You can’t help but be impressed by Huka Falls. Flowing at more than 300,000 litres per second at peak, the crystal clear water of the Waikato River gets squeezed into a narrow gorge before thundering over a 6 metre ledge into a wide, deep pool. That’s effectively around an 11 metre drop if you factor in the depth of the water as it goes over the falls.
Unsurprisingly, Huka is a big draw for tourists visiting Taupō and over the weekend they were treated to the added spectacle of four kayakers taking on the falls. Since we knew one of the team we were able to get ourselves into position to capture the action while they scouted the run. And there was plenty of action, including an unintentional swim over the falls. Don’t worry, the kayaker in question came away unscathed apart from a bruised ego, but he redeemed himself with two great runs after his initial swim.
As you will see from the photos, the flow was relatively low on the day at 82 cumecs (cubic metres of water per second) according to Mercury’s outflow graph, well within the supposed 50 – 120 cumecs ‘safe’ range. Just 24 hours prior to this, the river had been at 278 cumecs so the team had timed it just right – it was the perfect day to kayak Huka Falls.
Huka Falls Rapids
Huka is a relatively short run of around 250m consisting of three rapids and the falls itself, ranging from class III to class V. Although most impressive from an onlooker’s perspective, the falls are to some degree the ‘easiest’ part of the run with the real challenge being the rapids upstream.
Entrance (III) & Weir (IV to IV+)
The photo above shows the entrance to the gorge in the distance which you enter from the paddler’s left (hidden by the tree on the right side of the photo). You can see two of the team waiting in an eddy to the right of the entrance. In front is the Weir.
Just after Weir there was a nice eddy where the team could regroup before tackling Pencil Sharpener.
Pencil Sharpener (IV+ to V-)
Probably the most challenging rapid on the run. The photos below are a good example of why this rapid is called what it’s called. If you flip here you really want to recover or face going over the falls upside down.
On the day, the team was able to regroup in an eddy just below Pencil Sharpener before taking a line to the left for the final drop.
Huka Falls (V)
Enter from the left on days like this and there’s a nice ramp to the right with a kicker that will give you some air time. Eddy out to the left for high-fives.
It should go without saying but we’ll say it anyway, underestimate Huka Falls at your peril. These guys are experienced kayakers and, for the most part, had three great runs but not without a few mishaps on the day. Back in 2017, a woman wasn’t so lucky and had to be airlifted out of the gorge after taking a swim in Pencil Sharpener. Know your limits, have a plan and be stay safe out there.