MT ASPIRING NATIONAL PARK, NZ – 28 January 2020
As I was putting my wetsuit on, to the deafening sound of waterfalls thundering over boulders and rocks, I asked myself “what was I thinking”? Booking this adventure in NZ three days BEFORE we headed off to do the Milford Track wasn’t one of my brighter ideas. The chances of me injuring myself or being swept down the raging creek were quite high, it would have been better AFTER the Milford.
So, the back story … I had always wanted to do a canyon in NZ, and as I was going over there for the Milford trip, it seemed like an opportune time. The Legendary Louise decided she wanted to do it too, David and Marcia (who, with Louise, were also doing the Milford with me) both thought it was a bad idea going canyoning before the Milford (not surprisingly, I didn’t think too much of it at the time). So, I looked around for a commercial operator. The thought of raging torrents and white water were freaking me out a bit (not enough to pull the pin though).
I asked a FB friend, Pete Smith of Access Gear in Auckland for his recommendation, explaining that I wasn’t some hot-shot young canyoner and was worried that I’d be in a group of young guns and feel pressured to do big jumps and I’d be hurrying to keep up with them. Pete recommended Alain Rohr of South Canyons in Wanaka who, Pete assured me, would “look after me”.
I chose Wilson canyon for our first day … “Grade v4a4IV, a very deep schist slot canyon with many beautiful turquoise pools and significant flow. Highest drop 17m. A serious undertaking in anything but very low water conditions” (Canyoning in NZ Guidebook). We later found out that Alain and a fellow canyoner had been the ones to do the first descent of Wilson, they took 2 days to do it, doing the second half the first day and then returning to do the upper section. They put in all the first set of bolts and anchors.
We met up with our guide, Annette, in Wanaka and then drove out to the creek. Annette was lovely and Louise and I immediately felt reassured. South Canyons provided all the gear (wetsuits, booties, boots, helmets, harnesses & hardware), and after checking for sizing, we were ready for the 1 – 1½ hour trek to the start of the canyon.
The obligatory selfie (Louise, Annette and me) before the start of a trip. I look like I’m tall in this photo don’t I?
We checked out the bottom of the creek before we started up the hill, Annette was making sure that the level of the water was “good”.
The start was a bit scrubby, but soon thinned out.
Annette was a wealth of knowledge when it came to the flora of the area, these were lovely small flowers with berries (unsure whether or not they’d be edible). We also found some native mistletoe flowers on the ground, which is a good sign as it indicates that there are no possums in the area (as possums love to eat the mistletoe flowers).
Quite a steep slog up hill (you can see the road in the middle distance).
And then we were in hobbit country, nice open Beech forest with lots of moss and ferns. One of the reasons I love walking in NZ.
Louise is an orchid enthusiast, we had seen a lot of seed stalks which indicated that we were about a week too late for the flowers, but when we reached a higher elevation, we came across a few late flowers.
A good close up (photo: Annette). They were about the size of your middle finger thumb nail.
Lovely shot by Annette of the forest canopy.
We’re pretty close now to where we cross over to our descent route, good shot by Annette of the other side of the creek valley.
As we were descending, a Kaka (I think) flew in and landed on a branch nearby, it then flew over to an adjacent branch to his/her mate (where it looked like they were snuggling together), this is a very rare bird so we were really fortunate to be able to be so close to them (photo: Annette).
The spur we headed down was quite treacherous in places, Annette made sure that we stepped in the right spots as some of the foot holds had eroded and one could easily have fallen plus it was very muddy and slippery.
Nice specimen of pandanus (photo: Annette)
Me slippery sliding down the muddy slope (mostly on my butt) (Photo: Annette)
Almost at the bottom of the spur we came across a NZ native Tree Fuchsia (Fuchsia excorticate), whereas most trees in the forest have lots of moss and ferns growing off them, the Tree Fuchsia has a bark which peels, hanging in red papery strips which means the mosses can’t grow on them. We were really fortunate to find this tree in flower (not that you can tell from my unfocussed photos).
Some of the Tree Fuchsia flowers, they look just like the flowers that we have on the many fuchsia plants people grow in their gardens (photo: Annette)
From now on, I can’t guarantee the order of the photos, I tried to add some of Annette’s photos but sometimes couldn’t tell what part of the canyon we were in.
Our first glimpse of Wilson Creek – we suited up on the grassy bank at the other side. It took us about 2 1/2 hours to walk in, way slower than most groups, but we did faff around a lot with the flora and fauna stops, plus, I’m never fast going up hill. Given that we had anticipated getting back to the car at 6pm, I figured we’d now get to the car around 7 or 7.30pm – still plenty of daylight hours.
Crossing the creek – surprisingly it wasn’t that cold. Mind you we were sweating from the walk up hill and it was a hot, humid day.
Annette in the first pool.
Louise and me, way out of our comfort zone, I’m now officially nervous, wasn’t until I saw all that frothy water! (photo: Annette)
Looking back up stream.
One of our first challenges, getting down this chute without falling into the fast flowing water.
Annette directing Louise where to put her feet.
A bit of bonus caving through a hole in the rock pile.
You had to be really careful where you put your feet, but the water was super clear, and if you took care you wouldn’t slip (and be swept down a cascade or waterfall).
