Visiting from Overseas?

Each year, we get more and more overseas canyoners coming to NZ. Whilst many visitors have plenty of experience from home, it is always worth listening to a bit of ‘local advice’. Please take the time to read this article before planning your trip.

Before 2010, Canyoning was only done by a handful of people in NZ. It is grown rapidly since the guidebook was published in 2014, but it is still growing and developing: be aware that there are likely to be many differences from the ethics, rules, culture and infrastructure compared to your home country.

All visitors to NZ must learn about DIDYMO

Didymo is an algae that native in the northern hemisphere. But here in New Zealand, it is ruining the beauty and ecology of many waterways, canyons and lakes. Everyone in NZ needs to learn about Didymo, and practise CHECK, CLEAN, DRY when visiting our waterways.

It can only take a single drop of water with Didymo to infect a canyon, and ruin it permanently. There are no current ‘cures’ for Didymo. Also consider the chance of bringing this terrible organism back to your canyons at home after you’ve finished your trip.

You must assume didymo (and other pests) are in every canyon! If this means having to spend time in the middle of the day cleaning your gear before an afternoon trip, then that is what you must do.

For practical advice on how to manage the cleaning process on a multi-day canyoning trip, check out the Didymo page.

Our Canyons are undeveloped and our mountains are relatively remote.

Canyons in NZ are often un-developed, tricky to access and home to wild water.

Away from the most popular canyons, there are relatively few established anchors or bolts.  The access is often off-track, navigating through thick temperate rain forest and steep slopes.

It rains here.. A lot! NZ’s Southern Alps receive 2,000mm to 10,000mm (33 feet) of rain each year. This precipitation is spread out throughout the year, and although there is generally less in the summer, it still rains quite frequently. So you need to plan and prepare to do alternate activities for when it rains.

What about search and rescue?

There is little to no reliable cellphone coverage within NZ’s mountains: every group should leave their intentions with a trusted contact, and take a personal locator beacon (PLB).  Search and Rescue would usually involve a helicopter, but all rescues are FREE for visitors and locals alike.

Even if you activate a PLB, rescue may be many hours away. Weather or other factors may make this even longer. Plan and prepare to survive until rescue arrives. Consider taking torches, bothy/survival bags, cookers, extra food, extra warm layers, especially on more remote or more committing canyons.

Canyon SAR is mostly done by volunteers from Land Search and Rescue teams around the country, LandSAR is supported by the NZ Canyoning Association.

If someone is overdue from a Canyoning trip, call 111 on your phone and ask for the Police.

Visitors should team up with locals for the first few trips

As canyoning here can be quite different from overseas, we strongly recommend that visitors go with locals for your first trip to an area.

Join the Facebook group, but remember that is an open group. Even if someone says they are ‘experienced’ it is always wise to start with an easy trip together before tackling more committing adventures…..

It is also advisable to go with someone who has gone to a particular canyon before, if you have any doubts about your ability or the canyons challenges/dangers/water levels.

What are the ethics for accessing canyons in New Zealand?

Most of the canyons are on public conservation land, which is free and open access for all. Abide by the guidelines from the Department of Conservation to care for public conservation land.

In general, stick to the track where one exists and avoid damaging the ground if there is no track.

There is lots of private land in New Zealand, and this is noted on the canyon topo if applicable. You must ask for and recieve permission from the landowner to enter private property.

The Walking Access Commission has an excellent online mapping tool, which shows the location of every single part of new zealand where the public can walk. This means you’ve got no excuses if you’re caught trespassing….

What are the ethics around bolts in New Zealand?

For an in-depth discussion on the ethics in NZ, read the NZ Canyoning Association Bolting Code of Practice.

In general, bolts are considered acceptable in certain places, provided they meet the standards of safety. If you are considering bringing any bolting equipment to New Zealand, it is essential you read and follow the code of practice.

Only the most popular canyons are fully bolted. Floods can destroy anchors, and because there are relatively few canyoners in New Zealand, you might be the first group to discover destroyed anchors! Ask on the KiwiCanyons Facebook group for the state of the anchors, and consider an emergency bolting kit.

Many Canyons, including those in the guidebook, have no bolts at all. When tackling these canyons it is essential that all canyoners have a very good knowledge of natural anchor techniques and carry enough anchor material to safely descend the canyon.

How does Canyoning in NZ compare to my home country?


