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New Zealand Whitewater
Shotover paddling guide
The Shotover is a stunning, bright blue river that runs from Lochnagar at its headwaters in the Southern Alps to the iconic Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown. It’s well-known for its gold-mining history, among many other histories; more gold was extracted from the Shotover during its peak mining boom than from any other river except Canada’s Yukon.
There is a lot of whitewater packed into a short stretch, with unparalleled scenery. A trip down this river is a must if you find yourself in Queenstown, NZ.
Shotover River Flows
The Shotover has a remarkably wide range of runnable flows. Like all rivers in New Zealand, flow is measured in cumecs (CMS), or cubic meters per second. (1 CMS = ~43 CFS). Flows lower than 5-10 cumecs are extremely low, and anything upward of 60-70 is high. Solid kayakers will put on at flows above 100 CMS, but be ready to scout and know that there’s no cell service and no easy way out of the canyon once you’re in.
How to get to the Shotover
Driving in: Keep in mind that the Skipper’s Road, the only route into the Shotover, is a national historic site– and as such is minimally maintained. The road is unpaved and extremely exposed in many places, with remarkable views of the Southern Alps. There are many blind corners and narrow spots, and regular commercial traffic coming both ways. NOTE: If you’re in a rental vehicle, driving the Skipper’s Road will void any insurance you’ve purchased for the car. Don’t be that guy.
Hitching in: If you’ve only got a rental vehicle, the best option may be to hitch in with a commercial trip. Go Orange runs their trips out of a base in Arthur’s point, and if you’re a small group with only kayaks/packrafts, you may (no guarantees) be able to hitch a ride to Deep Creek with them. Bring the guides a box of beer and be willing to wait if there’s no room on the next trip.
The town of Queenstown
Queenstown is an awesome town, with access to many outdoor activities. Here’s a list of some of our favorites.
- Bike the gondola: If you’re a keen mountain biker, you can rent bikes and buy passes for the Skyline Gondola, which takes riders to the top of a trail system directly above town.
- Earnslaw Ferry/sheep shearing: For an evening out, consider hopping on the Earnslaw, an old historic steamer that still operates on Lake Wakatipu. The ferry takes tourists across the lake to the Walter Peak Station for a fantastic dinner and sheep-shearing demonstration.
- Local hiking:
- Ben Lomond Peak: One of the frequently-hiked peaks right above Queenstown. Great views out over the city, Lake Wakatipu, and the Remarkables range.
- Moonlight Track: This walking track can take you from Arthur’s Point, up into the Moonlight Creek basin above the Shotover and back over Ben Lomond into Queenstown. It also makes a nice out and back from Arthur’s point if you don’t have a shuttle available!
- Routeburn Track: The Routeburn is considered one of the Great Walks and starts at the far northern end of Lake Wakatipu past Glenorchy. You can through-hike the track in a day, if you’re ambitious, or in several– a hike that requires booking a ride on a shuttle bus on the far end. You can also do short out-and-back hikes on the Routeburn, or up the nearby Greenstone, Dart River, or Rees River Tracks.
- Remarkables: The Remarkables, the jagged mountain range that forms the southern skyline of Queenstown, offers some incredible hiking and climbing. From the base of the Remarkables ski field, take a walk up to Lake Alta, a gorgeous, high alpine lake that sits below the biggest peaks. For folks looking for a big day, the Remarkables Grand Traverse is great for anyone comfortable with off-trail scrambling, big exposure, and fourth-class ridge travel. This route takes you over Single Cone and Double Cone, the tallest peaks in the Remarkables, with absolutely stunning views. Ropes/harnesses recommended as a rappel off the south end of the traverse makes the day more straightforward.
Deep Creek to Arthur’s Point – Class II, III, & IV+
This section is around 16 km long, and boasts a surprisingly large number of rapids.