Rafting the Clarence River

Photos and text by Jonathan Carr

  • Clarence menu II! New
  • Tapi in a day - from the Clarence
  • Rafting general
  • Kaikoura overview
  • Ice axes, wetsuits, crampons, water pistols and paddles - what kind of a gear list is this?
    Big barren hills, snow topped mountains, great food... these are just some of the aspects of rafting the Clarence River.

    The Clarence trip has become somewhat of a tradition in the Electrical Engineering department. Three 2nd hand rafts "Pinky", "Tiny" and the "Yellow Submarine" have been purchased by staff and students in the department since 1991 and maintained (not in work hours of course) for "academic field" trips.

    The Clarence is a five day trip starting up behind Hanmer Springs thermal resort and rafting 180-200km to the sea, just north of Kaikoura. The river passes between two 8000-9000ft ranges, the Inland and Seaward Kaikouras. The upper Clarence is mostly big barren hills. Although much of the land is free-range cattle farming, the region is one of the most remote parts of NZ with only a couple of inhabitants (permission from Muzzle Station should be sought for the trip). There is no road access for most of the river's length. Much of the Clarence (Seaward side) has now been retired from grazing and a special conservation park is being formed - unfortunately this might result in better access (in the four trips I've done, we have never met anyone during the five days. This trip is very much a wilderness trip and parties have to be self sufficient.

    We take five days with a "rest" day to climb some of the mountains or search for hot springs. The weather in December is generally hot in the valley and dry. The last trip was so hot that swimming alongside the raft was essential! However, it can snow even in mid Summer... as it did on the inaugural Clarence trip. Furthermore, strong head winds and low river levels can lead to 12hr days on the water. We use 3-4 big plastic barrels on each raft to store our food, camping and climbing gear. This means each raft has substantial inertia (mainly due to our vast quantities of food!) and concentration is required when guiding. The river is fairly tame with a few grade three rapids... but if it rises or a Southerly comes through... then it needs some respect.
    There is some interesting geology in the region (as with most of NZ) and some of the gorges make me think of cowboy and Indian films... the last gorge is my favourite... I can smell the manuka now..

    Finally, this trip is a great social event... the campsites... the food... the water fights...

    Day 4 on the Clarence (45k)
    Day 1 - the first gorge (46k) The crew (25k)
  • Barrel surfing (17k)
  • Lunch-stop (15k)
  • Bindu relaxing - Day 3 (16k)
  • The barren high country of the Upper Clarence (23k)
  • Ravine Hut the base for climbs of Tapi & Alarm (35k) Sunset, Clarence valley - Day 3 (19k)
    Searching for hot springs - Day 3 (19k) Day 2 - playing with the Canadian canoe (53k)
  • Katharine & Thomas - looking for hotsprings (51k)
  • Day 4 (57k) Mr Blobby before the "Jaw Breaker" (13k)
    and Mr Blobby in the "Jaw Breaker" (31k)
    Evening on the 4th day (18k) The last campsite (36k)
    Rescuing a paddle... (37k)
  • The End! (30k)

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    Copyright (c) 1996 Jonathan Carr