Paddling in Queenstown, New Zealand

Well, after the cold of a Scottish winter, it was great to get to New Zealand and experience a second summer!

Despite a fair amount of rain, it was warm and sunny for much of the trip. Primarily, we were there to trek, but I managed to hook up with a few paddlers local to Queenstown and headed out for a New Year’s Day paddle on a river just north of the town.

When I arrived it was clear that these guys were really good paddlers; so I needed to be on my game!

To add to my nerves, was the huge amount of water in the river. It had been raining extremely heavily for the preceeding few days and the rivers around Queenstown and Wanaka were pumping.

Pete, an ex-pat Scot, who was leading the trip described the section we were going to paddle as a “mini Zambezi” – he wasn’t wrong!

The river was massive; far biger than anything I’ve ever paddled in Scotland. The cumecs were almost off the scale, the speed of the water was crazy and the eddie lines were, almost without exception, full of large whirlpools.

While I was paddling Pete’s burn, it was no match for the whirlpools and the backend kept getting sucked down. Techincal ability and a good range of strokes was fairly meaningless; it was head down and keep paddling forward. This was turning into a straight survival mission for me!

For the first wee while things were big, but ok. We paddled past some cliffs in the gorge section which had been used as ‘The Argonath’ in the Lord of the Rings (pretty cool), and we also paddled under a massive bungee jump platform on a bridge (wish I’d had a go).

But, as the walls of the gorge closed in, things got trickier. At one point I found myself ahead of the others going down a feature, so head down, focus and go straight! This gave me a bit of confidence, but as we reached the final rapid, called Big Dog (I think), the roar and horizon line put the fear of God into me!

We got out to inspect and I’d not seen anything like it before. There was a narrow fast-moving tongue of green water going down center right. Big diagonal pressure/pillow waves coming off the cliffs on river right and the mother of stoppers guarding the route down river left. Sadly, my legs were shaking and I just couldn’t get back on the water at that point.

I could see the line and, if I was in my own boat with paddles which actually had a feather(!), I recon I’d have given it a go, but I wasn’t confident on hitting the line and I really didn’t fancy drifting into the stopper; it was the width of a bus and I recon the face was about 3m high!

So, I walked round the stopper and put in just below. I felt a bit of a pussy not running it, but safety first is the name of the game (a lesson learned durig my Blackwater fun back in early December 2010).

The rest of the feature was full of BIG wave trains, surf waves and large stoppers. I was a good and exciting end to a pretty epic paddle. While the river challenged me big time and set the brown stuff running at times, it was well worth it and a great experience.

Many thanks indeed to Pete Simpson of Pyranha NZ for taking me under his wing and rustling up some other paddlers for the trip!

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