Experiencing the Dart River Fun Yak safari

Drifting down through the wilderness of Mt Aspiring National Park. A chance to ‘touch’ nature.

When I was in Queenstown last winter skiing I took a day off to create some ‘Father / Daughter’ time.  Daughter being seventeen I currently have little in common with her and the thought of getting into the wilderness and away from facebook and cell phones had strong appeal.

The trip starts at Glenorchy, about an hour’s drive from Queenstown.  You follow the lake side all the way and stop when you reach the head of the lake.  Half way there you round Bennetts Bluff and the Southern Alps are laid out in front of you.  The drive is worth it in itself and leaves you in little doubt why Peter Jackson used this backdrop in all his Middle Earth movies. 

Remembering it was winter and snow was thick on the peaks we were pretty concerned at how we would fare in the river.  I had promised my daughter that the wet suits would be thick and warm and she wouldn’t feel a thing.  All while crossing my fingers behind my back!  Christian our guide certainly set out to sort that one.  There were six of us and he handed us layer after layer of wet suit, booties and polypropylene tops and leggings to the point we were stripping down and hadn’t even left.  In addition he gave us a dry bag which as you can see from the pictures worked well and secured my camera and insect repellant all the way.

So the six Michelin folks happily piled into a jet boat and away we went across the lake and up the long braided Dart River.  We travelled for an hour or so upriver and as we did so the river narrowed, the forest closed in on both sides and the mountains rose above us.  It was quite magical, being still early winter morning, the light was still only on the snowy peaks. 

It was here the sit back and cruise side of the day was terminated and we jumped out onto the river bank to join Christian beside our inflated ‘funyaks’.  Kind of a cross between a raft and a kayak.  With two in each we then set out drifting down a side braid of the river away from the jet boats, so it was quiet, at our own pace.  It is certainly a team effort paddling hard and catching up with Christian.  Enjoyable and empowering I realized as we worked our way downriver. 

Just before noon we pulled up and with a small scramble launched ourselves into a side stream called the Rockburn.  It was here we had lunch (yummy and heaps of) and handled some greenstone which the early Māori travelled here for (very heavy) and took a short walk through the bush.  Michelin men don’t make good walkers!

Then we launched and paddled into the Rockburn chasm.  The pictures speak to this.  This is undoubtedly my highlight of the trip.  A little scary as we charged in first until it opens up about midway.  This really is where you become aware that you are the skipper of your fun yak day.  It’s a ‘you did it’ kind of a feeling, which I think looking around the whole group took away with them.

From there we ‘shot the rapids’ (grade one maybe) and paddled down to meet our bus home at Paradise along the main stream of the river.  The movie scenes were pointed out and you run past the isolated and very gracious Arcadia station as you head back to Glenorchy, change and then off to Queenstown. 

While the chasm’s are a predictable highlight for me the reason to get in a Funyak is to get involved with nature.  You are the captain of your ship and it’s your trip.  You get into some amazing country and while the adventure quotient is low, makes it great for families, the environmentally involved factor is at an all time high.

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