Canyoning in New Zealand

The River of Grizzlies

It was an unusual trip.  A commercial trip, without customers.  The trips clients had fully paid but cancelled at the last minute  forgoing any refund. But we were doing the trip anyway.  Weather the guests appreciated it or not all the rafts and guides that they had hired to go down the river still went.

Raft guides do not make good passengers.  They don’t share boats well.  We all want to steer.  We certainly didn’t need three 18ft gear rafts for four people.  But that is how it went down.  Three rafts was the origonal plan but the guides wanted to give up their vessels.  The excursiveness of the trip certainly raised some eyebrows from the fly fishermen observing on the trip as we passed.

The Babine river, known as the “River of the Grizzlies” is a six day trip featuring a long two day section of canyon read and run  class III.   My Canadian friends did their best to prime me for the rapids, but ended up distilling their advice to”Just make good decisions”.  It certainly made a change from the regular redundant advice given during such sports of “just don’t fuck it up”  It didn’t help my nerves when we encountered a group of kayakers in town who had been helicopter evacuated from a camp in the middle of the canyon the day before.

Canyon paddling can be intimidating.  And the Babines canyon sections were known for being tight.  Any more tight and the rafts literally not make it through.  More than one spot required rafters to ship (pull in) their oars or risk loosing them.  The crux of the river came in the form of  sphincter II rapid.  Such a pretty name…  The full force of the river restricted through a tiny section magnifying considerably the force of currents inside.  It looked to be a tricky piece of water.  There also seemed to be no clean way through it.  the main tongue led to a surging biol of water promising to do devilish things to kayak and raft.  Clarky and Dave both demonstrated as much with thier rafts turning sideways and breaching.  Keiths raft even stopped completely starting to float back up the rapid on top of the boil line.  Knowing that everyone had hit and been turned about on the boil I was not surprised to perform the same maneuver.

Blue sky was in short supply during the trip.  Luckily we had been primed with suitably grim weather reports any sunshine was a plus not expected.  Still the 36 hours of straight rain was a little grim.  But a liberal supply of paid for alcohol and a campfire increase morale considerably.  The pre ordered and paid for  $13 steaks weren’t bad either.

During one stop Dave and I went in search of an abandoned indian village.  Pushing through the head high grasses of British Columbia my wetsuit was soon covered with an impressive collection of burrs and needles.  I actually looked like I had grown fur.  We did find the remnants of buildings but the rout to the village was so ardous that we ruled out it being a possibilly for customers.

After two days of read and run canyon completed I felt suitably kayaked out.   Taking more of a back seat I stowed my kayak for the final two days.  Tying the kayak to the top of Keiths raft we tried to merrily drink our way through the rain.  In total we had one grizzly sighting which was slightly disappointing but luckily the most disappointing part of the trip.  Because it truly is a privilege to raft with friends and have someone else pay for it.

Letherbarrell creek

The Italian Dollarmites

The Italian Dollarmites

The Italian Dolomites from jasonmacqueen on Vimeo.

We had been climbing all day. From valley floor to ridge-line. Up switchbacks finally stepping onto the sheltered alpine meadow the other side of the ridge. The cows momentarily looked up from their grazing… It was surely one of the  most picturesque paddocks anyone could imagine.   The gentle sound of cow bells will forever be linked to memories of mountains in Italy.

The Via Ferrata systems through the Italian Dollarmites are well known by European tourists.  A system of cables, ladders and anchors used during the first world war to move large groups of inexperienced troops.  Essentially mountaineering for idiots.  

We had arrived late at night in Italy with a small rental car and an unformed plan to head to the mountainy areas.  Driving out of the lowlands of Italy we were soon in a fairy-tale of small mountain towns, churches cobblestones and mills.   Italy is well setup for mountain travellers.  In addition to the via ferrata and cows, the mountains are littered with refugios, a series of large dorm style buildings offering budget accommodations.  Our Refugio even gave us a 50% discount for our Austrlaian ANU Mountaineering club cards. 

Using the Refugio as a base we were able to finally get into some of the more serous via ferratas surrounding the Three Chimneys.     Being peak tourist in Europe the mountains were crowded. Trails looking instead distant like distant ant paths.  Marching dots occasionally dissapearing into the mountains emerging hundreds of meters away via interconnect systems of caves. These extensive tunnels more relics of the first world war.  Together with foundations from barracks, barbed wire and artillery placements.  The tunnels and sniper positions must have been horrendous in winter.  While conditions for first world war soldiers were never the best.  It must have been a particularly punishing theater for soldiers. 

After three days of trekking in the area we had barley started scratching the surface.  Like Canada and unlike Australia, the European mountain range was immense.  We had completed a three day circuit finishing satisfyingly back at the car.  The bittersweet feeling of finishing the exploration of a new area with the knowledge that we really didnt see much at all. 




Three Capes Walk on the cheap.

Three Capes Walk on the cheap.

When it comes to recommending activities for visitors to Tasmania, the Three Capes walk has quickly risen to be in my top five list.  Well, for affluent hikers anyway.  At roughly $495 for a three night walkit is out of the price range of most of my friends. Not that the experience is bad value for $495, its just that $495 is a lot of money.

It is worth pointing out that the creation of the track has led to some areas of the Tasman Peninsula, while not completely blocked, harder to get to.  There is a possible argument that restrictions have been put in place to stop the spread of Phytophtora.  If that’s the case, they are it is not made clear.

If you are willing to put up with the restrictions, there are upsides.  Thanks to fee payers, the trail is now one of the most sculpted and well maintained tracks in Tasmania.  Possibly Australia.  The new huts also provide a reliable and conveniently spaced source of fresh water.  While I was there, the hut staff were more than happy for us to fill our water bottles.  Hopefully this stays true.

What budget campers can do:

One of the hardest parts of doing this hike was just finding information online.  I really get the feeling that Parks have not gone out of their way to provide information on self directed walks, just plenty of links to the paid experience.

So where can you stay? There is one campsite on the peninsula, Wughalee Falls.  You do not need to book, and can camp for the cost of a normal Parks Tasmania pass!  Wughalee Falls campsite is roughly dead centre of the Peninsula and provides a great base for exploring.  Sure, it could have done with a view, or a reliable water source, or not be 300m down a valley, but otherwise It’s pretty nice.  Hikers can also stay at Fortescue bay, which is a small extra cost.  But great if you need an extra night or have to camp for an early start in the morning.  
There are two main restrictions.  Hikers are not permitted to travel west to see the first hut, Surveyors.  Hikers are also asked not to travel
South down the coast from Cape Hauy without a 22lr ammo for safety purpose.  These are not over-restrictive restrictive and basically dictate that walkers head south to Cape
Pillar and then North to Cape Hauy. 

The huts

I feel I should make special mention of the spectacular huts.  While I was pleasantly surprised by my first sighting, I quickly realised that I was looking at the toilet block.  The real hut was 50 meters away round a corner of the track. 


The complete Package.  Attempt at own risk!

It is also possible to do the complete walk while adhering to the one way traffic rule.  After you take the turnoff for Fortescue Bay take a right toward Stinking Bay.  The last hundred or so metres will be walking or 4WD only. From there you are free to continue to walk from the very start of the track as per paid walkers.  Please note I have not done this myself.  I’ve  and come by this knowledge second hand.  But let me know if it worked out for you!