Just like Oz, there is usually some degree of off-track navigation to access the canyons. The terrain here tends to have more vertical exaggeration, meaning navigation features are easier to identify, but tougher to walk up! In the less visited canyons, it is sometimes difficult to find a way into the canyon. You may find yourself scrambling down very steep and loose forest slopes, potentially having to rappel from tree or two to get in. The scrub/bush here can get much denser than in the Blue Mountains.

Unlike most of the Blue Mountains, not all our ‘Canyons’ here are actual slots, with many having similar technical challenges as the Kanangra area canyons.

As a comparison of difficulty and grading, most sandstone slots in the Blue Mountains would be v3a3 or below. You’ll be able to descend canyons of this grade with almost the same skills, techniques and gear as back home.

Anything above v3a3 means white water canyoning, with significant current (when absieling and/or swimming) and hydraulic hazards. Experience with proper white water canyoning techniques is essential for safe descents.

First-time Australian visitors would be very unwise to do a canyon above v3a3 without the company of a local or someone experienced in these types of canyons.

Main River gorges like the Wollangambe would be v1a3. There are plenty of NZ river gorge floating trips in the v1a3-v1a4 range, that can be safely done in normal to low flows by first-time visitors who have some knowledge of river hydrology and reading the water.

Although Kanangra Main would grade as v4a3, this is only because it has multi-pitches >30m. However, Kanangra doesn’t haven any “landing pools with current” (v4) which our v4 canyons usually have. As mentioned above, this requires specialised white water canyoning techniques such as setting the rope length and releaseable (contingency) anchors to safely negotiate.

Have a look at a descent of Gloomy Gorge, v6a6, to see how terrifying it can get…

Thankfully, there are no snakes/spiders to ruin your day. On average, Its a lot colder here, so thicker wetsuits are required.(See Gear page)

Also the weather is worse, so Its quite possible that even in the driest part of the season some canyons water levels are too high to descend, or you have to spend several days waiting for the rain to clear before a dry patch where you can go canyoning.


Canyoneering in the sandstone of the Colorado Plateau is very different to Canyoning in New Zealand. Most of our canyons are ACA class C, many C2’s and C3’s with a few C4. (see Grading page).

Even experienced Colorado Plateau Canyoneers should take a very cautious approach to our whitewater canyons. Setting the rope length and contingency anchors are techniques used on almost every drop. Go with someone who knows about white water canyoning and start with drier, more open canyons to begin with.

Experienced Californian Canyoneers will feel comfortable with canyons up to v3a3.

The more difficult canyons in Ouray, Colorado would grade v4 and either a2 or a3. Pacific-Northwest canyons are a step up again, with the difficult routes likely to grade v4a4 or higher.

Remember that search and rescue is FREE in New Zealand. You don’t need rescue insurance, (but you may need medical insurance).


You will find that many of our canyons are similar in water level and difficulty to those in the High Alps.

However, the access is usually more difficult than in Europe. Many canyons approaches take between 1 and 3 hours, including a significant amount of off-track walking. You need to be a confident and experienced off-track navigator.

Our canyons are often remote and committing. You will probably not meet any other canyoners in the canyons. You must carry all the correct Bivouac, rescue and escape gear, as rescue may not arrive until the next day at the earliest.

All the canyons have the same 1 to 4 interest grade as used in France. Do not be put off by the large number of ‘1’ interest canyons. They are only graded by me, rather than by voting. See more discussion about interest grades

Can you rent canyoning gear in New Zealand?

Yes! If you’re just passing through and need gear for a day or two, Canyoning New Zealand (based in Queenstown, South Island) offer rental equipment

If you’re coming here for a dedicated canyoning holiday, then you should bring all your own gear.

Is it easy to buy canyoning gear in New Zealand?

There are two main online retailers that stock canyon-specific gear in New Zealand. Between them, they can sell you everything you need to go canyoning in NZ! (Auckland) and (Christchurch)

Larger towns usually have an outdoor shop, which may stock climbing gear. Canyon-specific gear is rarely stocked in retail stores. Generally it is better to bring everything you need, rather than try to stock up locally.

Find out more on the Gear page.

Where are the best Canyons?

‘Best’ is a subjective term, but generally, the further south you go, the more intense the features are and the more difficult the canyons become.

Easier canyons are generally in the foothills, whilst the harder canyons are closer to the main divide in the mountains.