Tapuae-o-Uenuku and the Clarence

Tapuae-o-Uenuku, affectionately known to most Kiwis as ‘Tappy’, is the highest peak in New Zealand outside of the Southern Alps. It towers 2885m above sea level just North of Kaikoura. I’d floated past it on the Clarence River a couple of times and always found myself gazing longingly at the scree slopes and jagged pile of rocks towering above me. This weekend I finally stood on the summit, with my packraft!

I put the idea to Pete and he took about 5 seconds to decide it was an awesome plan. The only catch? He’d have to bring his rifle! So we locked in a weekend and crossed our fingers for a good forecast.

The weather gods delivered. Stoked! We left a car by the beach in Clarence and drove another one up the Awatere Valley to begin our mission. The Hodder River (the most common access route) had been in flood after heavy rain and it dropped down just in time for us to make it into the headwaters. The Hodder route is famous for its 60-70 river crossings. It was a baking hot afternoon when we set off so all the time spent criss-crossing up the riverbed was welcomed.

Our final push to the summit coincided with a whiteout and strong winds almost driving us off the ridge. Amusing in hindsight as it was the only 1 hour during our whole trip where the weather packed in!

On our descent the clouds parted.

The route we took off the top was rugged and we spent a bunch of time scouting a route down through some steep bluffs. We hadn’t researched it so it probably ended up more rugged than it needed to be. I often avoid reading route descriptions or researching an area too much – I like going there and seeing it for myself and making decisions based on a TOPO map and what I see in front of me. I enjoy the added element of uncertainty, it keeps me more engaged and makes me feel like I’m exploring an area for the first time.

We ended up with a short section of reasonably exposed down-climbing with big backpacks. Eventually we made our way into a nice basin at the head of Branch Stream. We spent the night on the tops, Pete went off in search of animals.

Our descent route to the Clarence River wasn’t as awesome as it looked from a distance, with short sections of great scree followed by big awkward sections that were steep and skiddy. We were stoked to finally hit some solid ground and farmland after descending over 2000m on loose rock!

Once we hit farmland it was a cruisy walk down Branch Stream until we hit the Clarence River. Then we inflated our packrafts and started cruising downstream for over 40km…

Cheers to Pete for a great weekend adventure.

For an idea of what to expect from the river, here’s a three minute edit I made of another trip Packrafting the Clarence River I’ve also included a couple of photos from Ben Weigl from our previous trip.

The Clarence River is a spectacular journey in itself, getting to the Clarence via Tappy is a cool spin on a classic New Zealand river trip.

Another sweet way I’ve walked into the Clarence is via the Rainbow Valley and the Paske Saddle (which leads you to the very source and Lake Tennyson). There are plenty of other cool routes in, I’m excited to try out a new one next time. When is someone going to paraglide off the summit and then packraft to the ocean?!

Note: the route described in this blog passes through private land in two different places. Make sure you contact the landowners for permission!

Photos: mostly by Pete Doonan (if I’m in them!) and myself