Playing in the Canyons

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11/02/08
Hi one and all! Whew, another full and exciting day to report on from Wanaka. I spent the entire day wrapped up in neoprene and bouncing off rocks and in waterfalls as part of my Deep Canyoning experience.Yup, I forked over the bucks to be able to play in the canyons all day long. There were some great abseils, slides, jumps, and so on and so forth. I’ve tried to put together a map, but all you’ll really see is the route we drove to get to the canyon, and then all the pictures will be on one dot, as I didn’t have the GPS in the canyon with me. The risk was too high of breaking it. However, I did risk dragging in the camera, and that worked out okay, as you’ll see by some of the sweet shots. So, read on, and check out the pictures. I’ll probably also get them up on Flickr, as I’ll have access to Internet full time for a few days in Queenstown.

This post will probably be a touch on the short side, as there isn’t really a whole lot to tell you about the day in general. When I got up, the weather was on the overcast side, which was basically perfect for my purposes. My plan was to do the canyoning on a day that wasn’t too spectacular, so that I’d be riding the Crown Range road on a day with better views. The shuttle pickup wasn’t until 9:15am, so I had time to run a few errands in town before they picked us up. They were actually a little late, and picked 4 of us up at 9:30. We were picked up by two women, Bronwyn, my guide, and another guide who happened to be the owner as well. We were in a minivan, and were told the ride was 35 minutes to the canyon. The drive was the same road used to get to Mount Aspiring National Park, and is unsealed for a good chunk of the way. That didn’t slow her down though. We were flying along at 100km/h in spite of sheep and cows grazing a couple feet away and with no fences. The thrills were starting early!

When we got to the site of the start, we just pulled off the road into a rutted path, through a farm gate. Not much to see here, just some trees. However, if you paid closer attention, you could see a creek snaking from the trees. In actuality, in the trees, the mountain splits open, and the canyon is all along the mountainside here, making its way up the mountain. It was really off the beaten path. There was no building or anything here either. All the wetsuits and shoes were just hung in the trees, where they stay year round. They only keep the climbing gear with them in the office in Wanaka. The whole company has only 5 guides, two of which are the owners, so you know you get a good, personalised experience. Anyway, we grabbed all of our gear, and slung it over our shoulders for the steep climb up the mountainside to get to the spot where we drop into the canyon. The sun came out, and it was pretty hot going up the hill.

Once at the put-in spot, we suited up. Swimsuit, with thermals on top, then wetsuit socks, wetsuit bottom, wetsuit jackets with hoods, another neoprene cap, and finally shoes. We were covered in anywhere from 5 to 10mm of neoprene all over, and felt like the Michelin man. At least I felt safe in my rubber coccoon. We got a briefing on abseiling, which I was pretty comfortable with anyway. My group was just 3 Irish people, and me, along with Bronwyn our guide, and Dave, who was the other owner, helping Bronwyn with the first section, as she’d never guided it before. Before long, we were abseiling into the canyon, and getting set for the next many hours of ropes, water and fun.

The first section of our trip is called the Big Nige, and had us abseiling down some pretty crazy terrain, with waterfalls crashing on our heads as we abseiled. It was a lot different from what I’m used to on fixed ropes. Here, you’re getting beat around, and have to use slightly different techniques, such as turning around and just sliding on your bum down the rocks as you feed the rope through. I felt like a total amateur on the first one, but gained more confidence as we went. Probably my favourite point was on the third abseil, which was a pretty long one to a big pool below. I got to the start of it, and Bronwyn said, you can abseil, or jump. What? It was about 10m (30ft) up, and scary as hell, but I said I’d jump. Every now and again you need a leap of faith right? Well, it was probably one of the scariest things I’ve done yet. You’ve got rocks all around, a waterfall, and one little pool to land in at the bottom. Bronwyn told me not to think about it, just do it, or I might hesitate, and that’s when things go wrong. So I stepped off. Sploosh! What a rush. I was buzzing for a while after that. I’m the only one of 6 of us that day to jump. Well, apart from Bronwyn, who clearly loves her job.

Other cool parts of the canyon had us sliding down smooth (and sometimes bumpy) rocks, and doing various jumps into pools. There were some opportunities to play in waterfalls, and to try some bouldering while other people were on the ropes. There was a fair bit of waiting involved, but there was always rocks and water to play in if you got bored, which I didn’t. However, I was starving by the end of the day. We’d had no food or water since breakfast, and didn’t get out of the canyon till after 6pm! However, the other guide had set out a little picnic on a big rock with fresh veggies, cheese, bread, cookies, tea, etc, for us to eat once we got out of our gear and changed. We wolfed it down and were heading back and in to town by about 7pm. Once back, I picked up some breakfast stuff, and then went for Indian food at a takeaway place. More delicious Butter Chicken.

Next day I was going back on the road, so I took some time to tune up the bike and get all my gear sorted. It was a later night than I’d hoped, but it was a great day, so I have no complaints about that! Tomorrow it’s onto the Crown Range road, which is the highest highway in New Zealand, and off to Queenstown, where I’ll be staying with Julia and Mark for a few days while I figure out my next steps. Stay tuned for a story about that road!

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