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Enjoy your kiwi heritage – rafting the Clarence

  • February 11th, 2014

I've just come off 6 days rafting down the Clarence River with 13 friends. We're raving about good times that surpassed all expectation.

The river starts above Hanmer and reaches the sea near Kaikoura. Rafting it should be on every New Zealander's heritage 'must do' list, like the Otago Rail Trail.

Do it for the scale of the country, its emptiness, the clarity of the sky, the alternating serenity and rush of rafting. Do it to enjoy the chatter of your raft-mates, the walking and climbing from campsites among scrub and snowgrass. Do it to swim in deep blue pools and drink the water you swim in all the way down. Do it to boil the billy on wood fires and taste the difference between manuka  and willow smoke in your tea. Do it to be without electronic contact for the entire trip.

Do it to sip your Waipara wines as the swallows zip and dart over your camp after insects in the evening.

We saw no one outside our party on the entire 180km trip. The flow grows from easily fordable clear water at the put in, to mostly unfordable azure pools and white rapids near the sea. There is nothing scary however in a river with nothing more than grade two rapids, but be ready to paddle hard in short bursts, or against the hot afternoon wind, or the cold southerly.

If you are a foodie do it with the magnificent guides of Ben Judge and Bridget Jessep.  I recommend the trip to gourmands even if they hate getting wet. Treat that part and having to paddle as the price of being allowed to share their meals. Time on the water is the filler between eating and drinking. Their food is not just fuel. Without formulaic meals, each trip has a menu reflecting the cook's shopping preference at the time with the best of local produce. Looking at our pics we seemed to be endlessly eating!

They cook over firewood you will gather.  They get a billy boiling the same way for morning and afternoon tea, to wash down the home baking.

The guides cajole, reassure, answer questions and listen with every sign of interest to the insights of each new-comer to the river, which they've no doubt heard scores of times before. Without their personalities longer days in less than perfect weather could drag. Instead, they accept leadership of each raft troop, to make every day fresh and memorable.

Do it before the river and the guides are over-whelmed by demand. Enjoy one of the most truly unspoiled experiences New Zealand can give you.



[…] Enjoy your kiwi heritage – rafting the Clarence – Stephen Franks: […]


Stephen, poetic from a North Islander legal. This is good. I think your father sent you to Boy Scouts when you were a boy. For a minute I thought your column overtaken by waltzing Matilda.

  • Catharine Franks
  • February 15th, 2014
  • 5:40 pm

Hear hear! Loved it. Great guides and fabulous food.

  • G Henderson
  • February 27th, 2014
  • 7:36 am

Glad you enjoyed your river trip. I hope it made you realise just how important it is to retain all our rivers, not just the wild and scenic ones that feature on Tourism NZ brochures. Our lowland waterways are being destroyed thanks to National’s light-handed approach to dirty dairying and its fostering of irrigation schemes like Ruataniwha.

If confirmation is needed, just read the report by the PCE.

  • Robin
  • March 18th, 2015
  • 9:11 am

What a great article, thanks for sharing man!

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