The fun of canyon­ing

Face your fears in Wanaka

Go Travel New Zealand - - Contents - GTNZ

As I sit in the back of the Deep Canyon shut­tle bus, gaz­ing out the win­dow at Wanaka’s spec­tac­u­lar moun­tain scenery, I feel a sud­den rush of nerves about what I’ve signed my­self up for. I’ve never been canyon­ing be­fore, nor do I know any­one that has. A quick Wikipedia search be­fore book­ing had told me that it in­volves ab­seil­ing, slid­ing, scram­bling and jump­ing down wa­ter­falls, which, for your av­er­age thrill-seeker, prob­a­bly sounds like bril­liant fun. How­ever, for some­one like my­self - a self-des­ig­nated coat car­rier at theme parks - it sounded more than slightly ter­ri­fy­ing. Dan, our head guide, does his best to put my nerves at rest. Not only does Deep Canyon have a flaw­less safety record, he tells me, but it is also the old­est and most es­tab­lished canyon guid­ing com­pany in the coun­try. It was set up in 1994 by vet­eran kiwi out­doors­man Dave Vass, who aside from be­ing an award-win­ning climber and moun­taineer, was also one of the pioneers of the New Zealand canyon­ing move­ment. Vaas still owns and runs the com­pany, how­ever, now in his 50s, he’s more in­clined to take a back­seat on the day-to-day op­er­a­tions and pri­mar­ily serves as a su­per­vi­sor and knowl­edge bank for the younger guides. Step in Dan ‘Chucky’ Clear­wa­ter, the cur­rent gen­eral man­ager and our guide for the day. Al­though Dave’s left some pretty big shoes to fill, as act­ing pres­i­dent of the NZ Canyon­ing As­so­ci­a­tion and author of the coun­try’s only canyon­ing guide­book, I’d say Dan was more than up to the task. As our bus pulls up to the base of the Niger Stream, the river that has carved out the colos­sal canyon we are about to de­scend, I play down my fears and re-as­sure my­self that I am in highly com­pe­tent hands. We make a quick as­cent up the hill­side to the canyon en­trance, tak­ing in the breath­tak­ing views of Mt Aspir­ing Na­tional Park on the way. Be­fore we be­gin though, Dan gives us all a quick ab­seil­ing les­son and pro­vides full wa­ter­proof/ pro­tec­tive gear for us to wear. To my relief, no-one else on the tour has been canyon­ing be­fore ei­ther and all look just as daft as me in their wet­suit/ hel­met ensem­ble. All suited and booted and fully de­briefed, it was now time for us to be­gin the de­scent.

As we come in to sight of ‘Big Nige’, the 24m wa­ter­fall that is to be our first ab­seil of the day, any con­fi­dence I had felt ear­lier in the bus quickly makes way for sheer ter­ror again. “I’m not go­ing to kid you,” Dan tells us, “this one can get pretty scary. We’re go­ing to lower you down straight through the wa­ter­fall so there’s go­ing to be a lot of wa­ter crash­ing down on your head. Make sure to keep look­ing down and if you do lose your foot­ing and find your­self dan­gling, just re­mem­ber one thing ... there’s only one way to the bot­tom!” Feel­ing ever so mildly com­forted, I step up first and pre­pare to meet my maker.

Within sec­onds of com­ing face-to-face with Big Nige, Dan has pushed me off the rock face and started spin­ning me round like a sock in a wash­ing ma­chine. As I sit there dan­gling mid-air, wa­ter thun­der­ing down on my hel­met, the world rapidly clos­ing in on me, I have to take a deep breath to pull my­self back to­gether again.

Re­mem­ber­ing Dan’s ad­vice, I set about find­ing my foot­ing and, after a few failed at­tempts bat­tling the rag­ing cur­rent, I’m back in po­si­tion and mak­ing my way down. With about as much grace as a drunken un­cle on a wed­ding dance­floor, I slowly com­plete the de­scent and by the time I’ve reached the bot­tom and un­clipped my­self I’m ab­so­lutely buzzing. What a rush!

Eager to see what’s in store next, I split off with one of the other guides - a long-haired, self-pro­claimed “gypsy out­doors­man” called Chris. With his as­sis­tance, I take on a few more wa­ter­falls and grow slowly more con­fi­dent in my ab­seil­ing abil­i­ties.

Just when I’m start­ing to mas­ter things, Chris an­nounces that we’re ditch­ing the rope. “Just slide straight down this one, bro”, he says, “Trust me, you’ll be fine.” I look down at the 10m near-ver­ti­cal pol­ished rock face in dis­be­lief. Surely he’s wind­ing me up?! With a bit of en­cour­age­ment, he’s ush­er­ing me into po­si­tion and the next thing you know I’m free-fall­ing to­wards the wa­ter be­low, scream­ing my lungs out.

The rest of the day is made up of nu­mer­ous other rock slides, zip-lines, ab­seils and cliff jumps, each com­pletely unique with re­veal­ing names like The Corkscrew, The Toi­let Bowl, and

The Buttclencher. The grand fi­nale is an op­tional 7m cliff jump, which a few of our group opted out of. Not me though: I was feel­ing like Rambo at this point, with­out fear and in­hi­bi­tion, and launched my­self off with­out hes­i­ta­tion. What a way to end the day! Then it’s all back to base-camp for a late-lunch and a good old laugh with the rest of the group about who was the big­gest dare­devil and who the big­gest wuss be­fore jump­ing back on the bus and head­ing back to Wanaka. By this point, all the adren­a­line and phys­i­cal ex­er­tion had started to catch up on us, so we treated our­selves to a well-earned beer and a bite in town. We had def­i­nitely earned it.

“By the time I’ve reached the bot­tom and un­clipped my­self I’m ab­so­lutely buzzing. What a rush!”


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