VECTOR WERO WHITEWATER COURSE: PLAYBOATING ON NEW ZEALAND’S NORTH ISLAND

Freestyle sometimes seems a dying sport on the North Island of New Zealand, and while I had asked around to see if there were any fun freestyle spots at the recently built Vector Wero Whitewater Park, no one could give me a good answer.

This January I decided to take matters into my own hands and check out the Vector Wero for myself. I was reluctant to leave the warm waters of the Kaituna for a concrete ditch, but it proved more than worth the trip! I had four fun and sun-filled days of freestyle, with zero lineups.

The Vector Wero Course is located in Auckland, just next to the Auckland International Airport, making it a three and half hour drive my home in Okere Falls. With a big parking lot and a fun waterfall sculpture marking the entrance, the park is welcoming and friendly from the get-go. I hadn’t bothered to book a kayak pass ahead of time, so I paid my $40 daypass to be able to paddle during any of the rafting sessions upon arriving. After a quick skill assessment, I was handed a bib and sent on my merry way to play.

The tropical blue “lake” feeds two different whitewater channels at Wero where raft trips are run at hourly intervals based on bookings. The Tamariki River Rafting takes place on the “small channel.” This section is a pretty mellow grade two/three float, with a few swirly eddies, some small surf waves and, as it turns out, a GREAT freestyle feature. Though the steeper bottom hole was filled with surfing rafts for most of my sessions, the rafts only bopped through the top hole, which was a perfect spot to practice and learn tricks like cartwheels, splitwheels, loops, and even phoenixs! If you had more skill getting into a back blast than I do, I have no doubt you could get mcnastys and tricky woos going with ease. The feature was relatively slow moving and friendly with two shoulders. Heavier or larger paddlers might have found it to be shallow, but I never hit bottom. It reminded me a lot like the bottom (main) freestyle feature in Buena Vista, Colorado.

I could have stayed to train on the Tamariki happily all week until I discovered the River Rush Channel. I had so much fun kayaking on the River Rush Channel, Wero’s Grade III-IV course that I extended my trip by two days. From riding the conveyer belt up to the top to stern-stalling on the eddylines where the bottom of the course filters into the lake, I couldn’t stop smiling. I played my way non-stop from top to bottom. There were fun waves to carve around and warm up on, a number of surprisingly steep holes to boof, and several holes worth stopping to session where you could work on basic skills, like blasting, carving, front surfing, side surfing, and spinning, and more advanced tricks. My favorite was the first main drop, around a third of the way down the course. It was steep and fast, but oh so fun for cartwheels, loops, spaces, splits, and phoenixs. Again, I struggled to set up a mcnasty, but I have a feeling others would have been just fine. The angle of the hole made it easy to try linking moves and tricks together, and big eddies on either side of the feature made it easy to stay away from rafts.

What really impressed me about Wero wasn’t the warm water, friendly staff or the facilities- including changing rooms, showers, a café, lounge chairs, and free wifi, though those were all excellent, it was how well set up the course was to allow for skill progression. There are waves fun to surf for first-timers to experts, plenty of eddies to catch of varying difficulty, and conveyor belts that make it easy to park and play or lap your way down. The office made it easy to pick and choose. You could pay for a $40 daypass (guaranteed two hours of water) or pay for an hour session on the Tamariki ($15 NZD) or the River Rush ($22NZD). I went in January, over New Zealand’s school holidays, which meant there was no shortage of raft trips or water. But it is worth looking online to see when the water will be flowing. If there is nothing listed, call and see! I will definitely be back- and even hope to organize a freestyle development camp for next year to see if I can’t bring some stoke for freestyle back to the North Island.

To check out when there are rafting trips booked, or to plan your trip, visit: https://wero.org.nz/kayaking-check-in-times

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