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5 Must Dos for Kayakers in New Zealand

New Zealand has been on my radar as an epic paddling destination for years; 15 months ago, I was stoked to arrive for a year and a half of work and play. The country has totally lived up to my expectations with amazing scenery, great people and awesome rivers. Here are my 5 must dos for the white water hungry:

Enjoying Kaituna laps in the sun. Photo – Amy Kinkaid

1: Paddle a Multi-Day
Although the South Island is famous for its amazing multi-day rivers, the North has gems to be explored too; draining the east of the North Island, the Motu River combines wilderness, wildlife and whitewater in a stunning 3 day, Class 3/4 trip, ideal for kayaks, rafts, and lots of goon bags (bag o’ wine).

Rafts, kayaks, and topo-duos all enjoying life on the Motu.

2: Enter a Race
Kiwis are a pretty speedy bunch, so they’re always psyched for a race! A particularly notable race to get involved in is the Okere Falls Enduro; this 6 hour event is held on the must-do Kaituna River (Class 3/4), and combines paddling laps and running in a 3-person relay. Expect an awesome atmosphere, range of abilities, and top folk giving it a crack.

Aiming for smooth, fast lines at the Okere Falls Enduro in the 9R. Photo – Alan Ofsoski

Go-fast leggings helping me through the run. Photo – Alan Ofsoski

3: Attend a Festival
If there is one thing that kayakers are good at, it’s partying, and Buller Fest has plenty of that! Based in Murchison, this 3-day event has slalom, boatercross, and rafting competitions, but for most, it is a chance to have a few beers, catch up with folk, and enjoy some sunny whitewater.

When in Rome… Paddling the iconic Maruia Falls during Buller Fest. Photo – Amy Dunis

4: Go Heli-Kayaking!
In the remote Southern Alps, helicopter is an awesome option for accessing some of the amazing rivers that drain these steep peaks; for $150pp (£80), we flew into the Kokatahi River, which has 16km of awesome, unrelenting Class 4/5 whitewater set in stunning scenery. NZ is one of the cheapest countries to heli-kayak, and with a huge range of rivers on the West Coast, there is something for every paddler.

Receiving the boats at the top of the Kokatahi, Hokitika.

5: Paddle a Classic
Unless you’ve been hibernating in a cave, you’ve seen iconic images of Huka Falls, Nevis Bluff, and Maruia Falls; these visually stunning pieces of whitewater put a fire in my belly. After missing levels for Huka Falls, it was awesome to paddle Maruia Falls during Buller Fest, and the Nevis Bluff rapids. Don’t be put off by the Nevis Buff’s volume; at low flows, there is time to make the lines, and the holes become a lot less intimidating.

I was blown away by my time in New Zealand; kayaking took me off the busy tourist trail, allowing me to see the real country, make good friends, and have some brilliant adventures; I would totally recommend a trip out here, whether it’s a 2 week ‘smash and grab’, or a 2 year working-holiday visa-odyssey; get involved!

Friends enjoying stories and laughs round the fire deep in the NZ wilderness.

Thanks to Pyranha for their much appreciated support, and to Long Cloud Kayaks in Christchurch for shipping my 9R out!