Packrafting the Clutha

Date of Adventure: 12 & 13 March 2021

We finally reached the rocky beach where lake turns to river as day turned to dusk.

Wanaka is a beautiful town, and we find ourselves returning here often. The combination of accessible mountains and the small-town feel makes it an appealing stopover.

In this case, we stopped in for the A&P (Agriculture and Produce) Festival. It was just a small fair for the surrounding countryside to show off their latest products and livestock. It felt remarkably similar to the National Western Stock Show in Denver, except held outside. We even ran into the only kiwi we knew, proving how small of a country it can feel like!

After leaving the festival, we had to decide where would stay for the night. Having recently discovered the CamperMate App, we found the nicest low-cost option, Albert Town DOC Campground, just outside of Wanaka.

Albert Town DOC

Situated in a large bend of the Clutha River, the Albert Town Campground contained several rows of enormous trees to block the sun and wind, making it a very peaceful place! Crossing the bridge to get to the campground we remarked how wide – and packraftable – the river looked! After finding our camp site for the night we quickly consulted Google maps and found there was a footpath alongside the river all the way up to the mouth at Lake Wanaka!

It was a super short path, probably only about 5km one way, but that seemed like a perfect short start for the amount of time we had! Someday we will be back to raft more of the Clutha river!

Here’s a link to a fun little video of our adventure!

Though it was late afternoon and the sun would be setting soon, we decided it was worth the adventure even if we got benighted. We had been craving more river time since our first trip in October of 2020 and were itching to use the packrafts from the moment we packed them into our suitcases!

We hastily threw the packrafts, paddles and PFDs into the first backpacks we could find and took off down the path. Quick stop for the tree swing of course!

The golden rays of the setting sun illuminated the trees as we hustled down the gravel trail. Our pace was halfway between a walk and a jog, partially to get there with as much daylight as possible but mainly out of excitement.

The path followed the curves of the winding river, giving us ample views of our way back to camp. We noticed a couple of “rapids” and obstacles on our way, making mental notes of which line we should take once on river. We finally reached the rocky beach where lake turns to river as day turned to dusk. With no time to lose, we unfurled our packrafts and quickly inflated them. Within minutes we were ready to push off into the lazily flowing Clutha River.

It always feels weird when the river takes control of your raft; though you’re not adding any propulsion yourself, the trees on the banks swiftly whisper by, and the water’s surface belies your true speed.

The river valley cooled quickly without the input of the sun. We found ourselves paddling to keep warm, if not for speed. This quickly brought us to our small rapids. We communicated about our plans and cruised through the rocks with ease.

The choppy water we called our ‘Rapids’

Before long we recognized the tall trees of the Albert Town campground and knew our takeout point was soon approaching. We ensured we were on the correct side of the river and hugged the edge to make sure we wouldn’t get swept away in the strong current passing by. The far left side of the final bend featured the strongest current of the river stretch and we had to be certain to exit that current at the right time so we didn’t overshoot our camp site.

As the dark crept in, we stepped into the cold water to pull our rafts onshore. We heaved the boats overhead and climbed up the loose hill to our van. As I quickly tossed the paddle down, it hit the still inflated packraft and bounced off landing on my bare foot. Ouch!

On the shore at dusk

Didymo, a freshwater algae, is trying to make its way across the country. To prevent the spread of this, each water sporter is responsible for making sure all their wet gear is cleaned and dried out thoroughly before storing. We did our part by wiping everything down and leaving them out overnight to dry, tying the packrafts to the van so they would stay close by in the event of strong winds.

The next morning was a beautiful day! As we started to pack up our packraft gear, we looked at each other and checked the time. We had so much fun the previous evening, our stuff is still out and ready, let’s do it again! Off we went!

Beautiful day to be on the river!

This time we were better prepared; we had pulled out better bags, and they were packed more securely. We had our running shoes on, plus a better camera! Again we found ourselves on a time crunch, so we decided to run most of it!

All packed up!

About halfway up we ran into a tramper (hiker) and stopped to chat. She was walking the TA (Te Araroa)! I was awed; we asked her several questions and heard some of her stories as we all walked in the same direction. It was so inspiring!

The TA hiker, making tracks!

When we reached the mouth of the river, we unpacked, unrolled and inflated the rafts. As soon as I pushed off and sat down in mine my seat completed deflated! What a bummer! I spent the last few days in the states going over each seam meticulously with the iron to fix any known holes and ensure a complete seal all the way around. But the packrafts themselves still held their air phenomenally and that’s all that really matters anyway!

Cameron surveying the water

As quickly as we ran up alongside the river, we floated back down the river. Soon enough we could see Cämpi and we were back at camp! Thankfully, the hot sun was beaming down, not only for the sake of our solar panel and charging our battery but also to help dry out the gear! Before long, the packrafts were all dried out and ready to be stowed. Once everything was tucked away, we drove off, heading toward our next adventure!

Cameron crafted this for me our last day at the Albert Town Campground ❤

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it!


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