Packrafting Adventures on New Zealand’s Waingaro River

 packrafters on New Zealand's Waingaro River

Deane Parker, filmmaker and outdoor adventurer, joined a few of his mates for a hike-in packrafting trip down the Waingaro River in his native New Zealand.

While Deane normally combines packrafting with biking (bikerafting), this time he headed out on foot with an 80-liter backpack instead. His packraft and Aqua Bound Whiskey kayak paddle were stowed along for the trip downriver. Here’s his story:

By Deane Parker

Packrafting for me has mostly involved strapping a bike to the bow. So when two old school mates suggested hiking into one of my favourite rivers in my universe, I jumped at the opportunity to ditch the cumbersome bike, beat the feet and finally take on a challenging section of white water in these crazy little inflatable boats.

The Backstory on Waingaro

Now I’ve got some history with the Waingaro. I, along with Nathan Fa’avae, flew in by helicopter in 1998 after hearing reports of the first few descents. We flew upstream of the forks and completed the first descent of the Upper Waingaro.

Nathan and I don’t  paddle much together, and we seldom saw each other over the past decade. He was very focused on his career in professional adventure racing (to-date, he’s won six world adventure racing championships). I became a farmer.

packrafting the Waingaro River, New Zealand
My family and I moved to Golden Bay for a few years, at the north tip of New Zealand’s South Island, and lived a stone's throw from the Waingaro. I managed to get a few trips on it.

During this time I bought what I thought was a high-performance inflatable kayak, thinking it would be the best tool for the steep creeks of the Bay. It was ok, but it weighed 18 kg (about 40 pounds).

On my last trip prior to the one featured in the video, a team of us hiked up the steep and exposed Kill Devil Track and dropped into the river below the forks. Once on the river I was impatient. We had a lot of river to cover that afternoon and I made a bad decision—paddling a steep drop, I went upside down, floundered with a high brace in turbulent water and felt my shoulder go.

I was in front with no cover. With my shoulder still out, I collected my boat and paddle and made it into an eddy. I was livid! I grabbed my arm, yanked down and felt it pop back in. (I have to note, I’d never dislocated a shoulder before.)

I was carrying a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) and held it in my hand when we regrouped. We had a double inflatable kayak for this trip. The guilt of taking a rescue helicopter away from life-threatening duties weighed too heavy. So I decided I’d be able to paddle out by being the stern paddler in the double, and just ruddering with one arm.

I made it out, but it was a long painful day. In hindsight, I wish I'd pulled the pin.

packrafter heading down a drop

Taking on the Waingaro River 10 Years Later

I spat the dummy with running rivers after that injury. So not only would this latest trip be the first time in 10 years since I’d paddled the Waingaro, it was also the first time I’d paddled a Class 4 run since that fateful day.

The trip went off without a hitch!

I used a full-size 80-liter backpack and managed to put that inside the cargo fly. My svelte Aqua Bound Whiskey Carbon was, as usual, totally bomber. The boat, a self-bailing Alpacka Raft Gnarwhal, performed solidly. And we only had a few insignificant swims from a couple of team members.

I have paddled extensively with both Nathan and Rod, but not for years. It was impressive how quickly we adapted back to our nonverbal communication of river signals and gesticulating to safely and efficiently move down a frothing river. It reaffirmed to me how important a solid team is for river running. That’s something looked over way too much.

Why the Waingaro is Perfect for Packrafting

I’m in awe at how classic the Waingaro River is as an advanced overnight hike-in packrafting trip. Pristine water quality, many rare Whio (blue duck), back-to-back steep but manageable Class 3-4 rapids, a 100-year old gold mining trail to access, and a quaint 4-bunk hut to break it up for a wilderness overnighter.

All this made for a fantastic introduction to hike-in packrafting trips. It’s got me super motivated to find more adventurous routes. Most importantly was hanging in the company of a few best mates, and laughing off the worries of the world for at least 36 hours.

packrafters on the Waingaro River shoreline

See more of Deane’s videos on his YouTube channel or his website at

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