Capturing the Ngaruroro

Taking part in a River Valley rafting adventure on the Ngaruroro River shows us a different view to how most of us normally view its waters, ending as it does at the Waitangi Estuary near Clive, its muddied form mingling with the Tutaekuri River before it empties into the Pacific.

Sourced in pristine isolation 164km away high, in the mountainous backdrop of the Kawekas, it runs undisturbed through the Kaimanawa and Ruahine Ranges before dropping onto the Heretaunga Plains in Hawkes Bay and meandering across farming communities.

Steep river ravine in the upper reaches of the Ngaruroro River

How To Access Unreachable Back Country

The first road to cross it is at Kuripapango, on the Gentle Annie road which links Rangitikei to Hawke’s Bay. It’s where adventure company River Valley put the rafts in for their 42km, two-day Mountains to Vineyards trip starting next month. About halfway between Taihape and Napier, it’s a little over an hour’s drive from the River Valley Lodge base.

Owner and senior raft guide Brian Megaw says the Mountains to Vineyards trip offers an opportunity to access an otherwise unreachable back country area close to home. “It’s a great introduction to expedition-style rafting and an easy way to have a wilderness trip. “Normally a trip of this type would mean helicoptering in – a much more expensive option.”

Like most of New Zealand’s rivers the Ngaruroro River relies on spring rains to make the water moveable and exciting. “ It has such a short season and there’s only a three-month window to access it,” he says.

Water So Pristine and Clear You Can Drink It Direct

Here, in the upper reaches the water is so pristine you can drink it. By November the water has warmed up enough to swim. There’s lots of scenery – bush that has never been logged, steep hillsides covered with kanuka and beech and the chance of seeing a rare New Zealand falcon soaring overhead. And it’s remote – an unplanned meeting with anybody else is just about nil. In the early part of the season wild sheep with long-tailed lambs venture over the steep rock face.

The company takes small groups of up to eight people. The first day is a comfortable four to five hours on the water through the lower Kaweka Range, passing “incredibly beautiful” mountain country before making camp about 3.30pm.

“It’s pretty country, spectacular and adventurous, with lots of grade three rapids – they’re technical and fun, without being too scary. “Just before camp we ride an exciting gorge section with half a dozen rapids, a step up from what the others are on the trip, and then bang it’s into camp.”

Hardly Roughing It ……….

Isolated, surrounded by the sounds of the river, it’s hardly roughing it. Dinner is a luxurious three-course meal, accompanied by good Hawke’s Bay wine. Bed is under canvas on a nice thick sleeping mat. The group are back on board by 10am the following day.

By the time the river meets the Taruarau River tributary the terrain has flattened out, the river slowing as it widens into a braided river system across farmland. Brian says at one point clouds of swooping black-backed gulls’ circle the rafts as hundreds of roosting birds are disturbed, making for “an incredible sight”.

Finding A Very Different River Than What They Were Used To

Hastings couple Tony and Sue Johnson went on the Mountains to Vineyard trip last spring with friends from Wellington. Although familiar with the lower reaches of the Ngaruroro he says the upper region reflects a very different river, the most recognisable being the “abrupt and dramatic” change in water quality within 200 metres of the start of farming.

The trip is very impressive – the differences in the superb scenery, the feeling of being well away from civilisation, and there’s a general sense of being on a “happy” river he says. “It’s very local and very accessible and now the road is sealed it’s easy for people to get over to Taihape.”

“The trip was a real confidence builder – as a semi-retired older age group, we found it a really fun thing to do – but too short. “It’s an extremely good one – not too dramatic, but enough to be exciting, well organised, comfortable, and fun and we particularly commend the meticulous environmental awareness and care shown,” he says.

An Intimate and Romantic River

For River Valley rafting guide, Spencer Hall, the Mountains to Vineyard trip was his introduction guiding a multi-day trip. “The Ngaruroro is an intimate and romantic river and I really fell in love with my job. “Some of the wilderness pools are incredible – long, still, quiet and tranquil. “The river’s beauty is in its isolation.”

“It’s much more of a way of life – you live on the river and become part of it and it becomes your home,” he says.

With the early spring rains this year there may be a little more excitement – but not too much. Summer comes early on the Hawke’s Bay side of the ranges and by mid-January there’s just not enough water in the river to raft it.

This article was written by freelance journalist, Pippa Brown –

For further information on a rafting trip on the Ngaruroro River, please follow this link.