Big news in the New Zealand White-Water scene has been dominated by the story of the East Branch of the Waikaia, something that has been previously described as a waste of time as it is "too steep". After hearing reviews of super steep continuous white-water, big drops and amazing scenery, Justin Venable, Barny Young and Myself decided to check it out. With beta from the boys on the first descent, the forecast of an anticyclone and JV's motivation we headed South to try bag the new big thing. Andrew Gumson (High Country Helicopters - 03 202 7783) would be driving shuttle in his flash red helicopter, offering us a sat-phone and ensuring us if he had not heard from us by the end of day three he would buzz over to see if we were okay. Fortunately we would comfortably finish both days with plenty of daylight to spare, this does not mean the days on the river were easy as it was quite the contrary with stacked rapids, hard portaging and all the other elements of a fantastic and testing white-water run.
The flight in was very intimidating with the lower section of the East Branch concealed by deep pseudo gorges and Beech forests and the upper reaches being a pretty much continuous section of stacked white-water. After Andrew dropped us off there was a period of nervous dialogue about the flight, the amount of white-water and how long it would take us. Before long we were en route and making our way down some fantastic rapids.
The landing zone, you wont miss it as it one of only a few flat river side areas.
Once on the water there was about 800m of relatively chilled out class II before the action began, and didn't really stop until the end of the day. There were a couple of sections you can break down but most of the rapids required long scouts.
Portaging high - it might go down there... maybe
We ran the one in the background - we took the line along the left bank.
Me running the lead out
Me running the lead out
Barny boofing out of a steep section
After a class IV rapid, about 1km below the tussock line, at small pebble beach on river left we stopped for the day, climbing up onto an old 4wd road and hiked two hours back to our camp at canton gate.
Starting early on day two we were back at the boats and on the water at 9am, something we might have rethought if we knew how much the flows diurnal variation was. Either way, after 300m we were faced with a similar river character but in a drastically different setting. The river was now carving through Beech forests and intermittently through small gorges. Still steep and full on, it would turn out to be about a 7 hour day.
Justin firing early on day two
Me flying early on day two
Barny styling the entrance before the big hole
Justin about to test his luck with the big hole
The last couple of kilometres of the run packed the biggest punch with some big drop, one on which that had a sieve right beside the line of a 30 footer. They all went and made for some amazing photos.
This is one of the most testing river trips any of us have been a apart of, but also one of the most rewarding. Next spring when this is running again I am definitely going to be getting back on it and would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a class V test piece in one of the most beautiful settings in the world.