When european paddlers think of kayaking in New Zealand, the first few things which come to mind are sunshine, clean water and the most important thing of all; the opportunity to use helicopters. Otherwise difficult to access rivers, are open for two to three days of perfect class five boulder garden kayaking. My trip began in November, with the intention of spending as much time as possible on the West Coast of the South Island, completing days full of the previous three criteria! However, upon arrival, I quickly learnt that there was far more to kayaking in New Zealand than I had previously thought. paddling with Jordy searle, ari Walker and barny young, i was in the fortunate position of having some of the most well travelled and experienced expedition Kiwi kayakers in the world. firstly, it is worth mentioning that the West coast rains more than anywhere I have previously visited. This also means that most of the time helicopters cannot fly. This opens up a whole new challenge for most European kayakers; hiking in to rivers to go kayaking. These hike in’s, not only make the river seem more “worth it”, when on the water. They are also where I have seen some of the most beautiful places accessible by kayak in New Zealand. My favourite of all these rivers, is the Toaroha Canyon. The Toaroha is well known by both kayakers and hikers alike, with the lower section being one of the most popular grade three runs on the coast. It provides the perfect training ground for any young kayakers wishing to ' up' their skills, and every other kayaker wanting to do a fun evening run. the upper stretches of the toaroha are paddled far less however, and it is here where you can find some of the best steep but clean bedrock creeking in New Zealand. This canyon was unexplored until 2012 when Jordy Searle and team completed the first descent. The hike to access the canyon can easily be considered as testing as the river itself. The three hour hike starts at a farm, marking the begining of the hiking trail. It continues to climb steeply upstream, walking over bluffs, creeks and an endless amount of boulders on the river flats, prior to the start of the canyon. Said canyon is accessed by climbing down a treacherous slip completing the approximately three hour hike, which is made far harder due to the additional load of a 30kg kayak packed with gear. LEFT: Ari Walker (NZ) descending T Falls, the entry waterfall to the Canyon.
The river starts at T Falls, a challenging 40foot waterfall that explodes in to the canyon from above. It lands in a round pool, before traveling downstream in to the first rapid of the run. It was our third time accessing the canyon when Galen Volkhausen (usa), ari Walker (nZl) and I sucked up the courage to run this drop. The waterfall requires any potential paddlers to climb a near vertical cliff to access the 1x2 meter section of flat water where one can place a kayak (before getting on the water and running off the falls). On this run we all had clean lines in to the pool below, making the whole team excited to continue downstream to access the treats in the canyon. after this waterfall, the canyon tightens up, with its steep sided walls closing in a series of small waterfalls and rapids, winding their way downstream. It is here where the place comes in to its true beauty, with beams of light descending down through the narrow opening overhead, hitting the blue pools of the Toaroha. One of the first drops sets the tone for the rest of the trip, with a perfect entry to a lovely drop which allows the kayak to skim out like a stone as it lands in the pool. The river continues to hold its gradient downstream with complex, uninterrupted rapids down the river. After one portage around an un-runnable cascade, you arrive at a must run rapid. Three consecutive drops, ending with the majority of the water cascading against the right-side canyon wall. The hardest and longest section of the river comes towards the end of the run. In this section, the river bends and twists over three rapids before dropping in to a tight gorge. The drop being a fifteen-foot waterfall with some harsh consequences as the result of a poor line. The T Canyon soon opens up with the final waterfall of the section. This is a tricky twenty foot drop which lands in a large open pool; a relief from the little-more than five meter width offered by the canyon above. At this point, the challenging white water has all been completed and paddlers are able to enjoy a moment of relaxation whilst looking back up the narrow canyon above them. The characteristic greenery and bush of the New Zealand West Coast is the receiving view as the whole valley seems lighter without the constriction of the canyon. The river carries on for another three kilometres of grade 3+ white water before reaching the regular Lower Toaroha. The river finishes by farmland just prior to where the Styx and Toaroha meet the Kokatahi River. RIGHT: Taylor Western (NZ) successfully completing one of the trickier drops mid way through the run. David Bain is a 22 year old white water kayaker specialising in extreme racing and expedition whitewater. Originally from the UK, David now spends most of the year traveling the world in search of new rivers and competing on the worlds hardest whitewater. In the past year David has paddled first descents in Norway, Croatia and New Zealand, whist still finding time to train and take second place at the Extreme Kayak World Championships. David spent the summer in New Zealand traveling with fellow kayakers Jordy Searle and Ari Walker, intent on paddling as much as possible and exploring some lesser known NZ whitewater.