Canyoning in the Southern Alps

What do you get when you combine climbing, kayaking, caving and a gigantic children’s water park? I couldn’t quite believe it when I stumbled across the relatively unheard of sport of canyoning. Already an avid caver and climber, I had never suspected that I could get all the exploration, remoteness, and technical rope work out of a sport that didn’t involve large amounts of darkness, mud, and misery. On my first canyons trips I found myself giggling like a child as I leapt off cliffs and slid down natural water slides!

Canyoning is not without its dangers though, quite the contrary, especially once you move beyond the relatively easy, pre-bolted canyons any beginner can find in guidebooks all over Europe and the US. First descents of unexplored alpine canyons involve a massive amount of commitment, as helicopter rescue is usually not an option, sheer canyon walls often mean that down is the only way out in case of a flood, and unknown waterfalls and hazards lie around every corner. But, in the name of exploration, this is exactly what a small group of us plan to do for a few weeks in January 2013 on an expedition to the Southern Alps of New Zealand.

New Zealand is blessed with both mountains and rivers, so the canyoning potential is huge, but the combination of few people, difficult access, and variable weather means that very little exploration has been done outside of a few known areas. A friend of mine and the expedition leader, Daniel Clearwater, set up Kiwi Canyons in 2010 to collect what little information there is on New Zealand’s canyons, and he has received all sorts of tantalising snippets of information from park rangers, kayakers, helicopter pilots etc, including reports of 100m+ waterfalls and tight, enclosed canyon walls over 40m high.

Thanks to Daniel’s hard work and his website, our expedition is well armed with information, but we still have to carefully study the geology, topology and hydrology of our prospective canyons to ensure safety and to make sure we spend our time wisely on the best canyons. Unlike a mountain where you can study photos or take reconnaissance flights, the only true way to understand the challenges of a canyon and see its beauty is to drop in and descend it.

We’ve assembled a small team of friends based in New Zealand, Australia, US, and UK for the expedition. We combine a varied set of skills (including a geology PhD student, a medical doctor, and a helicopter pilot) which we hope will give us a great chance of finding some world class canyons!
Our specific objectives for the expedition are to challenge ourselves and explore virgin canyons, but the larger goal is to promote canyoning as a sport in New Zealand. By photographing and documenting our expedition, we plan to add to the slowly growing New Zealand canyon database, providing people from all over the world with more areas to go canyoning.

Adventure awaits us!

Richard Bramley (Team Pata-Gona-Get-Yah)

By Alpkit