Published Stories, Waiatoto

Waiatoto, good wholesome fun

Adventure Magazine #161

This is really a story to strike a chord in the hearts of good wholesome kiwi adventurers. It’s about everyday kiwis getting together with a good bunch of mates and putting to action what we often sit around talking about.

So we set a date and put the invitation out for a rafting journey to be made down the Waiatoto River, in South Westland. For anyone who has been down the Waiatoto River, you will sit there and smile, because you know the stories are true. The Waiatoto River has got to be one of the MOST beautiful and wildly stunning multiday river trips in New Zealand!


None of the final 13 that made our group had been down the Waiatoto previously, so to add to the pleasure it was new to all. Not only is the area new to us all, but so was the means of travel. There were several in our group that had never been rafting before, let alone a 3 day wilderness heli-rafting trip. Lucky for us we have a great team of regular river rats in the mix with an abundance of skills. No stone was left unturned in preparation for our trip down the Waiatoto, and so we were left with the decision on appropriate footwear. In earlier ‘war meetings’, used to figure out our plan of attack, there had been deliberation about gumboots. We chuckled over the thought of 13 pairs of gumboots going down the river on the oar rig. And chuckle we did when all but one of the team sat around the campfire at night with gummys on, and boy did you need them. (Note: they are also needed for the airstrip used for the helicopter, the most cow poos per blade of grass I have ever seen!)

The morning we were due to fly, greeted us with a bluebird sky (which didn’t last long), and the excitement of getting in the helicopter and heading up the river. Once the chopper landed, patches of cloud and showers swirled in and out of the valley, sometimes briefly receding to give us a glimpse of the glaciers, very close by. We had our expert team on rigging the rafts, whilewe all pitched in to pump boats and lug the gear around. The first day was a great mix of fun grade 3 and flat water. You need the flat water because you’re constantly plagued on where to look, 20 different waterfalls, mountains, river, valley. You want to soak it all up like a sponge.

When camping in the wet West Coast forest, it’s hard to find dry wood, but it’s there and when you find it, you will be well rewarded with a great campfire. Campfires are the backbone of something truly wholesome. It flows on to good food, drink and company.

The following day the weather pulled one out of the hat, absolutely bluebird day for real! Not a cloud in the sky, just welcome sunshine. This day had a little more in store for us with some gorge sections to the river and challenging whitewater. Again we were well taken care of in this field, and my hat goes off to Simon, who guided our giant oar rig laden with gear down the hard stuff, not to mention the brave paddlers that went with him! We also have to pay tribute to Jamey, who sacrificed herself from the raft so that the whole boat didn’t flip, good on ya girl.

The spectacular scenery didn’t let up one bit, glorious sunshine, exciting rapids and another amazing campsite. We had a great sandy beach perfect for fluro Frisbee at night, and wise old beach trees to provide shelter. The following day reminded us we were on the West Coast, it had to rain for us once again, but nothing could dampen our spirits. We were all just getting into the swing of things, so try not to think about it being the last day on the river and just enjoy! Enjoy we did, with a few rapids of significance, we terrorized our token foreigner, then relaxed through the flat section that lead us back to civilization (airstrip with lots of cow poos).

It is just one of those trips that stays with you. Instead of fading it seems to grow the warm fuzzys inside, looking at photos and catching up with the team, there is a twinkle in our eyes. We were living the dream, good wholesome fun.

Now when we catch up with one another there is one common sentence spoken.

When’s the next trip?

At this point I feel we all deserve a little credit, however I must say we could not have done it without the river crew, gear and generosity of Ultimate Descents, they really know how it make it happen. Cheers, I look forward to the next trip!