Tricky spot to climb down (photo: Annette)
This was a bit of a tricky spot, Annette’s rigging up both a rope, and a way to lower us down past the waterfall. She used a munter hitch so we were attached and she could keep us from slipping down the waterfall to get across, then she could use the same set-up to lower us down.
Louise about to cross, the flow of the water was super strong!
Louise being lowered over – it was more efficient at some waterfalls for Annette to lower us (and we picked up some time with this efficiency).
Am not sure exactly where this waterfall was, but I didn’t want to be in it!
At every waterfall, Annette directed us to the “safe spot” where we wouldn’t get into the white water and could wait for her to come down to us. Louise making her way to the safe spot.
Annette setting up an abseil. It was quite deep and after three unsuccessful goes at hoisting herself out, Louise gave Annette a push to get up. Annette set up a bit of a handline for me to use otherwise I might still be in the pool.
I think this is the drop after the abseil above (but not too sure – lol) Annette on the rope.
This was pretty cool. At the bottom of this waterfall (rh corner) is “Julie’s Pool”, if you don’t take care and chimney the rock on either side of the waterfall, you end up in a washing machine that you just can’t get out of. Annette threw a rope over the rock (just above and to the right of her head), then chimneyed across the waterfall, jumped in, swam around to the other side, climbed out and then set up this safety line so Lou and I didn’t have to do the chimney to avoid the fast flowing water. We used the rope to get over to Annette, it was loads of fun. We then abseiled down the other side into the pool.
Shortly after the pool was a good jump (me jumping). At each jump Annette gave us instructions regarding the landing zone so we didn’t get into either an eddy, or into the white water (where you’d not have a lot of flotation). (Photo: Annette)
Negotiating a small waterfall.
We used a hand-line on this one to get down to where it was safe to slide in.
Annette on another jump – I just loved the turquoise blue of the water in Wilson.
Annette abseiling down beside a waterfall (you can barely see her), we then had to swim across to the safe zone.
Another abseil, and a small scramble to get up to it.
Nice abseil (photo: Annette)
Was good to get into the flow at times. By now Louise and I have our NZ white water canyoning legs and are really enjoying the whole experience (not so nervous).
Louise in the white water.
Holding onto the log and carefully walking down the rock-face, I really didn’t want to fall into all that white water. (Photo: Annette)
Lovely canyon section.
Louise on another nice abseil down this mossy wall.
I didn’t go all the way down to the landing zone, I should have, it was a bit slippery with all that moss trying to get down.
Not sure where this was, but we had to negotiate around the waterfall – maybe it’s an abseil. (Photo: Annette)
Annette trying to get the rope into the anchor. Where she was standing is a bit of a false floor (potentially hollow underneath), and when this anchor was put in, the floor was about a metre higher, which would have made it easy to rig the rope, I wouldn’t have had a chance of reaching the anchor.
I thought this and the next abseil were the same, but obviously not (Photo: Annette).
Another really nice abseil. Both Louise and I were super appreciative of Annette allowing us to abseil most of the waterfalls and pitches. (photo: Annette)
After the last abseil, we were quite close to the end, just a few small swims, downclimbs and a bit of bouldering. We were back at the road by 6.30pm, so we’d picked up a bit of time in the creek.
It was a fabulous day, once Louise and I got over our nervousness, we had a ball and due to Annette’s guidance and professionalism, at no time did I feel I was going to be swept away to almost certain death. Whilst Louise and I are comfortable guiding ourselves through any Australian canyon, we both knew that we didn’t have the skills to independently do a NZ canyon.
We had booked in to do two canyons the following day, but the weather was iffy, so Alain let us know that there’d been rain overnight and we couldn’t do a canyon in the morning, but maybe in the afternoon.
We met up with Annette around 1pm at Wanaka and drove out to do Robinson Canyon, but when we got there, Annette decided that there’d been more rain than they had expected and the height of the creek was too high, so we aborted.
The bottom of Robinson Creek … we’ll have to save that for the next trip! (Photo: Louise)
Thank you so much Annette for leading us through Wilson, and you were great company on the drive to and from Wanaka. Thank you Alain for working with us (via email) to make sure we had the right sized equipment, and for organising a pick up for us in Wanaka.
I’d thoroughly recommend South Canyons to anyone who’d like to do some canyons in the Wanaka area, whilst Wilson was challenging, there are two other half day canyons, Cross and Robinson that you can do which aren’t as challenging as Wilson. Louise and I will definitely be going back!
Finally, a few photos from our road trip to Wanaka …
Lookout on the Crown Range Road with Queenstown in the distance.
Lovely fields of Lupins along the valley into Wanaka, yes they aren’t native, but they’re really pretty (Photo: Louise)
Cardrona and the “Bradrona” fence (Photo: Louise)
I’ve seen a shoe fence but this is the first bra fence I’ve seen. You can make a donation to the NZ Breast Cancer Foundation here (and donate a bra – there were some nice ones there, albiet a bit faded now.
And, at the entry to Wilson in the car park, lots of Hollyhocks. (Photo: Louise).
There’s nothing glamorous about bushwalking, caving or canyoning, but it sure is fun! If you’re an armchair bushwalker, someone looking for new adventures, or one of my friends who just wants to see what I’ve been up to, this site is for you, sign up to get email alerts now!