After arriving in Christchurch, New Zealand, and sorting out vehicles and gear, we headed south to Queenstown.
When renting a vehicle in New Zealand, every company has a clause in their rental agreement that states you are not insured in any way on a select few roads. Having our rental for less than 24hours, we set off for our first taste of New Zealand whitewater, the Shotover River… Which happens to be down Skippers Canyon Rd… Which is one of the few prohibited roads. Driving to the put in, it’s easy to see why. The dirt road is extremely windy with scree covered mountains rising up on one side, and sheer cliffs on the other.
We made it safely to the put in, geared up and set off on the river. According to the guide book, this section of the Shotover River is 12.5km long. With the first 11km being pretty easy going grade II. However, what it lacks in whitewater, it makes up for in its natural beauty. Floating down the grey silted river, you can’t help but be impressed by the mountains towering up from the valley, with some peaks over 1km higher than river level. Even though the landscape is so rugged, we spotted a few mountain goat families.
All of the main rapids are in the final 1.5km of the river. There is a fair amount of water being constricted in this final section, with the rapids being mostly long pushy wave trains and holes. There was one long rapid near the Oxenbridge Tunnel that had a few shallow sneaky rocks just out of the main flow. Overall the quality of the rapids on this final short section of the Shotover are top quality.
The 170m long Oxenbridge Tunnel was built in between 1907 and 1909 by the four Oxenbridge brothers. The idea was to divert the flow of the river through the tunnel in the mountain to expose the riverbed and mine it for gold. It seems impressive to build the tunnel in that era. Unfortunately due to various miscalculations and issues, they barely got any gold once the tunnel was completed. Not even enough to nearly cover the cost of making the tunnel. I’d be pretty annoyed to say the least!
If you look at the stats on this section of the Shotover River: 11km of class II with a final 1.5km of grade IV, you might write this run off as not worthwhile. This is far from the truth. The water is constantly flowing through the entire trip. The first 11km seem to go by too fast, as you ride along the liquid conveyor belt admiring the scenery. The quality of whitewater in the last 1.5km is superb. Besides, where else can you paddle down a tunnel right through a mountain? Although we opted to paddle around it. Add in the fact that this river is only just out of Queenstown, make this an awesome trip for the day if you are in the area. For us, it was definitely a great introduction to New Zealand whitewater!
Trip Date: 28 December 2009.
For more information on the Deep Creek to Oxenbridge Tunnel Rd section, check out Whitewater NZ’s Shotover River guide.