Kaituna River

For the past five winters I have chosen to make Okere Falls, on the banks of the Kaituna River my second summer home. You may have seen the Carpark of Dreams video showcasing the transient, summertime Kaituna community- and are already thinking about this dreamland, but if you haven’t here are a few reasons to visit.

First, the community.  There is a rad group of outdoor enthusiasts here who are almost always keen to get on the water or get outside in someway shape or form. The community is actually what brought me out here in the first place, and is probably the biggest reason I keep coming back. Paddling is always better with friends.

Second, the location. Okere Falls is located in the Bay of Plenty, on the eastern side of New Zealand’s North Island. The river is 35 minutes one direction from beautiful coastline where you can surf it up when there is swell, and only 25 minutes the other direction from the Redwoods Forest, where there is world-class mountain biking. If you don’t want to paddle all day, or are traveling with a partner who doesn’t kayak, don’t stress it, because you can get in a quick lap or two and still have time for a multisport life.

Which brings me to reason number three: the river. The Kaituna River is a perfect training ground for building confidence in your boat and gaining skill. It is also a rad place to build fitness, get comfortable in a creek boat, and nail your boof.  Why?

  1. Length: The commercially rafted section is short and sweet, at just over 1.5 kilometers long (roughly one mile).  The shuttle takes about 5 minutes driving, or about 12 minutes to walk. This grants the ability to “lap” the river as many times in a day as you want or have energy for.
  1. Pool Drop: The Kaituna is pool-drop, so while there are drops (including Tutea Falls, a seven-meter (20-foot) waterfall, there are pools which give time for recovery after.
  1. You can break it into pieces: The River is divided up into sections. The top is the slalom course and the Chute, a powerful wave hole with a boily eddy on either side. Below are a few fun wave trains before an easy get-out on river left before the main rapids. This provides a great place for paddlers of all skill levels to work on the basics, from surfing to eddy turns. I’ve spent many hours out here with beginner paddlers, and many hours working skills by myself. The general rule of thumb is that if you can cross the Chute successfully ~10x in a row, you are good to run the river. There are also a few exit points pre-and post the bigger drops along the way, making it easy to choose which section you want to paddle.
  1. Learn to Boof.  Pretty much every rapid on the main commercial section requires some sort of boof stroke. The section below the Chute contains a few fun warm up rapids before the first set of drops, known as the Powerhouse and the Weir. Back in the day, NZ’s first hydrostation was built here. You still paddle through the walls of the old powerstation into the eddy above the drop. It is a magical sport. This double drop is one of the harder and longer rapids, as it requires a boof, a ferry across some pushy current, and a second boof. 
  1. Fun Eddy Moves: Shag Alley, a section of water below the powerhouse and the weir, is full of fun eddy moves to challenge your skill. The river is boily, with a bit of a big water feel, which means things aren’t always as easy as they look. The lower the water gets, the more different moves to try emerge all the way downstream to the takeout.
  1. The Waterfall: The afore-mentioned Tutea Falls is arguably the highlight of the commercial Kaituna run. At seven meters tall, Tutea is reputedly the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. The river narrows above, making it a blind lead-in, before opening into a large pool below. This rapid gives me a few butterflies everytime, as there is a small cave behind the curtain. Most locals have at least one horror story about Tutea, but on the whole it is a remarkably forgiving waterfall. Lapping Tutea builds your late boofstroke, and helps learn how to control your boat while falling.
  1. The Bottom Hole: Just above the take-out for the commercial run is the bottom hole. Rumour has it a few freestyle tricks were invented here, and at the right levels, it is a great spot to try left phoenixes, cartwheels, splitwheels, and mcnastys, or to loop a creekboat, try a mystery move, or just the biggest pop-up possible.
  1. Trout Pool and the Lower Gorges: If you want a bit more of a rush, just downstream of the take-out is Trout Pool Falls, a five-meter drop with a pool below. Trout Pool is considered more consequential than the other drops on the river as it has a pretty sticky hole below it that can body-recirc you if you miss your (late) boof. It’s a nice challenge to work up to, or to watch others try.  If you want a full day on the river, or a more committed run, downstream of Trouties are three distinct gorges known as the Lower Gorges. Awesome is first, a tight canyon filled with swirly grade III rapids. Don’t miss the takeout, because just below is the aptly named Gnarly Gorge, a committed Grade V gorge not to be taken lightly. If you want, you can walk around Gnarly to put back in about 40 minutes later on Smoky Gorge, a beautiful Grade IV run with fun rapids and tight canyons. Be careful in the gorges, as there is often a risk of wood.

The Kaituna River serves as a playground and is a resource that links the community together. Over the summer there are often lots of races, ranging from playful, like Christmas at the Kaituna and The Champions Race, to the more serious Kaituna Time Trial, making it a great place to come and get race fit, or just come and enjoy.

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