Last week my son stayed for a few days. As he is a good kayaker and knows the Buller and Murchison region well, it was a good opportunity to scout out access points (for photography, not kayaking I hasten to add). We’ve had quite a lot of rain over the past couple of weeks, so the river was in flood. So, armed with Graham Charles’ book “New Zealand Whitewater”, we set off.
The picture doesn’t really do justice to this stretch of the river, the Granity Creek rapids, which was running at Grade IV. The waves didn’t look as big as they really were. But the next stop, at the Ariki Falls, I found quite scary.
At this flow, the falls had virtually disappeared. Tim pointed out a nasty spot on the far side of the river where the whitewater formed a “frown”. He explained how features like that can be extremely difficult to get out of. To make matters worse, a tree had been caught up in it.
Looking downstream the view was even more impressive. Lots of whirlpools, some of which we could see into. My guide said these were big enough to swallow kayaks, popping them up 40 or 50 metres downstream. “You just have to be able to hold your breath and relax “he said.
I found it quite sobering to think that a slip or a running jump into the water would result in almost certain death. Anyone with no wetsuit and lifejacket didn’t stand a chance.
A little further down the Buller Gorge is a long swingbridge. Quite safe, but I really didn’t like it at all. This little girl was much braver.
At the end of last year there was a real flood, shown in this montage. The river almost touched the bridge. We’re told that at this level, the Buller has the highest flow of any river in New Zealand. I can believe it.
It’s hard to imagine how much extra water is required to fill up this gorge like that. You can actually make out the flood line on the opposite bank of the river in the this next photo.
Almost out of frame to the left in this picture you can pick out a small creek on the far side. It’s called White Creek and was the epicentre for the 1929 Murchison earthquake. It was big, 7.8 on the Richter scale, was felt over most of New Zealand and caused quite a lot of damage in Nelson. Along the fault, visible in this next shot, the uplift was 4.5 m.
The Murchison Museum has some great displays on this earthquake and another which occurred in 1968. The latter caused a large slip at Lyell, a little downstream from here, which blocked the Buller River for quite a while. Here’s what it looked like shortly after the 1968 earthquake:
And here’s what it looks like today:
Well, to be accurate, a couple of weeks ago when the weather was better.