Canyoning had always been on the cards, ever since New Zealand was an option it just took two months of gentle persuasion, (and towards the end a good deal of sulking) for Ian to agree to the idea! Who wouldn’t wan’t to throw themselves off rock faces into a murky abyss, abseil down cliffs and toy with Eels?
For those not in the know, Canyoning is an up and coming adventure sport which combines hiking with swimming, abseiling, jumping and caving thrown into the mix. Following a river down the mountain, involves wearing a full array of safety gear including helmets, harnesses and wetsuits. Experienced guides lead the group, but punters are expected to participate fully, and where appropriate take turns in “belaying”. Abseiling is the art of lowering yourself down on a rope, whilst belaying provides a “back up” for the abseiler, ensuring the don’t drop too quickly! It can also be used to lower less willing individuals down!
With the holiday coming to a close at an alarming rate we booked a day’s excursion with AWOL Canyoning, after recommendation from a friend. The company is small and friendly, and do offer a Auckland pick-up. However, we chose to meet them at Piha beach. During the trip, our friendly guides not only kept us safe, well fed, and happy, but also took photos of us too! Some of the photos in this post are kindly used with their permission. We took the go pro along too to get some extra shots and video.
If you want adventure, you definitely need to go for the full day option. The jumps and abseils are higher for that extra adrenaline factor! The jumps are optional, although are only around 2-3m in height. If you want to go more extreme, then excursions to the nearby Blue Canyon are also on offer with the same company. That being said, Piha Canyon is no walk in the park.
Piha Canyon is located on the West Coast in the Waitakere Ranges. The area is known for its rugged coastline, sub tropical rainforest and black sand beaches.
Kitting up is a job in itself, as anyone who regularly squeezes themselves into slightly damp wetsuits will attest to. A short drive and kit demo away, and our group is waddling up the canyon like a raft of penguins! Forty minutes, and a giant chocolate block later, we reached the “top” of the Canyon and prepare to make our descent. At this point, everyone was clamouring to dive into the cool water – tramping through a tropical rain forest in midsummer kitted out in heavy neoprene is not an easy task! Once in the Canyon, however, the wetsuits kept us at just the right temperature.
Over the next few hours we descended down waterfalls, squeezed through rocks and leapt into pools we are assured were safe! For those who are unsure, the jumps and squeezes are optional, though the abseils are not. The first two abseils are set up as bottom belays, and we all got a turn at ensuring everyone makes it down the face safely. The full day tour gives you the opportunity to descend down the side of a 50m+ waterfall. Our guides zipped down this in around ten seconds, with the rest of the group taking slightly longer to enjoy the scenery! On most descents, two lines are set up, so it doesn’t take long to get through the group and move on. Whilst not involved in descending or belaying there is a chance to soak in the pools and swim beneath the waterfalls.
Lunch and Beyond
Lunch is provided on the tour, and is surprisingly tasty. The sandwiches are deliciously filled, and chocolate is good at any time of day! After a short stop, it is back to business, with the final big drop of the day! The last abseil is top roped by the guide, which essentially means you are lowered down. Rather than being at the side of the waterfalls, like the the previous occasions, the final descent puts you right through the gushing torrent! Being used to the flow of water through kayaking, we found this experience rather exhilarating, although not all members of the group shared this sentiment!
The latter part of the tour takes a slightly gentler approach, as you wind through a narrow gorge. Here you squeeze under rocks and old trees, and jump into deep pools. You share this section of water with the native New Zealand Eel, which our guide Elise had named. Sadly (or maybe not) the wee beasts did not make an appearance!
The day ends with a short walk back to the bus, before being ferried back to the container. Note – there are no showers here! After getting changed we wandered onto Piha beach, famous for it’s waves and “Lion Rock”. Aptly named, when viewed from certain angles, this natural formation bears a striking resemblance to a lion on its haunches.