News & Events

March 2008 New Zealand

We are standing at the airport check in counter, Paul, Brandon and me. Roof racks and bags at our feet, waiting for our boarding cards for the flight to Christchurch. A car is waiting for us in Christchurch and then we have a four hour drive to Murchison to start our course at the New Zealand Kayak School. It is now that we find out that Paul doesn’t have a ticket for the flight! Our logistics have been worked out to the minute and they don’t include Paul not being on this flight! How could someone not have a ticket for an international flight? Brandon and I are flabbergasted. Fortunately for Paul and us, there’s a spare seat on the plane.

Paul, Brandon and I have years of paddling behind us so why are we going to the New Zealand Kayak School. Well, we can all improve our paddling by improving our techniques and learning new skills. It’s also a good opportunity to paddle New Zealand rivers and check out their paddling scene.

It’s now 8 a.m. on the first day of the course. Everyone is waiting for the introductory session and Paul is still in bed. A late night drinking session sampling all the local beers at the pub (beneath a picture of the Tui girls!) is the cause. There are two groups of beginners and us. One of the beginner groups was 5 young New Zealand blokes on a buck’s party. Apparently they all voted on line for the buck’s party activity. Learning to kayak won, although none of the blokes who voted to kayak ended up making it to the buck’s party. I can imagine spending 4 days trying to learn skills you never intend to use. But they did seem to enjoy themselves, although the on going bowling competition was their highlight and they were too stuffed to party.

Each morning starts with a rolling session in the local pool. The focus is on the sweep roll. The roll has advantages over other rolls as the kayak starts coming up straight away and it is amazing how little effort it takes. We work on getting a solid roll on both sides and each day our rolls are videoed in order to improve our technique. A few of the beginners have a pretty good roll by the end of four days.

The first river section starts with an intense discussion with our instructor; a great bloke called Peter, over the relative merits of New Zealand and Australian break in/breaks out techniques. We are adamant that sweeps and draw strokes are the only strokes possible on Australia’s tight rivers. While in New Zealand they teach beginners to break in/out by using a sweep stoke. The theory is that you want to get deep into the eddy rather than a tight turn and end up near or on the eddy line. They have big volume rivers with nasty eddy lines so it makes sense. It also makes sense for us as there are very few very tight eddies where a bow draw is a must. We learn about stern draws and hanging stern draws. The theory is that you use the most appropriate stroke for what you want to do. For a small tight eddy you use a bow draw, for a medium sized eddy, you might go for a hanging stern draw moving to a bow draw and for a big eddy, just the hanging stern draw. We practice stroke combinations designed to use the minimum amount of effort but to get you where you want to go. There are also lots of great tips and skills, tips on support strokes, booking techniques, paddling big waves and cart wheeling. This is all done while paddling some great rivers around Murchison. There are also spectacular scenery and lovely sunny days. It doesn’t get much better than this.

We paddled several sections of the Buller and a couple of sections of the Matakitaki. The Matakitaki – Middle Run, is a straight forward grade 2+ section with a great nose stand spot, a pleasant introduction to the area. The Earthquake run of the Matakitaki is more interesting. This section was formed by a devastating earthquake in 1929 which killed several people in the Matakitaki valley and Murchison. This section is grade 3+ to 4 and is unlike any other section in the area. It is narrow, steep and technical. Technical like the rivers were use to but with a bit more gradient and more water (of course). This section is short and it’s an easy walk back up to the car, for another run.

The Buller is a different river. It’s wide and has a greater volume of water. There are several sections worth paddling. Doctor’s Creek run is an easy grade 2+ section. But the Granity Creek run, grade 3+ to 4, is more interesting and more fun. Granity rapid itself is the highlight, a long rapid with a few drops and requiring a few moves, it is a bit reminiscent of Amphitheatre on the Mitchell River. The O’Sullivan’s to Ariki section is also grade 3 to 4. This is a great section, lots of volume and lots of interesting rapids. Whale Creek rapid in particular was a great experience, a long series of big waves, which claimed Brandon both times he paddled it. Finally you reach Ariki Falls. The cliffs are a pinky red colour and the river falls into a nasty looking stopper which creates a pool of blue highly aerated water immediately below it. The falls are easily portaged on river left. The last section and the best section of the Buller is the Earthquake run. Again grade 3 to 4, this section was formed by yet another earthquake. This time more recent, 1968. Lots of great rapids and beautiful scenery. My favourite rapids were Gunslinger, a very long rapid requiring lots of moves and Lyell Creek rapid, a great wave train rapid which would slam you into a wall if you weren’t careful, all great fun.

Paddling in Murchison wouldn’t be complete without another new paddling experience, Didymo! Didymo, known locally as ‘rock snot’, is an invasive alga. It’s thrived in the rivers around Murchison and has now spread to the West Coast rivers. It wasn’t too bad when we were there but apparently it can look like toilet paper in the river and is particularly invasive. It is a good lesson on how easy things can be spread and then you’re stuck with them.

New Zealand certainly has some great paddling and we had a fantastic time. They have water, lovely rivers, clear water, sandy or pebble banks, did I say water, great scenery and when it is sunny it is positively hot. However they also have sandflies, clouds of the bastards. I’ve never seen anything like it. They mass as you attempt to get changed on the river bank and attack every inch of skin in droves. So if you’re heading to the South Island be warned and take the DEET!

Much thanks to our shuttle bunny for our paddling after the course. Bronwyn, you’re a legend, even making a cake for Paul’s birthday.


Postscript – if you’re wondering what happened to Paul, he did indeed make it back from New Zealand, despite the fact that he didn’t have a return flight either. He managed to organize a ticket home, although this involved traveling via Brisbane and a 6 hour stop over!