After paddling the Totara River, our plan for the following day was to paddle the lower section of the Kakapotahi River. That night it rained. When we got up in the morning, it rained. On the drive to the Kakapotahi River, it rained some more. Actually, rain would be a gross understatement, it was absolutely pouring down. There is meant to be a dirt road on the way to the put in. However, we were driving through more water than anything else.
Along the way the car hit a very waterlogged patch of mud and tracked off the side of the road into a ditch. Fortunately, there was a nice big log in the ditch right where we were headed, which bounced us back out of the ditch and onto the road. This saved us from what would have been a lengthy process trying to get the car out of the ditch in the pouring rain. Unfortunately, the impact slightly bent the steering arm, and this meant the car had to be towed back to town. The Kakapotahi would have to wait until another day.
The tow truck driver was a local who grew up in Hokitika. His words as we crossed the Hokitika River were “Wow! I’ve never seen that much water in there before!” This wasn’t the last time I’d hear that phrase from a local during our trip!
After wasting the previous day with car issues, the rain had died off, the sun was out, and the road to the put in was back looking like dirt instead of water. We finally made it onto the Kakapotahi River, even if it was a day late.
The hardest rapids on this section are at the start of a tight gorge immediately below the put in. The gorge walls are so steep that it is very hard to get a good look at these first few rapids, and practically impossible to set up any good safety. We had a very large group of paddlers on this run, and most were already portaging this first short section. The rest of us made the wise decision and followed suit, walking around the beginning of the first gorge.
Whilst portaging, we could see the high water mark from the rivers flood the day before; it had been more than 20 feet higher than its current level through the gorge. I think it’s safe to say that car troubles or not, we wouldn’t have been paddling this section the previous day.
After our initial portage, we had another 9km of paddling ahead of us. The remainder of this run is full of good, clean class 3 to 4 rapids. There aren’t any large pools, so it’s all fun and games until the take out.
We had a very large group of over 12+ friendly kayakers from all over the globe that came together for this trip. There were no swims or incidents. The sun was out and shining all day for a change. Our large group cruised down the river, in what was a very refreshing and enjoyable day on the Kakapotahi River.
Trip Date: 4 January 2010
If you’re interested in paddling this section of river, check out the lower Kakapotahi River guide on Whitewater NZ.