A Canyoning Adventure in Queenstown


138 Days on the Road

The landscapes, the adventure, the adrenaline: that’s what New Zealand is all about. That’s why we are super stoked to be canyoning in New Zealand’s “Adventure Capital” today! Canyoning mixes all these elements together along with abseiling, hiking, climbing and whatever else is necessary to get through the rough terrain of canyon hidden in the Gibbston Valley.

Because we are way too keen, we arrive at the Canyoning New Zealand meeting point way too early… Time to grab a quick coffee in the Voodoo Cafe! Then we spot the black and white van and trailer of Canyoning New Zealand and meet our guide, Rob from the UK. This guy is an outdoors enthusiast travelling, climbing, skiing and guiding all over the world. It’s probably safe to assume we are in good hands today.

Welcome to the Kawarau Canyon

After picking up an Australian/English couple joining us on this half day tour of the Kawarau Canyon, we are driving into Gibbston Country. This is an outer Queenstown area packed with vineyards! It’s hard to imagine we are going to be canyoning around here unless we are getting tangled in the vines?

With the van parked up, Rob opens the trailer to reveal the canyoning gear-mobile. He sizes us up and gives us the stuff that’s going to keep us warm in the watery depths of the Kawarau Canyon: a thick two-piece wetsuit, a neoprene layer, socks, booties, a helmet and a harness. We might feel a bit like a penguin but, man, do we feel like we are about to do something hardcore!

Hidden streams and bushwalks

Safety briefing out of the way, we are getting straight into it! Instead of crossing the road to get to the canyon, we are crossing underneath it though a shallow stream. Just because we can!

Then it’s a quick bushwalk down to where the real adventure begins.

Abseil-utley awesome demonstration

Rob stops us in the forest where he is tying a bright yellow rope to a tree. Here, he is giving us a demonstration for abseiling before handing the rope over to us. All goes well for Laura and the others, but Robin almost takes a tumble into the water behind. Ah well, none of us seem too bothered about Robin’s safety so we hop in the stream and follow the rocky canyon down.

Scramble in the canyon

Carefully placing our feet, we gingerly move over the rocky stream bed holding onto the canyon sides to keep our balance. Although Rob is guiding, making sure we are all safe, and assessing the next obstacle, he leaves us to negotiate moving through the stream ourselves. That’s definitely what we prefer to do when canyoning – it makes it feel like our own challenge while knowing that all the major risks are being taken care of.

Take on the natural waterslide!

First up, we are doing a narrow natural waterslide. Rob ties us up one by one, lowering us halfway down the waterslide before letting us go into the gushing depths below. We come out of the waterfall gasping for air as the cold initially shocks us! We get over it quickly, as the wetsuits are pretty darn good, then watch the faces of everyone else emerge from the water. (And feeling thankful that it’s not just us pulling awful faces while a waterfall is pounding on our heads).

A personal challenge

From here, the climbs get trickier and a lot more adventurous. We are attached to safety ropes climbing high above the stream now. It’s just us and the elements. We really have to think: “What rock can I hold onto?” and “Where can I put my foot?” Again, it’s a personal challenge that reinforces that proud feeling once you get through a difficult climb.

Overhangs and waterfalls

Waterslide after waterslide, we are having a blast in nature’s playground! Then we are faced with the big one: an overhanging rock with a waterfall tumbling over it. It’s a bit overwhelming to start with. Where the hell are we meant to put our feet on a rock that all of a sudden disappears behind a waterfall? Rob helps us out with this one, telling us to go slowly as he holds that we abseil down (don’t worry, the rope is knotted too – it’s not just Rob holding the rope with his hench arms).

The moment our hearts start pounding is when the waterfall starts pounding over our helmets. We are fighting against the force of the water while white water splashes around our face. This is freakin’ awesome!

Then it’s a scramble out of the water to the rest of the team waiting and cheering each other on!

Downclimb to the Kawarau River

A downclimb, waterslide, waterfall abseil and scramble through the stream later, we emerge almost where the stream meets the brilliantly blue Kawarau River. This is where we get out of the stream and into the bush. It’s a hike uphill to an awesome view of the Kawarau Gorge and the surrounding vineyards.

Looking down on the canyon

A bridge over the canyon that we just clambered through gives us a great perspective of what we have just done. Man, it felt like the canyon was much more grander when we were inside it! It took us just over one hour to make our way through the canyon… and about 10 minutes to walk up on the hiking trails to get back to the van… Whurrrttt?!

No matter: we feel epic, we feel awesome, and we definitely have had a great taste of canyoning. Hell, we might even try to do some more canyoning before we leave Queenstown. Watch this space…

Back to civilisation

Peeling wetsuits off is always a delightful sight, especially when getting changed on the roadside providing a show for the cars. We are back in our dry gear and Rob is dropping us off at the Nomads hostel – our choice of backpackers while staying in Queenstown.

We’ve spent HEAPS of time in the water over the last three days. Tomorrow, we swap water for getting high up in the trees on a zipline tour around Bob’s Peak. Join us then!

Making our way to our next Kawarau Canyon challenge

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