Why Would You Forget This River?

Rather than the level of notoriety of its better known cousins, this is a river that sits quietly in the background, just like a beautiful woman who sits in the shadows at the back of the room, waiting for those who make the extra effort to meet her.

Author, Graham Charles talks of the North Island’s little known Ngaruroro River in his excellent book – New Zealand Whitewater 120 Great Kayaking Runs. In the book he sums up this river as, “Wilderness and Worth it”.

Why does this accomplished kayaker, writer and adventurer think the Ngaruroro River is worth it, after all it is sometimes also known as the “Forgotten River”.

The Forgotten River

The Ngaruroro (na-ru-raw-raw) is a small, remote, little known and maybe even forgotten river that finds its source high in the central North Island’s Kaweka Ranges. For much of its length it flows through native Beech or Kanuka forest before disgorging into Hawkes Bays rich and fertile Heretaunga Plains. In fact floods from this river have been responsible for much of the formation and fertility of this bread bowl of the North Island.

Why Has The Ngaruroro Been Forgotten?

In rafting and kayaking circles and even the broader community, it has been the bigger, more accessible and “touristy” rivers that are regularly featured in the media. It is a situation where the lack of exposure means that this river, for all its merits, slips under the radar and is in many ways forgotten.

The Ngaruroro River is not close to any major tourist town such as Queenstown’s Shotover River, it does not have the huge drops of say Rotorua’s Kaituna, nor the very steep technical rapids of the Rangitikei, rafted by River Valley.

Rather than the level of notoriety of its better known cousins, this is a river that sits quietly in the background, just like a beautiful woman who sits in the shadows at the back of the room, waiting for those who make the extra effort to meet her.

Rafts floating through mixed Beech and Kanuka forest on the Ngaruroro River.

Why Go To The Trouble of Meeting and Exploring This River Of The Shadows?

There are two main sections of the Ngaruroro that are irregularly visited by kayakers and rafters.

The upper section, a three day trip if you really want to enjoy it, is accessible only by fixed wing light aircraft or helicopter. This section makes its way through mixed Beech and Kanuka forest, flowing through a myriad of small Grade 2+ (easy) rapids before meeting the Gentle Annie, the Napier – Taihape Road at Kuripapango.

The second section starts at Kuripapango and again flows through pretty mixed Beech and Kanuka forest before entering farmed hill country and finally the plains of Hawkes Bay. This section is best run as an overnight trip. There seem to be hundreds of rapids on this section starting with easier Grade 2 with a section of Grade 3+ rapids just before the nights camp. This is entertaining and fun white water.

The rest of this article will deal primarily with this accessible and fun section.

Isolation and Wilderness

“The total sense of isolation and wilderness that began within 10 minutes of launching the rafts and lasted until we saw some fishermen an hour before reaching the take-out site. This was exactly what we had been looking for when researching a rafting experience for our family. Although we were only away for two days we felt we had been on a big adventure, and at times it felt like we were exploring uncharted territory!”

The Forgotten river has this effect on those few people who venture on to it. But if it is really this good, why do not more people make use of it?

“Seeing a falcon on both days. I’ve wanted to see this rare bird ever since moving to New Zealand and to see one twice in two days was such a thrill. It brought home to me just how isolated and undisturbed an area we were rafting in. Without our guide’s expert ears and eyes we’d have been unaware of what was soaring above us and missed this unique sight.”

A raft loaded with gear for an overnight trip running one of the many Garde 3 rapids on the Ngaruroro River

You Have To Be Quick As Small and Seasonal Makes a Tiny Window

The season for being able to do a trip on the Ngaruroro is limited and short. This is a small river with a steep catchment. Winter and Spring runoff does not last long, with levels normally too low to easily boat by New Year at the latest.

What this means is that unlike most North island rivers that with regular rainfall can be boated all year round, the Ngaruroro behaves more like a snow fed river. This means that the season is really only from October to December, with the winter months being too cold and the summer flows being too low.

What Do These Limitations Mean To You?

If this article has painted a picture of a pretty, seldom visited, wilderness river that is well worth the effort required to get on it, then you have really got the picture.

This is not a river you can think to yourself that you can visit next month or the month after. If you miss the season then you will most likely have to wait a year before you have another opportunity.

The Forgotten River Is Well Worth Getting To Know

With this year’s Ngaruroro River season soon to get underway, now is the time to find out more about how you can get on this most special of rivers, before you have to wait another year.

River Valley has regular trips from mid October to the end of December. You can find out more about rafting the Ngaruroro by following this link.

Brian Megaw

P.S. The Ngaruroro is presently under consideration to join the limited number of New Zealand rivers with a Water Conservation Order (WCO) on them. A WCO is only given to rivers with outstanding characteristics to do with scenery, water quality, recreational value (fishing and boating) and confers something like a National Park status on that river. You can find out more about WCO rivers here.