Day 14: Dart River

Words by Andy | Photos by Chris

Day 14: Dart River

Another active day today with a bit of an easier start. We headed off for Glenorchy at about 8am, having scraped the ice from the windscreen with the fancy windscreen scraper. There’s no snow on the mountain caps behind us today, so it seems to have been a special event order for our arrival the other day. Glenorchy is about forty five minutes from Queenstown and where today’s adventure with Dart River Adventures began – today was Funyak day!

The drive to Glenorchy follows the opposite shore of Lake Wakatipu to the one we’d travelled yesterday. The road hugs the mountainside. Twisting, turning, climbing and falling, all the while offering picturesque views of the lake with its mountainous backdrop. Autumn colours began to appear as we approached Glenorchy on another cloudless day and we pulled into Mrs Woolly’s as we entered town to grab a quick bite and some coffee before checking in for today’s activity.

After a safety briefing and customary waver signing, we were issues wetsuits, booties, a fleece and a spray jacket to supplement the snood given to us at the check-in counter. Apparently we were going to need it. Then there was the life jacket. A few baubles and a piece of tinsel short of being dressed like a Christmas tree we boarded the bus for the two minute ride to the launch point. The first part of our adventure was a speedy ride up-river on a jet boat. Those 360° turns fill your eyes with scenery and fill your face with water, and there were a bunch of them as we headed further up. These boats are pretty incredible, not just for their speed, but for their ability to travel through very shallow waters – as little as four inches of water, which is handy with the every-changing braided river environment.

Remember the snood? It was definitely appreciated. The air was freezing, particularly at speed, and my head felt like a giant case of brain freeze at one stage, but that soon passed. I either got used to it or completely lost sensation. Either way, I was happy.

After about forty-five minutes we reached our destination: a point in what’s known as the shallow lands of the river where our Funyak fun started. After some safety training on using the paddles and what to do if we fell out, we jumped into the inflatable kayaks and started paddling downstream. There was a fair bit of walking the kayak through shallow areas in this section. Some of the time Chris dragged the kayak with me in it over the shallow section, other times we both hopped out, paddled a bit more, hopped out again, and so it went until we reached the lookout point for lunch.

We nudged the funyaks against the shore line and the guide told us we could jump in for a swim if we wanted to. We figured we had wet suits on and we’d probably never get the chance again, so we jumped in. Into the FREEZING water. Bracing isn’t quite the word, but it definitely woke us up and got us paddling very quickly back to shore before our vital organs shut down.

After lunch we paddled into the chasm, which was another one of those fairy tale scenes paddling through clear blue water, where you could see to the bottom of the ten-metre depth under a canopy of rock. Heading back out of the chasm we started the final leg of the shallow lands, with only a few more hop-out-hop-in cycles and we met another current fed by a glacier, the water transforming from crystal clear to sparkling sediment, with specs of mica glistening around our kayak. We drifted, we nudged into the river bank, we inadvertently paddled in full circles, but were grateful not to have to hop out again so regularly. There were a couple of points we needed to move to the left and hop out while the jet boats passed us, but otherwise it was pretty easy cruising downstream, over the occasional gentle rapid until we reached the bank where the bus was parked.

We helped the crew pack up: deflating and rolling up the funyaks, packing the paddles away then jumped onto the 4WD bus for the twenty-five minute drive back to base. We’d learned our lesson after white-water rafting in Cairns and made sure we had a change of clothes, so the drive back into Queenstown was comfortable. Somehow in a town void of available parking spaces I managed to score a rock-star park in the CBD. We’d decided to treat ourselves to a nice meal on our last night in New Zealand, which was accomplished as Flame Bar and Grill. A great way to end our big New Zealand adventure. Thanks for coming along with us.

Tomorrow we fly home to our boys in Adelaide.

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