of us made our way left past the large boulder and started heading back right, we got our first full look of the rapid.
The river was flowing fast and steep back to the right and straight into another huge boulder, creating a large pillow. In the image below you can see the water is pushing up onto the rock much higher than the surrounding water. This water being forced up onto the rock by the current is called a ‘pillow’. The large pillow took us by surprise, with the force of the water flipping most of us. The rapid ended in a pool with plenty of room for recovery, so with a quick roll, we were all through safe.
The last rapid of the first gorge was a long boulder garden style of rapid, with a pretty well defined main channel. The rapid wasn’t overly difficult, however I (Allen) found myself off line and ended up flipping in a small stopper. When you are stuck sideways in a stopper, you can generally only roll up one way, i.e. you need to roll with the flow of the water, not against the flow of the water. Unfortunately for me, I had to use my weak side to roll. In a still pool, I’ve never had any drama rolling on both sides. But I found myself disorientated, and having trouble setting up for the roll. I tried a few poor attempts to roll, but ended up swimming.
As I was washed down the rest of the rapid, still holding onto my paddle, it became wedged on a rock. The force of the water pushing my body into the paddle snapped it like a twig. I collected myself at the bottom of the rapid, while the others chased down my kayak. With no paddle and no spare’s I was forced to walk out with my kayak.
The road runs quite close to the river, but it is a bit of a trek to drag your kayak from the river valley up to the road. So I set off walking up to the road, while Duncan, Al, Lucas and Tristan continued down the river.
After hiking for about an hour up to the road, I managed to hitch a ride with some other paddlers back to Gunn’s Camp. According to the rest of the group, much of the remaining gorges where full of wood. This forced them to do nearly as much walking around rapids as I had done up to the road. I’m not sure if it was quite that bad or they were just trying to make me feel a little better about my ordeal. Wood on this river does move often, so caution should be taken throughout the entire trip, especially on the harder section below the Marian Creek swing bridge.
Trip Date: December 29 2009
For more information on these sections of the Hollyford River, check out Whitewater NZ’s guide for Falls Creek to the swing bridge and from the swing bridge to Gunn’s camp.