A Photographic Journey Packrafting the Waiau

  
Packrafting down the Waiau proved to be the best thing we have done in New Zealand. We got to wild camp every night, enjoyed our long days on the water, and best of all, with our boats on our bikes and then our bikes on our boats we got to enjoy the self sufficiency and solitude we have so been craving. Somehow, the fine line between uncomfortable (wet and slightly cold due to our not so waterproof rain gear) and comfort (always having a dry warm sleeping bag at night) seems to be where we have the most fun.

We put in at the beginning of the Waiau at Lake Te Anau with five days of food and our camping gear in the boats with our bikes strapped to the front. And our bananas, can’t go anywhere without those bananas.

  

 

We paddled in the sun –  

    
    
 
– and in the pouring rain.

   

   
We carried our boats across a dam…

  
… and walked them like a dog on a leash when the water was too shallow.

  

We scouted rapids,

  
   
and then we went down them.
          

We even made a few flying friends along the way!

   

   

We camped – sometimes in the rain and sometimes with beautiful sunsets on the horizon as we ate dinner – in places accessible only by boat.

  
   
     

     
  

Then, we would wake up and paddle again! 

   
      
  

       
  

   

Then, after five days and 120km we made it to the ocean!

   
    
    
    
 
We packed up our boats, put our wheels back on our bikes, and cycled to the nearest town to replenish our food supply and head to our next put in.

   
 

The Gear

We were really impressed with the Denali Llama Alpacka rafts that we got to use as we could paddle and even go through (small) rapids with the bikes on the nose of the packrafts as the rafts sit so high in the water. We were also impressed with how much gear we could fit in the internal compartments (two long dry bags which then clip inside the boat that you inflate around the stuff); we had five days worth of heavy food – unfortunately we aren’t biking with a dehydrator – and even with all of our camping gear and clothes, we could have easily fit at least twice as much stuff. We put our panniers on the boats (under our bikes) and had a day bag out with food and clothes to last us until we were ready to deflate our boats in camp.

 
Though it took us about an hour to set up our rafts, pack our gear, and figure out a way to strap on the bikes the first time we did it, we easily got it to under half an hour every other morning. We took off our wheels and then had a nice neat little package we could pick up and carry.

    
What We Learned 

We learned that we need waterproof rain gear (and preferably some sort of wet or dry suit for the shoulder or off seasons when we plan to be doing more of our future trips), and small waterproof day bags for our food and clothes that we want access to during the day. Besides that, it was actually a whole lot like cycle touring – picnicing in pretty places, camping and cooking watching the sunset, sleeping like young puppy dogs out cold all night long – just instead of being on bikes during the day we were in our rafts. We also learned that we love packrafting and can’t wait to plan our next adventure!

  

If anyone is interested in packrafting in New Zealand make sure to check out Packrafting New Zealand for rentals, guided tours, or to purchase your own!

Packrafting – “Roads? Where We’re Going We Don’t Need Roads”

  

Cycle touring opened a world of travel and exploration for us, and we can tell that packrafts – a magical little boat that fits in your backpack or on your bike and can be blown up and packed down in minutes – are going to open our world even further.

What They Are

Packrafts are lightweight (4-5 pound) rafts which fold up small enough to put in your backpack or on your bike, yet are durable enough that experienced rafters use them to travel down the Grand Canyon. For us, they are a small practical boat – that will fit in our apartment – which will allow us to explore new areas by paddling across lakes or down quiet rivers. We will be able to enjoy campsites otherwise inaccessible by roads or even trails, cross rivers on biking or hiking trips, and fish and hunt a whole new terrain.

How They Work

You roll them out then fill them up! It’s seriously that simple. It takes us about five minutes, though I’m sure those with practice can do it much quicker.

  

And then you go! Preferably once you are in water.

  

Or if you are like us you attach your bike to the front first. Then you go.
 

And then you cycle back home once you are finished.

  
 
Who Makes Them

Alpacka began making packrafts fifteen years ago and is still the leading brand today, hand making each boat out of Colorado. Their most popular line – the Alpacka – has a size for everyone (we are using the Llama which is the large), while they also make a few even lighter weight boats and a tandem. They have add-on’s for many of their boats – spray skirts and internal storage which we will get to try out this trip – and sell four-piece paddles and lightweight dry/paddling suits. They even have a three year guarantee with their boats and the packrafting guru we met here in New Zealand has already had his for six (with only one hole ever, which was easily repaired with a patch kit).

 

Before embarking on an eight day trip – down the Waiau to the sea before biking to the end of Lake Manapouri and then paddling across – we decided to test them out for the day (without the bikes attached). We hiked from our campsite right in town with everything in our one small backpack (two would have been nice) and put in at the start of the Waiau river. We then spent the afternoon paddling amongst jumping fish in what felt like the middle of nowhere even though there was a popular trek nearby, and a road not too far away. Once we were done we hiked out to the road and hitchhiked back to town – something which definitely wouldn’t have been possible with any other boat!

The blue bag you see hanging off is a homemade throw bag – our old stove bag, rope, and chunks of foam from a kids water toy. Since we didn’t come to New Zealand prepared for packrafting we are making due with what we have (or can make).

  
  

Fishing anyone? 

  
Or how about a gentle ride to a quiet picnic spot?

   
  

 
If you couldn’t already tell, we are beginning to get a bit obsessed; the possibility are endless!

If ever you are in New Zealand and want to try packrafting, make sure to check out Arno at Packrafting New Zealand for rentals or guided tours ranging from one to six days!