Friday, February 22, 2008

February 19, 2008 - Nelson Lakes

This morning we drove down to Murchison to take a white water rafting trip with Ultimate Descents. We were both really excited. Neither of us has been white water rafting before and it something we have both wanted to try for a long time. Our guide Adam and photographer/rescue crew Holly had us quickly geared up with wetsuits, life jackets, spray tops, and helmets and out to the launch site on the Buller River. After a quick talk on safety and paddling instructions, we were off.

Adam asked who wanted to sit up front. Sten and a real Swede named Sven quickly volunteered. A Kiwi named Matt and his American partner, Patty, sat next to each other in the middle of the raft, which left me with a spot in the back, just in front of Adam, our guide. In this and the following pictures, Sten is in the white helmet, Sven - red, Patty - black, Matt - yellow, and me - blue.
One of the longest sets of rapids was the first one. Afterwards, Adam asked us if anyone wanted to swim. Sten immediately said that he would. Adam looked so disappointed when nobody else wanted to get in the frigid water, that I jumped in too. According to Adam, the key to swimming through rapids is to lay back and keep your feet up. We did this, and bobbed through them like a pair of corks. It was good fun. When we caught up with the boat, Patty and Matt hauled us in.

We spent the next two hours riding through and over sections of the river with names like "Whale Rock" and "The Room of Doom," which comes with its very own "Rope of Hope" to help you climb out of the water if you happen to fall in at the wrong spot. Adam showed us how the raft will hang out in an eddy behind a big enough boulder or outcrop and how to surf the raft up a standing wave or small falls.

As we drifted down river, we saw two chamois goats, whose ancestors were imported from France some time ago, running along the banks. Supposedly chamois cloths (you know, that yellow thing you use to clean your car) are made from their hides. It would be great if a herd of them could come rub against our car - it could use a good cleaning. We also saw people panning for gold along the banks. According to Adam, 'thar's still gold in these 'ere hills.'

The rapids on this stretch of the Buller River are typically Class III with one Class IV section that includes a steep waterfall. Due to high water levels in the river, the Class IV section had become a Class V, so Adam had us portage our raft around it. We were pretty disappointed. However, we were somewhat mollified when he explained that he was taking out a group of hard-core local rafters later this afternoon and that they would also be portaging their raft around the falls.
The two Swedes and I did get to swim through the rapids just below the falls. Sten and I agree that this was the best part of the run for us. We really enjoyed this rafting trip and we hope to do another one down the road.

Just before we exited the river, we pulled over at a rock jumping spot. There were three levels that we could jump from. Patty jumped off the lower ledge. The three guys and I jumped off the second level. Then Sven did a brilliant, clean jump off the high spot. I was going to go for it until I got up there, looked over the edge, imagined cracking my head against the cliff on the way down, recalled that I didn't have health insurance, and promptly chickened out. Unfortunately, while I was on the ledge losing my courage, Sten was down below, building me up with "I've seen her jump off higher stuff" (the jump in the Gallapagos was higher than this one); but I just couldn't live up to the legend today.

Back at the camp, after lunch, Sten and I went down the Gowan River to try to pan for gold. We figured it might be a good way to "earn our crust," our kiwism of the day.
This entire herd of cows turned to look as Sten slid under their electrified fence to check out the river access at the back of their field. I wonder if any of them got any bright ideas . . . nah, probably not.

We didn't find any gold, but we did enjoy munching the wild blackberries along the river. Locally this clingy, thorny plant is called "bush lawyer." I'd be insulted, but, well . . .

In front of Lake Rotoroa

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