Epic New Zealand Packraft & Hike Trip

6-minute read + 1-hour video

Where The Wild Rivers Flow is a film about Australian YouTuber Scott Williams’ 6-day, 130-kilometer packrafting and hiking trek through the South Island wilderness of New Zealand.

Scott Williams packrafting a New Zealand lake, enjoying the mountain views


This self-funded and self-produced film got our attention because he uses our Manta Ray Hybrid kayak paddle for his trip—one of our best-selling paddles. It kept our attention because it’s a well-made video of Scott’s journey through some of the world’s most gorgeous packrafting country.

The film also demonstrates the prime benefit of traveling by packraft—the ability to carry it along easily for a combined hike-and-paddle multi-day backcountry trip. It’s light enough to stow in a backpack and tough enough for wilderness trips. Combine that with a 4-piece high-quality paddle and you’re set.

“I feel like Frodo paddling through Middle Earth,” says Scott as he paddles down the clear green water surrounded by lush forests and towering mountains.

You’ll want to relax in a comfortable chair and enjoy the story of his trip and the New Zealand scenery in Where the Wild Rivers Flows:

The Wilderness of New Zealand’s South Island

Scott’s destination is a loop route surrounded by wilderness areas and national parks on the southwest of the South Island, not far from Queenstown.

This region of the country is known for its mountains, some of which are well over 8 and 9 thousand feet in altitude (and remember, these start at close to sea level). These mountains are covered with lush forest and thick, varied vegetation.

In combination with the crystal-clear waters of the rivers and lakes he paddles, Scott can’t get enough of the stunning scenery. “Wow!” is a common phrase we hear throughout his hour-long travelogue. He finds it challenging, awe-inspiring and deeply peaceful.

One of the distinct and beautiful features of these forests is the fern trees that are native to New Zealand. From our American perspective, they look like a blend of palm trees and ferns. We see many of them in this video during Scott’s treks along the forest trails. They add a jungle-like feel to the experience.

He says, “This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been—absolutely breathtaking!”

The Trip Route

Scott mentions he made this trip rather spur-of-the-moment, as he had time off of work after the New Year’s holiday. Being in the Southern Hemisphere, New Zealand’s summer is during our winter. So a January packraft trip offers long days with potentially agreeable weather.

His trip begins on the Hollyford River. With mostly Class 1 and 2 rapids, Scott feels comfortable making this trip solo. When he encounters a Class 3 section he portages around it, as well as when he encounters downed trees in the water and other sketchy strainers.

map of Scott's packraft/hiking route in NZ


He ends his first day on the shores of Lake McKerrow. “I knew this place was going to be picturesque,” he says, “but it’s so much better than I expected.”

Days 2 and 3 are arduous 10-hour+ days. On Day 2 he starts to paddle across the rest of McKerrow, but several hours in he faces a growing headwind. Packrafts aren’t aerodynamic and tend to get blown around, so he opts to pack it up and trek on a forest trail to the lake’s end. From the looks of it, the trail is well-used and the going is quite good. He eventually reaches Martins Bay on the coast of the Tasman Sea. A little more hiking along the shoreline brings him to a suitable campsite.

Day 3 involves backpacking through dense forest with plenty of mud and overgrown vegetation. “The good thing about being in New Zealand and not Australia is you don’t have to worry about snakes,” says Scott. “If I was walking through this kind of terrain back in Australia, snakes would be top of mind.”

New Zealand's Hollyford River from above

The clear green water of the Hollyford River

He has 22 kilometers to go if he wants to reach his hoped-for camping spot at the Pyke River, the next place he’ll put in his packraft. Although exhausted and sore, he pushes on and completes his goal. “One of the toughest days I’ve ever had hiking,” he says when he can finally sit down for the evening. “Brutal!”

He’s thrilled to be able to get off his blistered feet on Day 4 and paddle the ~25 kilometers down the Pyke River.

This section proves soul-filling as he soaks in the amazing terrain of water, mountains and forest—with waterfalls gushing down the mountainsides occasionally. “I can’t get over how beautiful this water is. I feel so at peace right now, it’s just so beautiful.”

He meets his first drizzly morning on Day 5, but with a perfectly calm Lake Alabaster, he doesn’t mind at all. The combination of the clear water, surrounding mountains and diverse forest all around him leaves Scott almost speechless. “I’m in heaven, honestly!”

As the rain moves in towards the day’s end, he decides to make his campsite on some high ground rather than next to the river where potential flooding could occur. His tent is large enough to cook his packaged dinner out of the rain.

The rain continues on Day 6 for his hike out and back to his car, but it doesn’t wreck Scott’s appreciation for the forest landscape. He encounters waterfalls, traverses several footbridges and enjoys his last few kilometers.

packraft on the beach of a large lake in NZ's mountains

Lake McKerrow with its surrounding peaks and fern tree forests

Encounters with Wildlife

Scott remarks on the lack of inland wildlife he encounters on this trip, even insects. New Zealand has no native predators, snakes or large mammals. Even the deer were introduced by humans back in the day.

Birdlife is plentiful, both in the forest and near the water. And he gets to witness some marine mammals—a couple of dolphins or porpoises swimming on Lake McKerrow near his packraft and a colony of seals along the coast.

The insects that are always abundant though are…

The Dreaded Sandflies

New Zealand is famous for these tiny biting flies that abound during the summer months in this west coast area. (They look like our northwoods black flies here) Scott is swarmed by them at every campsite and lunch stop on his trip.

[TIP: A bug net for your head, long sleeves and pants and some form of repellant are all options to help keep them from biting you. Antihistamine and aloe vera gel help with the soreness and itching for bites you can’t avoid.]

In Conclusion

Despite the sandflies, Scott says, “What an adventure! Probably the best trip I’ve ever been on. Full of highs and lows, some amazing scenery, stunning forests, beautiful clear rivers, trout, epic campsites…” Sounds like a win.

This is a very well-done solo travelogue. It’s no surprise that Scott has 147K subscribers to his channel, which features many other such videos. We’re honored to have been part of this epic packrafting and hiking journey with him.

Scott Williams paddles on a green NZ lake with his Aqua Bound paddle

Scott Williams of Scotty’s Gone Walkabout

Be sure to check out Scott’s channel on YouTube at Scotty’s Gone Walkabout.

(All photos are screenshots of the video.)

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