The Moeraki:  an unexpected adventure

Some adventures are planned, others present themselves unexpectedly. Otherwise known as (mini) epics, or type 2 (or three) fun, these adventures are often the memorable ones.

Planning and preparation can go a long way to preventing too many adventures, and conversely, the less you plan, the more adventure you’ll probably experience, wether you like it or not…. I’d planned a mellow packrafting trip with a couple of mates who were just getting into the sport. The lower Moeraki valley was our destination; the plan was to start at the Boulder Creek confluence, float down the Moeraki River then paddle across the lake. After a bit of food, we’d float to the ocean, walk along the beach, see a penguin or two (and maybe a few tourists) at Monro beach then walk back on the tourist track to the road and hitch hike to the car.  A great variety of landscapes, simple paddling and good times. What could possibly go wrong?

On the Moeraki, just below Boulder Creek

The spring of 2017 was extremely dry down south, making for amazing conditions on the “wet” coast for most outdoor enthusiast (apart from the kayakers). So with the extremely low river level, it was a rather bumpy and slow float down the first section of the Moeraki. We navigated a few log jams, saw a number of large trout and countless Tui along the way.

More than a few logjams to navigate… (going under the log would NOT be recommended in any sort of flow)

Although the morning had dawned calm and clear, it was overcast and windy by the time we reached the lake. The surface had chopped up a bit, and none of us were really looking forward to the grind into the head wind. We paddled over to follow the eastern shoreline; getting some shelter from the wind sped up progress and gave us a great close up view of the many Rata in full flower.  

Dave paddles across Lake Moeraki

Although it was only mid morning, by the time we’d reached the lake outlet, it was definitely time for lunch.. We sat an scoffed our sandwiches, scooped water straight out of the lake in our little mugs and generally felt smug at arriving at such a neat place via packraft. Our spot was just out of view of the highway, but it felt like we could have been in the middle of nowhere.

Lunchtime on Lake Moeraki

There were a few mini-rapids to bounce down below the road bridge, but soon the Moeraki took on the shape of a jungle-lined canal. Round the next corner, a huge contraption slowly came into view. Looking like a the arm of a construction crane, with two huge ‘fangs’ sticking down into the water, it took us a few moments to realise it was a retractable whitebaiting jetty, and not some kind of heinous raft-puncturing trap set by the coasters for unwary packrafters. We slowly paddled past more than a dozen such contraptions, which made us ponder how any of the whitebait avoid becoming a delicacy and make it up river to breed.

Packrafter trap or Whitebait stand?

Rounding the next bend, the sound of the ocean reached us, and shortly thereafter the view of huge swells pulverising rocky headlands. Despite the raw power of the Tasman Sea in clear view, it was easy to find a safe spot to take out and begin our amphibian transition from paddler to pedestrian.

Admiring the awesome power of the surf at the river mouth

As I rolled up my packraft in the sticky heat, I studied the way out along the beach and began to rue my cursory glance at the topomap in preparation for this trip.  The gentle coastline and sandy shores depicted at the point were somewhat in contrast to the rocky headland into which the swells crashed. Turns out I should have known better; although it only rose 40m above sea level, thats plenty of height to create any number of impassable bluffs.  Neither did I check the tides for the day – another rookie mistake.

When packing for the trip, I thought about the water I’d need for the day. Apart from the kilometer or so of coastal travel, the whole route was on or beside freshwater, so instead of a water bottle, I just took a plastic mug to scoop up a drink or two. I thought about filling my belly and hydrating well before setting off walking, but as expected the river mouth was brackish and unsuitable for the job. So as I pondered the inevitable bush bash, I began to lament the fact that the only drinkable liquid I could carry was the cans of warm apple cider we’d intended to drink as we relaxed on this beach. But with a little bit of adventure ahead of us, we wisely chose to remain alcohol free till back on the beaten path.

Its important to keep hydrated…

Ready to begin, we made our way along the shore, for a closer inspection of the coastal route. In between swells, we zipped from rock to rock, looking for a route around, but nothing that looked sensible was discovered.  

So close yet so far… Our goal was just around that point, but the seas were too rough to attempt a traverse.

Back at the main beach, I took a few moments to make a navigation plan, took a deep breath and plowed head first into the Kiekie and Kareao maelstrom.About 5 steps into the bush, Aimee discovered the advantages of a 4 piece paddle over a 2 piece. We were literally swimming through the bush, suspended at times a few feet in the air on a lattice of Kiekie branches or entwined in a web of Supple Jack. Progress usually involved a step or two forward then two or three backwards to unsnare ourselves and find a slightly clearer path to one side or another.

Aimee pondering her choice of a 2-piece paddle over a 4-piece

Route finding out the front, I could only occasionally hear the choice words coming from my mates, though they were equally balanced with bursts of laughter as one or another came flailing down into a heap of tangled paddles, arms and west coast jungle. On top of the tiny hillock that we were traversing, I managed to climbed part way up a sturdy tree to survey the way ahead. I could see our beachy destination, but a cliff or two barred the way. We boxed around said cliff and lowered ourselves down the steep bank, hanging on gratefully to the vines and branches we’d been cursing up until this point.  Just meters from the beach now, and finally on flat ground, we resorted to crawling with our chins scooping along the muddy ground to get under and through one final, incredibly dense tangle of supple jack.

Aimee looking unimpressed at our predicament

It’d take us an hour and a half to move 250 meters…

Only barely a mini-epic by Kiwi standards, my friends from England were completely gob-smacked by the experience. Sitting in a heap on the sand, covered head to toe in forest detritus, wearing big packs with paddles attached and sipping cider from a can, we must have been a strange sight for all the tourists on Monro beach. Maybe that’s the reason for all the weird looks.. Or maybe we just smelled a little off…  

Success!

Dan is the FMC development officer and is working to promote Packrafting as part of the Outdoor Community project. You can view more information about this route on www.PackraftingTrips.nz or learn about the Packrafting Association of NZ

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