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A Day in the Life of a Canyoning Guide in New Zealand

What does a canyoning guide do? They guide people through canyons, obviously. But what does the job of a canyoning guide actually entail?

Working in the office of a canyoning company it doesn’t take long to realise how much work the guides have to do without even entering the canyon. All of the guides love their jobs, and without a doubt they all live and breathe the outdoors, however there are certain aspects of the career that as customers we may overlook. When the guides take our customers out on a canyoning trip, it involves a whole lot more than just keeping the customers safe.

I had a chat with the guides about what their typical day entails, and this is what they said…

Canyoning New Zealand

The alarm goes off at 6am. I grab my breakfast and head to the shed. Inhale the powerful smell of half dried neoprene, letting it fill the nostrils as I find my pack and shovel in my own stuff. Still half asleep but it’s all happening like clockwork.

What do I need? Shoes, check. Helmet, check. First aid barrel, check. Wet suit, check. And still wet too, hmm. Time to sort out snacks. Must check to see if any of the customers are vegans, gluten free, or any nut allergies. It’s a good idea to pack extra just in case.

Let’s get the wetsuits sorted for the custies: grabbing one I slam it into the orange bag. Harnesses are put into a separate bag with the helmets. Trailer’s now hooked up and final check list is complete. It’s 7:20am. Time to do the morning pick up’s, and I must remember to pick up the lunches.

It’s time to meet the customers. I’m fully awake now, raring to go. Lots of nervous faces stare back as they sign their lives away and type their pins into the EFTPOS machine. Let’s make a joke, lighten the mood. It’s so hard to think of something new every day. They’re all starting to relax. Seems like a lovely and enthusiastic bunch ready for an adventure. Perfect.

I’ve managed to fit everyone into a wetsuit and explained what goes where, and how, and huh? Is that the time already? It’s 9am. Time to get to the Aqua Taxi. Herding everyone along, I make it onto the boat just in time.

Sometimes I can hardly believe that this is my commute to work. Beautiful sunshine, soaring along the coastline, stopping by Adele Island to see the seals. And the custies look impressed too. I can hardly blame them.

We’re in Anchorage now, at the start of the walk up to the canyon. Am I going too fast? Or too slow?
I should probably tell everyone a story about Abel Tasman in a minute. And check in that everyone’s okay with the walk. It won’t be long until we’re in the canyon and at one of my favourite parts of the day. Lunch time. Sitting everyone down on the rocks I hand out the food, reminding them to take in the relaxing surroundings of the canyon. Finally I too can tuck in, taking huge bites real fast. Chew, chew, and swallow. Simultaneously sorting out their gear. Chew, chew, and swallow. Getting my own still wet wetsuit on. Chew, chew, and swallow. Moving as quickly as I can to get my gear on and bag packed.

Stop. Check there is no lettuce in my teeth. Time to brief the group and lay out the wetsuits so that everyone can get dressed. Take that group photo and hit the river. Off to the first abseil.

Teaching the customers to abseil is a science. I have to speak clearly and slowly, but not too slowly. They’re not stupid. “This is how you stop and this is how you go. Thumb on your bum… your turn.”

One by one they wander over the edge to the sound of cheers and gasps. Cheering one another on, it’s great. Making sure I watch for the other guide with me. Give him the eye and a little head nod, that’s the sign to set up the next feature – double trouble.

Double trouble: a waterfall that we lower and drop each customer over. It’s rowdy here. The water pours straight over the edge and no one can see the bottom. Time to speak louder and pump everyone up.

“The other guide will meet you at the bottom, swim toward his voice!”

One by one they disappear and re-emerge from the water with eyes the size of dinner plates. They reach out for the other guide desperately. They’re pulled up onto the rock, out of the water, and we wait for the massive grin to spread across their face. Actually, this is one of my favourite parts of the day too.

They’ve all made it, proud of themselves and eager to experience more. The other guide cruises off with the group while I’m quickly stuffing the rope back into my canyon pack, then I run to catch up. It’s not hard to catch up, I’m used to hopping on rocks and I watch as the customers slowly take their time, careful of placing each foot on the slippery rocks below.

The 6 metre jump is in front of us. I position myself on the edge of the cliff, waiting to booty tap anyone who doesn’t jump out far enough. I count each person down, removing any possibility of hesitation: 3, 2, 1, jump! 3, 2, 1, jump! The guide below me focuses on capturing each jump on camera. Everyone jumps, easy.

There’s lots of rock hopping and bum shuffling to get through the canyon. Everyone is so uneasy on their feet, the mossy rock surfaces so foreign to a lot of the customers. As a guide I have an acute sense of hearing and know the sound of a sliding shoe instantly. If I hear a wobble or a slip my head whips around instantly to check if they’re okay. A bashful response always follows, letting me know that they are.

Over to the 8 metre jump, only the brave ones take on this one. Cue more booty taps where required and count downs galore. The brave are followed by the easily convinced, whilst the few left take turns on the smaller jump. Fears are overcome, successes are made. Everyone is happy.

Finally we emerge back out into the world. Time to share in some epic high fives, fist pumps and applause. An easy stroll back along the beach to the Aqua Taxi and next thing you know you’re home. Or not.

I amble back into the shed, an apt sense of Déjà vu in my head, and turn the radio up loud pretending I am not exhausted. It’s time to wash those suits! Dip, hang, dip, and hang. What? I smell wee… Eww. This customer has brought a whole new meaning to wet suit.

Politely I ask the office staff how their day was, hand over the goods – photos from the day on the memory card and a trip report. Home by 7.

Damn it, still gotta’ make dinner.

Abel Tasman Canyons NZ  Story time in the Abel Tasman Canyoning NZ

A canyoning guide in New Zealand has to be experienced, skilled and qualified. The main qualification used in New Zealand are the NZOIA Canyon Leader, Canyon 1 and Canyon 2 qualifications.