The Clutha Mata-Au is New Zealand's
largest river and one of the swiftest and most unspoiled high
volume rivers in the world. It is the longest river in the South
Island, flowing 338kms (210miles) from Lake Wanaka in the Southern
Alps, through the Central Otago semi-desert - the driest region in New
Zealand, to the Pacific Ocean.
course is diverse and
spectacular. We know and love the entire river, but our eco rafting
home is on the upper reaches. Lake Wanaka, at the head of the river,
gathers primarily glacial and snow-melt waters, and acts as a
rock-flour filter, providing the Upper Clutha Mata-Au with unusually
clear, turquoise-tinted water - a very rare characteristic for a large
river. This stunning water rushes away from the mountains through a
spectacular, golden semi-desert landscape of ancient glacial terraces.
discharge into the Pacific is estimated at 614 m3/s, comparable to many
much larger but slower flowing rivers (the Nile is 650 m3/s). This
heavy flow, concentrated
into a relatively confined river channel, makes the
Clutha Mata-Au notoriously fast flowing. It is the swiftest river in
New Zealand and is often listed as one of
the swiftest rivers in the world, alongside Australia's Macleay
and Fitzroy Rivers, the Amazon and Atrato Rivers in South America, and
the Teestra River in the Himalaya.
Maori name 'Mata-Au' refers to the formidably 'swift current' with
turquoise 'green' colour. When Captain Cook sighted its
the Pacific, he named it 'Molyneux' after Robert Molyneux, Master of
the Endeavour. Later, during
the gold-rush, the miners increasingly
called it the 'Clutha' - Gaelic for 'Clyde'.
based on the international grading system. Grades, sometimes referred
to as Classes, are approximate rather than definitive measures of a
rapid's seriousness or difficulty. The nature of a rapid can alter
quickly due to increased or decreased flow, new obstacles, and changes
in the riverbed:
Rapids have small regular waves. The passage is clear and easy to
recognize. Care may be needed to avoid obstacles like trees and rocks.
Rapids have regular medium sized waves up to 1 metre, easy ledges,
drops and eddies, and gradual bends. The passage can be recognized and
is generally clear, though there may be rocks or tree strainers in the
main current, and over-hanging branches.
Rapids have fairly high waves of 1-2 metres, broken water, stoppers and
strong eddies, exposed rocks and small falls. The passage may be
difficult to recognize and manoeuvring to negotiate the rapid is
4. Very Difficult
Powerful rapids with high, irregular waves, broken water, often boiling
eddies, ledges, drops and dangerous exposed rocks. The passage is often
difficult to recognize and precise and sequential manoeuvring is
5. Extremely Difficult
Very powerful rapids with very confused and broken water, large drops,
violent and fast currents, abrupt turns, difficult powerful stoppers
and fast boiling eddies, with numerous obstacles in the main current.
Complex, precise and powerful sequential manoeuvring is required. A
definite risk to personal safety exists.
All previous difficulties increased to the limit of practicability.
Extremely confused and violent water so difficult that controlled
navigation by raft is virtually impossible. Significantly life
threatening if swimming and unrunnable by all but a few experts.
Eco rafters encounter a variety of bird species throughout the 'Summer'
rafting season. These include the friendly and playful Fantail
(Piwakawaka), Kahu (Australasian Harrier Hawk), White-faced
Heron, Paradise Shelduck (Putangitangi), Grey Warbler (Riroriro),
Oyster Catcher (Torea), Spur-winged Plover, White-fronted Tern (Tara),
Rock Pigeon, Kawau (Black Shag), Karoro (Dominican Gull), California
Quail, and Bellbird (Korimako).
corridor is home to many
uniquely adapted native plants able to tolerate the extremes of the
semi-desert climate. The dominant native is Kanuka (White Tea-Tree),
interspersed with other small-leaved hardy natives such as
Olearias, Matagauri and some Manuka (Red Tea-Tree).
ground cover natives include the cushion plants, Raoulia Australis, R.
Hookeri, and R. Parkii. Introduced species include Crack Willow,
bordering much of the river, and on the riverbanks Lupins, St. John's
Wart, and California Poppies are common.
Clutha Mata-Au is
richest gold-bearing river system in the world, the richest being the
Yukon. New Zealand's greatest gold-rush began on the Clutha Mata-Au in
1861, continuing through many stages over the years. When alluvial gold
became scarce, massive gold-dredges were employed to scour the
and banks. In 1900, some 187 gold-dreges were operating, the
last finally ceasing work in the early 1960's.
is still mined in some
areas, but Resource Management laws and public land beside water (the
Queen's Chain), ensure the protection of waterways. Floods
periodically release and spread new gold into the river from the quartz
reef veins in the tributaries. The swift Clutha Mata-Au soon breaks
this down into fine alluvial gold, which averages 98% pure. The ancient
terraces along the river also contain gold-bearing quartz. Your Guide
knows where to look!
Mata-Au River Parkway
outstanding natural, recreational and cultural values of the Clutha
Mata-Au have remained remarkably intact despite a range of
historical and recent development pressures. The more remote reaches of
river, such as the Upper Clutha Mata-Au, retain an impressive
wilderness quality which may soon be lost if the river
not better protected. In 2003, Pioneer Rafting Guide Lewis
"Finn", initiated a project to create New Zealand's largest river
Parkway, with a river-length trail, along the entire Clutha Mata-Au
corridor from Lake Wanaka to
the Pacific Ocean. In 2009, Contact Energy released proposals for
hydro dams on the Upper and Lower Clutha. The Clutha River Forum, an
alliance of conservation groups, opposed all four dam proposals, which
were abandoned in 2012. Local groups are now working to make the
river-length trail a reality.
Halliday's Bluff View
thoroughly enjoyed our time
on the river with you. I hope we can return someday." ~ Appy & John Stookey,
Sheffield, Massachusetts, USA.