This course was a first for the Club. Packrafting is a relatively new outdoor activity in NZ and while a few members had some limited experience, none had any formal training. As part of the schedule planning Richard House managed to get Packrafting NZ from Expedition X Ltd, based in Te Anau, to come up to Wellington with all the gear to enable people to try this new activity over a weekend. The packrafts only weigh a few kilograms, so they give you water mobility when combined with tramping or biking.
The first day on the Hutt River I think surprised people with how many swimming skills we learned, but it really represented the focus on safety and that a key skill would be how to be safe if we fell out of the boat. We also learned how to get back in to the boat after falling out, by yourself and with a buddy, and then got do some intro paddling practice. We had pretty miserable cold weather on the first day and people really toughed it out, the second day was better but still cold. I think we all got some good ideas about staying warm and we’re pretty tempted by our instructors’, Arno and Andy’s, dry suits.
The next day the river levels were up on the Otaki, where we went for our practice. It really changed the flow of the river, the rapids and hazards and we learned a lot about thinking twice if we should paddle or portage. We ended up walking around several rapids which were far trickier than Arno and Andy had originally expected, thanks to the bigger flows from the heavy rain the night before.
We had a great time running some grade 1 and 2 rapids. A few people ended up going for swim, but we did a great job not losing boats or paddles, and helping each other get back in. But the absolute highlight was when Andrei hit a rock at the top of a long rapid and his paddle slipped out of his hands. He managed to not only stay in the boat, but ended up spinning around and running the rapid backwards!
Several people now have packrafts and I expect we will be seeing some packrafting trips in the future. Arno and Andy loved coming up to the North Island and would be keen to return so if people would be interested in a course next year, or even a repeat, let the assistant chief guide (who was on the course!) know.