Know your limits

Rivers are one of the greatest hazards in the New Zealand Outdoors. Errors of judgement, often have serious consequences. There is an average of about three river-crossing deaths each year. Eighty per cent of these accidents were in flooded rivers or side-streams. 
 
The Te Araroa trail is pepper potted with beautiful rivers and sooner or later you’re going to cross one. It is absolutely essential you know how to cross a river safely as it’s among the riskiest things you can do on the trail. It's not only the untrained who die.
Experienced and skilled people have drowned after being tempted to give it a go against their better judgement.
 
You should not take any river crossing lightly: the risks are too great. You must take particular care with children playing in or near moving water. Whenever possible, plan to use bridges or cableways to cross rivers.
 
The problems of cold water:

New Zealand rivers are often only just above freezing point, especially when they drain a glacier. Even a short time in the water causes rapid cooling of your legs and feet, resulting in poor co-ordination and cramping.

With deep crossings, the shock of cold water may cause a rapid and involuntary intake of breath. There is a risk of drowning from gulping water. It may help to splash your face before crossing to condition yourself.

Prolonged crossings, or long gorge trips with many crossings, may lead to hypothermia. You can reduce this danger by choosing a route and a method which minimise your time in the water.

After deep crossings, it may be best to stop and make a hot drink, change into dry clothes, and rest.

Before you or your party attempt to cross a river, there are questions you need to ask:

1. Should we cross? 
2. Where do we cross? 
3. How do we cross? 

Ask yourself before you cross, is there a safer alternative available?

Assess the Situation:
Where the track meets the river may not be the best place to cross. Study the river carefully for dangers, look both up and downstream.
Try and view the river from a height and from different angles to get a better prospective.
 
Water Obstacles and Hazards:
Flooded - 80% of river crossing drowning in New Zealand have occurred when the river has been in flood.

Fast Flowing Current - Test the current speed by throwing a stick and watching how swiftly it moves downstream. Rolling stones also indicated fast moving water.

Deep Water - Even shallow water can knock you off balance if the current is fast. The depth of water plus current speed needs to be considered together.

Run-outs - Check run out and make sure it doesn’t lead to dangerous rapids or waterfalls.

Debris is present - Debris is an indication that river flows are high. Any objects flowing downstream can create serious harm if they strike you.

Discoloured water - Indicate high river flows from recent rain.

Rapids - Avoid fast, shallow rapids

Avoid obstacles - on side of river bank such as strainers

Don’t cross on bends - Water is at its greatest depth and strongest flow on the outside of corners.

Excessive river width

Avoid rock hopping over slippery rocks

Where to Cross?

Cross on the straights (not bends) at the shallow points and slowest current with a safe run out. The only time its ok to wade through deeper water is when you locate a flat pool with little to no current.  

If in doubt STAY OUT! No your limits!
 
Preparation before Crossing:

Technique for Crossing: Single Pole Crossing (Used for individual crossing)

Mutual Support Crossing: 

Worst Case Scenario:

Note: Pack shoulder straps should be loosened off and waist strap/sternum straps should always be undone before crossing a river.

Use mutual support methods. The more people in the party, the more strength there is for crossing and for supporting anyone who slips or falls. All river-crossing methods have their advantages and disadvantages and, in difficult conditions, no method is absolutely safe.
We advise that you attend a River Safety Course to learn how to anticipate what might go wrong and therefore recognise and avoid potential problems. For information on safety course see below.