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May 2014 Issue
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Testing the water

How to predict water levels before you start

Rivers can be one of the biggest, and sometimes the most dangerous, hazards you encounter on a trip. Many trips describe certain waterways as impassable after heavy rain. But if you haven’t been in the area prior to your tramp how do you know if the rivers will be high or not?

The truth is you can never be certain and each crossing should be assessed when you reach it. But Toine Houtenbos who runs Abel Tasman Canyons has some handy tips to help determine river levels before you begin.

“Most local council websites have river level information,” he says. “If you Google ‘river flow’ and the region you live, it will normally take you to a page where you can see levels of the main rivers in the region over the past few days or weeks. This gives an indication of how high the river is relative to its normal level.

“If the river you plan to cross doesn’t have river level information, then look for nearby rivers that run from a similar sized catchment area on the same aspect.”

On your journey to the start of your trip there’s a good chance you’ll see rivers that run from the same catchment area as those you’ll be crossing later in the day. They can give vital clues as to how high the waterways are running that day. But if you’ve never seen the river before how can you tell if it’s running higher than normal?

Houtenbos says the following signs suggest the river level’s high:

  • The water looks murky
  • There’s debris floating in it
  • Rocks covered in moss are submerged
  • The line on the river bank where the foliage begins is submerged