Updated: Dec 7, 2020
New Zealand has some of the most stunning and diverse packraft friendly landscapes and terrain in the world, for all levels of experience, from first timers to extremists. After 15 years in a kayak paddling white-water all over the world, I became curious about the increasing popularity of the packrafting culture and the idea of a fully self supported, authentic adventure (i.e. without the need of a helicopter for transport to the desired put-in) was attractive. So I decided to give it a go. As a first stop, I wanted to test the packrafts limits and see how they performed in solid white water. So I dove right in with two mates to tackle a first descent of the Butler River on the West Coast of New Zealand from source to sea.
Day one entailed a gruelling, but stunning 10 hour, 25km hike from the road end near Whataroa to Butler Junction Hut. My packraft of choice for the mission was the Rogue-Lite with T-Zip weighing in at just 2.5kg. The rafts roll up to a compact sleeping-bag size, clipping snugly onto the back of our loaded tramping packs. The sacrifice of hiking with an extra 2.5kg strapped to my back when I knew I could float back out on it (and sleep on it if needed) was worth it.
We woke up on day two of the expedition and commenced the 10km hike to the source of the Butler River; an ice lake located at the base of the Whataroa Glacier, where we set up camp for a restful nights sleep in preparation for the first descent of the Butler River the next morning.
On day three we were ready to put these packrafts to the test. Our plan was to paddle as much as we could between the source and Butler Junction hut where we stayed on night one. We put in and made our way down 500m of class 3/4 mank from the ice-lake before the river basically fell off the face of the earth so we proceeded with some tough portaging for about 4-5km back down to Butler Junction Hut.
Right from the get-go the packraft exceeded my expectations in class 3/4 whitewater. The performance and manoeuvrability was better than I thought and for me, it made class 3 feel like class 4 (in a kayak) and class 4 like class 5. Portaging was relatively straight-forward with such a light weight piece of kit.
Day four and we set off for the final 25km float. Riverside and ready to go, the rafts only took three minutes to inflate thanks to the Kokopelli Feather Lite Pump (which also doubles as a great fire starter). The last day was by far the best white water, not to mention the epic sheer walled gorges, turquoise blue water and towering Alps.
After completing this mission, I was stoked to have acquired a new tool and passion to explore New Zealand's back country. The packrafts proved to hold up in extreme white water environments unlocking my personal adventure potential in areas where it is expensive to land a helicopter with kayaks or where helicopter landings are prohibited - now I could simply hike in and float out. The light weight design makes for easy portaging and left me excited for future trips.
The packrafting culture is relatively new in New Zealand, and after my time exploring in this innovative piece of kit I realised the potential to inspire other out door enthusiasts all over New Zealand and Australia, unlocking their adventure potential too. Even those with little to zero river experience. This is why I decided to begin distributing these packrafts throughout New Zealand and Australia. I love seeing others enjoy a good mission whether it be a chill day trip or an epic multi-day, packrafting is a sure way to safely explore.
Feel free to get in touch directly for expert advice on anything packrafting and I can answer any questions you might have.