Ascending the canyon like a champion Military Squad we climb the 1000 ft ridge with a sense of urgency. Dry bags on our backs packed full of harnesses, ropes, survival snacks and safety equipment, we charge up the mountainside like it’s no effort at all. Pausing at the top without breaking a sweat, we look like a scene from a Powerade commercial and I feel triumphant. We’re ready for the challenge!
Pause the scene. Rewind.
Some of this is an extended version of reality. Truth be told, I’m a hot mess.
I’m raining sweat, can barely breathe and am wondering why I volunteered to carry the extra weight. My weeks in the gym at Les Mills are laughable and in harsh reality, body sculpting doesn’t equate to functional fitness. I’m pooped. But in order to access the far reaches of New Zealand native bush and epic canyons, a committed hike is required into the depths of the Kauaeranga valley on the Coromandel Peninsula.
I wasn’t lying when I said we were ready for the challenge though. We take a minute’s breather as Wayne says a Karakia (Maori Prayer) and then get kitted up for the challenge. It’s time for canyoning!
Canyoning is the practice of descending rivers, waterfalls, cliffs and streams using a combination of walking, climbing, abseiling (rappelling), swimming, jumping and sliding. Imagine it as a kind of Hydroslide theme park, carved into stone and located in the wilderness.
The Sleeping God Canyon Tour in particular, is a vertical descent of over three hundred metres down a steep set of waterfalls involving abseils/rappels of up to 80 metres, exhilarating water slides and jumps as high as 14 metres into deep dark pools . Not for the faint hearted.
After a quick equipment test run on solid ground, we’re all clipped on and ready to face-off with the first vertical descent below. There’s nothing but blue sky and fresh air beneath us, and it’s invigorating.
Water cascades off the waterfall alongside me; my feet bounce off rocks glistening with the spray and around me and a kaleidoscope of vegetation transforms the canyon walls into a mass of glittering green. This is some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever seen in New Zealand.
My enthusiasm for the EXTREME quickly diminishes however when our guides – Russ and Wayne – point to “THE FUNNEL” – a vicious torrent of white water that roars off the cliff-top ready to swallow us whole, mid-rappel. Our only route onwards means descending this cliff amid the flow of white water while maintaining solid footing and ultimate abseiling composure. Sounds easy, right?
Wrong! Quite possibly one of the most mentally challenging experiences of my whole life. But that’s why I was here.
As I enter this “white room” all I can hear is the roar of water crashing down on my helmet and falling all around me. I tell myself I can breathe, but it certainly doesn’t seem believable when you’re inside a waterfall. My vision is white noise, my brain is screaming, and all I can think about is getting out of this fucking room. “Feed the rope through Ocean”, I keep telling myself. “Use your muscles. The harder and faster you work, the quicker this will be over.” The challenge continued, until I’m finally washed up at the foot of the waterfall, having been tossed around like a stray fragile leaf in the belly of this river beast.
The ecstasy and adrenaline takes over and I feel like I’ve just cheated death. My own personal Everest has been summited and it was totally worth the trip. As we emerge from the depths of the bush like Scuba Steve and out onto the gravel roads of Coromandel, I feel like I have a story to tell that no one would quite comprehend or believe.
Seeing and experiencing this trip is the only way to believe it! Jam packed with cliff jumps, abseils, rappels, zip lines, and a few sly cannonballs, this is one of the greatest adventures I’ve been on in my life – and I don’t say that lightly.
If you’re up for the challenge and want to do something truly special, then get involved!
Canyoning in the Coromandel Kauaeranga Valley
Visit http://www.canyonz.co.nz for more information.
Participants need to be in good physical shape, be able to swim, and not be afraid of water or heights. All necessary equipment will be provided by the guide such as wetsuits, helmets, ropes, harnesses and river booties. Just pack a pair of balls and get into it!