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’. The sport is starting to grow here, so the canyoning scene is still developing. The first thing to know before you arrive is all about Didymo.
All visitors to NZ must learn about DIDYMO
Didymo is a terrible, invasive algae which is ruining the beauty and ecology of a number of streams in New Zealand. 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.
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 a handful of the most popular canyons, there are few established anchors or bolts. The access is often off-track, through thick temperate rain forest and steep slopes. Our canyons have plenty of water. NZ’s southern alps receive 2,000mm to 10,000mm (33 feet) of rain each year. This precipitation is spread out through the year, and although there is less in the summer, it still rains quite frequently. So you need to plan for alternate activities for when it rains.
There is no reliable cellphone coverage within NZ’s mountains: every group should leave their intentions with a trusted contact, and take an personal locator beacon or PLB. Search and Rescue would usually involve a helicopter. Canyon SAR volunteers come from Land Search and Rescue teams around the country, and is supported by the NZ Canyoning Association.
Visitors should team up with locals for the first few trips
As canyoning here is quite different from overseas, we strongly reccomend that visitors go with locals for your first trip to an area.
Join the KiwiCanyons.org Facebook group and ask about, 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 and the canyons challenges/dangers.
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! Its sometimes difficult to find a way into the canyon, down very steep forest slopes, without having to rappel from tree to tree 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 being similar in character to 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 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 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 that some canyons are too full to descend, or you have to spend several days waiting for the rain to clear before a dry patch where you can canyon.
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.
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 much more difficult than in Europe. Most Canyons take between 1 and 3 hours of off track walking to access. You need to be a confident and experienced off track navigator.
Once in the Canyons, there are very few bolts. Many Canyons have no bolts at all, so 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.
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
Is it possible to rent Canyoning gear in NZ?
Sadly the answer is ‘not really’. Generally, you need to bring your own gear with you.
Find out more on the Gear page.
Is it easy to buy Canyoning gear in NZ?
There are a few stores/companies that specifically sell canyoning equipment, but they are mostly online retailers rather than ‘brick and mortar’ shops. You need to do a little research and asking around to know where to get the right stuff.
Try Accessgear.net and Aspiring.co.nz
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 more difficult the canyons become.
Easier canyons are generally in the foothills, whilst the harder canyons are higher into the mountains.