Abel Tasman Canyons office manager, Camille Visser, attends the 2018 Canyoning Festival in Nelson Lakes. This a blog of her personal experience.
“The canyoning festival was held in Nelson Lakes over four days, which I was lucky enough to be able to attend two of them. I arrived just after 8am on Saturday morning to find everyone gathered in a group at the local town hall in St Arnold. As I listened to the introductions given by the organisers I quickly realised this way of canyoning was going to be very different to the commercial trips I had been on. Instructions were given to us that we as individuals were responsible for ourselves and even though we would have ‘trip leaders’ it was up to us to ensure our own safety. This filled me with a little fear and a huge amount of excitement.
Our trip leaders who were appointed for each trip were spread around the room and everyone gathered around them who had decided to do that specific canyon. We discussed what we had in each group, how many ropes, first aid kits, PLB’s and how much experience each person had. My own experience was pretty limited with only having had done a handful of canyons and I had only my own personal gear.
We were all given a time to be down at the water taxi on the edge of the lake and then everyone left. I realised I was actually unsure of the small logistics of canyoning and was left with lots of questions; Do I bring food? A water bottle? How long would we be gone? Do I bring dry clothes to change into and how do I take them? I stuffed the pockets of my jacket with some muesli bars and some fruit and decided that would make do and made my way to the lake. I didn’t own a proper canyoning bag so I asked someone really nicely if I could store my food in theirs and decided the water in the canyon must be good enough to drink! I found someone else’s backpack that I could store my dry tights, t-shirt and jacket for changing into afterwards.
After being dropped off by the water taxi at a small beach we hiked straight up a steep hill for around 40 minutes until we found the spot where we entered Lower Bare Foot Burn Canyon. Looking at how much water there was I realised this was going to be more extreme than any canyon I had done before. We abseiled next to high flowing (well I thought so) waterfalls and sometimes even crossing through them to the other side. There was a moment that I didn’t make my cross over and slipped back under the waterfall. It was so incredibly powerful that all I could do was curl into a little ball and abseil out the last 5 metres.
At the bottom of one abseil I started unclipping myself from the rope and happened to look back up to admire where I’d come down, only to see a big log hurtling down the waterfall towards me. I turned my face away and leaned backwards and the log fell into the water, brushing against my chest just where my head had been. It was in this moment that I realised how real this was, it wasn’t a commercial trip with everything groomed and well-practiced, this was real life canyoning! Even though I was pretty shaken it was in this moment I started to feel like a real canyoneer, out in the middle of nature doing something extreme in a place that not many had been before.
One canyon however, wasn’t enough and we walked for an hour around the head of the lake to the entry of the second canyon of the day, Lower Chandler Creek. This canyon was an awesome mixture of abseils and jumps and as it was on the other side of the lake the temperature was a lot colder. It’s in moments like this that keeping positive, smiling with everyone in the group and dancing around proves the best way in keeping a little warmer.
After getting back to the Hall and once again warm and in dry clothes with a coffee in my hands I was astounded by the different people that had attended this festival. Everyone was gathered around the keg of beer that had been provided and were all of different ages, different cultures, and different canyoning experience. It was so nice to see the more experienced talking with and giving advice to the less experienced. People from all around the world and especially from Australia had come especially to New Zealand, specifically to experience our canyons.
The second day we all met at 8am again and this time I was more prepared for how it all ran. Our group went into a place called Clearwater Creek, which was the most beautiful canyon I had ever seen. We happened to be the third group to have ever been in there making us the top 11 people to have ever been down this canyon in the world. One of the very experienced women in my group had a spare pair of canyoning shoes that she gave me to wear instead of my converse street shoes. It was incredible the difference a good pair of shoes made. Once again the day started with the taxi ride and a very steep climb for an hour to the top of the canyon. There were a lot of wasp’s nests in this area and everyone except me got stung multiple times.
This canyon blew my mind, it was abseil after abseil down huge mossy walls. There were times I just stopped and looked around me, in awe of where I actually was. Hanging mid-air on a rope with nothing but the brightest green moss in front of me and a powerful waterfall cascading down behind me. I’d get to the bottom pumped with adrenalin and excitement and I’d think this is what canyoning was all about! Being in a very remote area in a place where not many had stood before us was an incredible experience!
This day ended with a tug of war between us Kiwis and the rest of the world. Two girls were needed out of the 10 strongest people so I found myself tugging at the rope, surrounded by big men. Best of three, we battled to the end with everyone cheering us on as we took out first place! This Festival ignited a desire within me to visit more canyons and experience more extreme adventurers like this one. I hope to be able to go on more trips and see more beautiful and remote places around New Zealand”.