The Time I Went: Canyoning

Abel Tasman Canyons newest office employee writes about her first experience canyoning.

If I had been asked about canyoning one month ago I wouldn’t have known what to say. I knew it involved clambering over rocks and paddling through water, but beyond that I hadn’t a clue. So after gaining employment with Abel Tasman Canyons as the Office Manager, I realised that not only would I have to do my homework, but that I would have to actually go canyoning myself.

I arrived at the Abel Tasman Canyon base at 7:30am with my swimming gear on, running shoes on my feet and sunglasses in my pocket. I had been told to prepare myself for the long day ahead, so I had, with a big breakfast and a full night’s sleep. I was genuinely excited, especially having seen tons of photos of beaming faces as they slid beneath waterfalls, but I had also been warned that it was going to be an intense day full of challenges.

After picking up the rest of the day’s customers and trying on all of our wetsuits (quite an experience in itself!), Lee and Mark, the two guides for the day’s trip, drove to the Aqua Taxi base where we were to get our taxi from Marahau to Anchorage. From Anchorage we would then walk for an hour and a half to the beginning of the canyon, Torrent River.

As we hopped onto the Aqua Taxi and cruised along the coastline we were hypnotised by the mysterious turquoise of the sea, contrasting against the bright strips of golden sands. It wasn’t like a picture from a postcard, it was better.

We continued on, detouring across to Adele Island to see the seals as they slept. They were hard to spot amongst the rocks, but surely enough they started to move around and play, or fight, with one another, and it was amazing to see them so close within their natural habitat. Not long after our detour we reached Anchorage and began the walk up towards the canyon. It was a great opportunity to get to know the other people on the trip and it seemed the longer we walked the stronger the vibe amongst the group was getting.

Although I have to admit, the walk was a little intense. With our wetsuits on our backs we had to hike uphill, and at times we had to cautiously find our way through tree trunks and rocks. I did slip over, typical, I am a little uncoordinated when it comes to hiking, and trekking… or even walking really. But it can’t be underestimated how steep some sections are.

We were all loving getting to explore the native bush, the heart of the Abel Tasman, and the guides were amazing at telling us stories about the history of the National Park. Before we knew it we were at the canyon. We had been so distracted on the hike, with the images of the seals and the sea in the back of our heads, that we had almost forgotten the entire purpose of our day. The canyoning. Which is just about when the nerves crept in.

The canyon stood vast and magnificent. Rocks decorated the centre and greenery lined the edges, standing away from the water’s edge. This was the entrance to our next adventure. We ate our lunch and fully immersed ourselves in our surroundings. I watched as the water cascaded over rocks, pooling in calm pockets below. But as we slid our bodies into our wet suits my nerves were anything but calm. We grouped together, put our helmets on and had a quick briefing as to what was to come over the next three hours. Then off we went.

One by one we dropped into the water, and waited as we felt the water seep through our wetsuits. It was cold. Cold enough to make the men squeal like the women! But it was also pretty refreshing after our long walk.

The guides eased us in gently with an abseil, and the group cheered one another on as we overcame our first set of nerves. We took it in turns to slowly step our way down the first rock face, familiarising ourselves with the ropes and the harnesses and learning how to safely ease ourselves into the water below.

The vibe was great. Beforehand I had been worried that I was going to hold the group back, but everyone was in there as a team and it was amazing to feel like we were all working together. We continued on through the canyon, undertaking ziplines and slides and climbing from rock to rock. It had begun to rain, but somehow it only seemed to enhance how raw and real the experience was for us all, emphasising how at one with nature we truly were.

Lee spoke to us about the rock formations, and how smooth the rocks had become from the power of the water. It was all so spectacular. Only once we faced our first drop did I began to feel a little bit out of my comfort zone. Mark was going to ease us over the top of the waterfall on a rope, letting the water cascade over our heads, before releasing us into the water beneath us. It all looked great from above, and I laughed as the first couple of people went ahead. Then it was my turn.

There was water everywhere: over my eyes, in my mouth, over my nose. I saw nothing as I plummeted into the below. I kicked and pushed and tried to surface, but the power of the waterfall above wouldn’t let me out. I pushed forward, beginning to panic, searching for Lee’s face. Through blurry eyes I could just about see him, but he seemed so far away. I reached forward, feeling for air, and at last it came to me. I coughed as the water I had swallowed escaped from me, and at last I felt the relief from what I had just overcome. I hadn’t prepared myself for such intensity, for the lack of control and disorientation. It was exhilarating. I expected the challenges to worsen after that. But then I felt the adrenaline kick in and I was desperate to press on and to see what else the canyon had in store for me.

Each obstacle had its own unique twist: a surprise drop, a sudden cliff, a hidden waterfall. By the time the eight metre jump came around I was more than ready to take it on. It didn’t look too high. In fact it didn’t look any higher than the 6 metre we had all just accomplished. But the difference this time was the narrow run off, slippery and surrounded by mud and trees. One step and jump. There was no room for hesitation. And off the edge we all went.

Nothing throughout the entire trip compared to the look on everyone’s faces after the eight metre jump. Smiles from ear to ear, beaming with their own individual successes. Cries of, ‘That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done!’ And in many ways that was how I felt about the entire day. In no other experience will I be able to challenge myself in so many different ways as I did when canyoning. The feel of the water surrounding me did overwhelm me, but I overcame that. The feeling of jumping off the edge of a cliff did make me feel sick, but I overcame that too. And so when the Aqua Taxi dropped us back into Marahau an hour later I felt weary not from the activity, but from the incredible emotional roller coaster that canyoning had allowed me to go through.

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