Riv's Guide to The Kaituna

Jan 19, 2023

Located in Okere Falls, the emerald green waters of the Kaituna River are an epicenter for kayakers from all over the World. Warm water running through stunning gorges and access to all levels of whitewater combine to make this beautiful New Zealand River an icon in the whitewater world.

This is a river steeped in history named “Kaituna” by the Maori which translates to “Food - Eel,” and was a major food source for the people who lived on its banks in earlier days.

This river is good to go for kayakers at 500s or less and can be run higher keeping in mind that each level presents its own challenges and kayakers should not run the river blind. This iconic run starts with an optional seal launch or a more chill water-level entry.

Sliding off the seal launch - Photo by Rod Hill (rod_coffee)

The first 200 meters is a great warm up section where local and international slalom kayakers train with a slalom gate course, great play eddies, and a surfable feature called “The Chute”. If you are comfortable playing in this feature, then that is a good sign for the rest of the run!

Playing on the Chute. Photos by Rod Hill

If the Chute proves too much for you, you can take out on the river left of the next rapid which is also an awesome spot to practice your roll and do some hole boating before carrying on. After this, the river drops down to the right, and you are in “The Rapid of No Return.” 

From here on the Kaituna turns into a beautiful mix of steep drops, play eddies, surf waves, and creeky good times. With classic rapids like “The Powerhouse,” “Tail Race,” “Tutea Falls”

Freewheeling off the right line on the Power House (left) and sliding off the Tail Race (right) - Photos by Rod Hill

This is also more than a whitewater play run but also a river steeped in history. From indigenous Maori cultural importance, past power generation, to a modern-day paddling landmark this river has been many things to many people. At the Powerhouse Rapid where the power generating plant used to be you can find a Maori statue on top of the concrete remains. Be sure to take a moment here as it is a celebration of Hine (female) element and energy. It was placed there as a celebration of Louise Jull’s life, the energy she brought to the local community, and the inspiration she provided. 

Tutea Falls also got its name’s sake from the Maori Chief, who was laid to rest behind it. Now at 7 metres, it is the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. A truly epic rapid to run going left to right with a solid left boof. If you mess up hold on for the ride and there is a cave at the back of the big pool that is perfect for emptying your boat. Some of these caves surrounding the falls were used in times of war by women and children of the local Hapu (clan), who would descend using ropes to hide out and avoid bloodshed.

Boofing Tutea Falls - Photo by Rod Hill

The bottom half of the river starts from the waterfall pool. People who are looking for a little more to paddle, but aren't keen on a full lap yet, can access this part of the river down “Hinemoa’s Steps,” along the river track and put in here.

Playing in the Bottom Hole - Photo by Rod Hill.

The bottom half is characterized by holes, fun but tight eddies, small chutes, and gorgeous scenery.  Notable rapids include “Skateboard Ramp,” “Boiling Pot” Swimmers,” “Eta Riffles” after a chip advert filmed there, “Abis,” “Stand up,” and “Bottom Hole” which is the perfect rapid to throw loops and other fun freestyle moves.

The takeout is on the river left after the “Bottom Hole.” Signs for the recommended exit. Don't miss it. It is followed closely by another drop named “Trout Pool” which can be a nasty one. Don't run this without scouting and someone on safety as it is very recirculating, and you won't be swimming out without a bag. Once you are here, you have made it down the mighty Kaituna and can tick it off of the bucket list because if it is not on there, then it should be!!!

The Takeout above Trout Pool - Photo by Rod Hill

The lower Kaituna gorges start downstream of Troutpool. These are stunning untouched gorges of solid class 4 and 5 whitewater. They are a good 4-6 hour mission and can be very dangerous due to them being narrow and logs falling in. Do not run these unless you are an experienced paddler and are with a good crew of locals or people who know the run and the risks. The first gorge is “Awesome Gorge,” followed by “Gnarly Gorge” which is usually portaged, and finally “Smoky gorge.” The takeout for these is at the Maungarangi road bridge, approximately 25 km from Okere Falls.

This Blog was written by River Mutton, a Level Six ambassador based out of Okere Falls, New Zealand. self-described part-time beater who loves nature, and having fun in her kayak. She also loves to paint and would love to write stories about all the rivers she visits. We are stoked to have her on our team. Stay tuned for a full breakdown of the lines on the Kaituna from River.

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