It has been a pretty dry summer here in New Zealand, limiting the options for kayaking. I’m fortunate however to have the world famous Kaituna river right here in our backyard.

Peeking out of one of the many caves at the top section of the Kaituna – photo Ryan Lucas

The Kaituna River is released through control gates that feed out of Lake Rotoiti at the town of Okere Falls, New Zealand. This river draws a range of people from rafters and kayakers and the locals that come to drop some big ‘bombs’ into the deep pools. Okere Falls is a very special location for paddlers for one reason, the Kaituna River, and everyone that visits or lives here is in love with this beautiful and special place.

The Kaituna runs year round and the water during the summertime gets very warm; this year it even reached 26 °C. The river flow varies due to rain and the amount of water in the lake, meaning it changes from a low volume creek to a pushy, high volume river. As well as some very competent local kayakers living in Okere Falls, it gets a lot of visitors over the summer that have travelled from far and wide.

The well-known standard top section of the Kaituna is very accessible, and with some great waterfalls and pool drop rapids it is used as a training ground and for many, as well as a rafting run. If you carry on another few hundred metres past Troutpool Falls however, you will come to the beginning of the Lower Gorges. There are three different sections of gorge known as ‘Awesome’, ‘Smokey’ and ‘Gnarly’. They are much more committing than the top section, but it’s possible to run these all continuously and take out at the end of Smokey Gorge.

Ryan Lucas entering the last gorge before Smokey Falls – photo Barney Young

It takes around four hours from top to bottom and the shuttle is only forty minutes. This makes for an awesome day of kayaking through stunning deep gorges surrounded by beautiful New Zealand bush. The biggest danger in this run is the risk of logs and wood. This can be particularly an issue for the Gnarly section as it is very tight and continuos and there is not any easy option for scouting. If Gnarly is full of logs there is a thirty minute portage around it that is a much safer option.

In the midst of Gnarly Gorge

Here’s an edit I made connecting all of the gorges, the flow this day was in the high 300’s on the control gates.

Top tips for a trip down the Kaituna Gorges

  • Visit the Okere Falls Store before you head down the river to find out any local information about the lower gorges (i.e if Gnarly has been opened up)
  • Take a water bottle to collect spring water from the springs below Smokey Falls
  • Lower Gorges are awesome at 300-500 on the control gates, at 200 they can be very long and slow
  • At the end of the day head back to Okere Falls Store for a beer and some much needed relaxing
  • Allow 3-4 hours
  • Bring a Gopro! Theres not many spots to stop for photos but is is stunningly beautiful
  • Wear the a long-sleeve jacket and some shorts – the water is pretty warm, however the gorges are very shady