Canyoning FAQ

What is canyoning?

One of the worlds fastest growing outdoor sports.

At the most basic level, Canyoning is the practise of descending rivers and streams, using any combination of walking, climbing, abseiling (rappelling), swimming, jumping and sliding.  Canyoning is kind of like a Hydroslide  theme park,  carved into stone and located in the wilderness.  Anyone who loves sliding, jumping and playing in water, exploring, abseiling and technical problem solving will love going Canyoning.

Though Canyoning has many similarities to Caving and to Kayaking, we do not squeeze through tight caves underground nor do we paddle any small plastic boats.  We walk up to the head of the stream, put on wetsuits, harnesses and helmets then descend the canyon, doing whatever is nessecary to reach the bottom, whilst having a ball and marvelling at the rugged beauty of these inaccessible places.    

How do you get your rope back?

Perhaps the most frequently asked question!

In the most simple case, we need twice the length of rope as the height of the waterfall. We thread the rope through a chain link on our anchor, then tie a special knot around a carabiner which stops the rope sliding one direction and not the other. If you pull on one strand of the rope, the rope is blocked solid and can be absielled on. If you pull the other side, the rope pulls through the chain link and can be retrieved.

This means, that we retrieve our rope, but that the anchor is left behind.

How do you get into canyoning?

It will take a reasonable amount of determination to ‘become a canyoner’ but unlike years past, we now have a infrastructure to support people who wish to take up the sport. You just have to put in a bit of effort to take up the opportunities available.

The best way to find out if canyoning is for you is to join a guided trip. Whilst the idea of ‘paying for it’ probably won’t appeal to most Kiwi outdoors people, on a guided trip you’ll be provided with the right gear, introduced to the correct techniques and taken down a pretty good canyon.

Once you’ve had a go and know you want to learn more, the best pathway for your early canyoning career is to take a Canyoning course and then go with experienced people on easier trips.

If you show enthusiasm and aptitude (and are a good person to hang out with) you’ll find you get invitations on trips where you can learn more and develop your skills.

Enthusiasm equates to researching the gear and techniques, practising them at home, asking ‘why’ and being prepared to listen, offering to carry the rope, offering to buy people a drink after the trip. Stuff like that…

What skills do I need?

Canyoning has often been underestimated by experienced outdoors people.

Those with skills or experience in Caving, Climbing or Kayaking have often descended canyons, using those skills. For the most part, this approach will get them through simple canyons in low water flows.

However, many of these techniques are not the safest way to progress through a canyon. Canyoning requires specific skills which should be learnt, either on a course, or from experienced Canyoners.

Those who have any experience in Caving, Climbing or Kayaking will have an excellent knowledge base upon which to build specific canyon skills. These skills are designed to mitigate the risks of mixing ropes and narrow inescapable gorges with flowing water.

A very brief outline of the most basic canyon specific skills are provided on Kiwi Canyons under Technique.

An excellent “Canyoning Technical Manual” has been published in NZ, written for NZ Canyons. It is a must have for all NZ Canyoners.

Written by New Zealand Canyoners, this is (as far as I know) the only printed technical manual available in English that is written specifically for white-water canyons.

Clear and concise, this will be an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to take up the sport, develop their skills or brush up on the more complex techniques.

What gear do I need?

To get started in Canyoning, many people already have much of the gear or know where to borrow it.

To join in with experienced canyoners on an easy trip, you’ll need;

A full wetsuit (at least a 4/3 suit, which has 4mm over the core and 3mm over the arms and legs)

A climbing harness with descender and cows tail (lanyard/safety).

A Helmet

For a more in depth discussion on the type of gear required, see the Gear page under ‘About Canyoning’. Also, there are links to companies which sell Canyoning gear.

Perhaps the most important bit of gear to personally own is a warm wetsuit. When borrowing a wetsuit, it can be tricky to ensure you have a nice tight fit. A loose wetsuit has little thermal value, so its worth making sure you have one that fits.  

Where can I go?

There are a number of canyons that are suitable destinations for first trips. Check out the Canyoning in NZ guidebook for ideas. Ideally, you should ask to go on a trip with an experienced leader to an easy canyon.  Easier canyons are generally in the foothills, where the harder canyons are higher into the mountains. As a  broad rule of thumb, canyons increase in difficulty the further south you are in NZ.

The Kauaeranga Valley (near Thames),  Canterbury and the Top of the South Island have the greatest selection of easy-moderate canyons. However, even the easiest shouldn’t be taken lightly. Go with someone who has gone before, take the right gear, and know the correct techniques!

The canyon database will grow to include many easier canyons that are ideal for first trips. Do be aware, that descending simple canyons without the correct experience, gear and skills can be more dangerous than nessecary. It doesn’t take much effort to learn basic canyon skills, which will transform the skills you already have into skills that can keep you safe in the canyons.   

Whilst some commercially guided canyons are legally accessable by the public, some are not. Read the ‘Access‘ page to find out more.

Who can I go with?

An excellent way to meet Canyoning buddies is to take a Canyoning course and then go with experienced people on easier trips.  More experienced people can be located through the KiwiCanyons Facebook Group.

‘Apprenticeships’ rely on the goodwill of more experienced people to volunteer their time mentoring less experienced people.  Don’t be dissapointed if you don’t get a response straight away if you post online looking for people to take you out. Be polite and patient and when people see that you are keen to learn and willing to listen, then you’ll start to get invitations.

If you show enthusiasm and aptitude (and are a good person to hang out with) you’ll find you’ll probably be invited again on trips where you can learn more and develop your skills.

Enthusiasm equates to researching the gear, finding your own stuff, getting the Canyoning Technical manual and practising the techniques at home, asking ‘why’ and being prepared to listen, offering to carry the rope, offering to buy people a drink after the trip. Stuff like that…

The NZ Canyoning Association is the national recreational body for recreational canyoning in NZ. The Association is working with other entities such as DOC, FMC, NZAC, guiding companies etc to help sustainably develop the sport of Canyoning in NZ. Become a member to show your support, get involved with volunteer projects and learn about courses and events.

If you just want to try Canyoning to see if you like it before investing time, effort or money into becoming a canyoner, going on a Guided Trip is a great option. Guiding companies have all the gear and professional guides who will make sure you have a great introduction to the sport. 

What is Didymo?

Didymo is a terrible algae that infests waterways. It is ruining the beauty and ecology of many of the streams and rivers in NZ. It is essential that every person who spends time in or around the water ensures that they learn about Didymo and follows the CHECK, CLEAN, DRY precaution to prevent the spread.

Are the anchors safe to use?

Any fixed anchors in a Canyon should be treated with suspicion. You need to learn how to evaluate anchors before you trust YOUR LIFE to them. Learn more on the Anchors/Bolts page.

I’m visiting from Overseas, any advice?

Canyoning in NZ has a number of important differences to Canyoning in more established regions around the world.

Have a read of the ‘Visiting from Overseas?‘ page which has some advice on the character and difficulty of our canyons.

Then join the Facebook Group and try to arrange a few trips with locals to start. You can also learn about conditions and ask other questions too.