So the plan was to tube down the Motueka River, officially referred to as a Grade 2 (or Grade 2+ in the section above the Peninsular Bridge). So, it’s not especially high-adrenaline stuff, particularly when it’s running at average summer flow, which I think is around 30m3. In fact, they say anything below 70 is fine for beginners. But sometimes danger lurks in the most unlikely of places, and danger is even more dangerous when you’re not expecting it, when you’ve been lulled into a false sense of ‘she’ll be right’.
The planned route
There aren’t a lot of options – you basically follow the river. But you can choose where you want to start, and where you expect to end up. I will say one thing – I was ambitious.
Start: Macleans Recreation Area (approx 32km from end point)
End: Top end of Whakawera St
Average speed: 4kmh
River flow (Woodstock): ~30m3
We set off at 1.45pm. I was expecting an average speed of around 8kmh. In reality, it was more like half that. Which means I’d seriously underestimated our ETA at the pickup point.
Possibly if the river was running higher we would have been moving quicker but at around 30m3 it was essentially walking speed. I’ll remember that for next time.
Our mode of transport
Originally I was planning on tracking down a tractor tyre tube for the trip. Knowing how long the journey took, I’m glad I opted for something more comfortable. Our 2-person inflatable ride from The Warehouse was perfect for the mostly easy-going river (it coped fine with the occasional set of rapids and even when it got shallow it was fine skimming over the tops of the smooth river rocks – just lift your butt as you go through to avoid getting bumped from below!).
The inflatable didn’t come with oars so I’m really glad I picked up a couple before we set off. You’ll need them both for navigating your way through rapids, around rocks, negotiating bends and moving through some of the slower sections.
I was worried that running into rocks or the occasional branch might have burst the inflatable but it was a tough vinyl and coped fine.
If you’re going as a group, generally a single ride is better so you stay together – if you’re in separate tubes you could get separated.
Our inflatable had on-board storage for the most important things – beer & snacks. I also had my phone in a snaplock bag – it still got wet but has since recovered. Basically anything you take will most likely get wet at some point.
Sunblock, a hat for the sun and insect repellant are worth taking as well.
Next time, I’ll probably take a spare battery for those emergency ‘come collect us’ texts that you need to make after your phone just died!
We went in the middle of summer and for me togs, a life vest and booties (to walk on the river stones when we needed to get out) was all I needed. If you feel the cold, or the day is a bit cooler, then a wetsuit is probably a good idea.
The Motueka river (from where we left at Mcleans) is pretty easy going. Even the toughest rapid would have been fine but we walked around it just because there were too many rocks for us to take a clear line through the middle without banging into something.
If you’ve never done any rafting it might take a bit of getting used to, navigating your craft with the current. The key is to plan ahead – don’t wait until the last minute. Pick your path and let everyone know what route you’re taking, so you can paddle in the same direction. Try to stay clear of the edges, particularly on bends, so you don’t get pushed against the bank (where there are often submerged logs and branches).
One technique we found effective with our raft was spinning it around, and when we were facing the direction we wanted to head in, paddle hard. This seemed to make good use of the river’s natural flow, while helping us avoid trouble.
Obviously, the river will vary depending on the flow so just keep an eye on that.
Distances and travel times
This was the part I got wrong. It wasn’t a major – it just meant it took a lot longer than expected. Have a plan with your support crew to collect you, and what to do in the event you lose your phone and have to abandon the river. There are houses dotted along the river so if you got really desperate you might be able to ask to use a phone to contact someone.
Below are approximate distances from various landmarks on the river.
4.8km from Mcleans recreation area to Baton bridge
11.4km from Baton bridge to Peninsular bridge (Ngatimoti)
7.5km from Peninsula Bridge (Ngatimoti) to Alexander Bluff
6.8km from Alexander Bluff bridge to Whakawera st
While we had intended to finish up at Whakawera St, our support crew got worried and came searching for us, and we, by pure coincidence, crossed paths at the Alexander Bluff bridge. A 6-hour river ride is probably sufficient for most people I would imagine.
I think next time either leaving from the Peninsular or Alexander Bluff bridges might be a less hurried way to spend a summer afternoon!