Following the great success of the first WTMC packrafting instruction course our chief-guide Richard organised a second one – which helped to alleviate our feelings of envy.
Packrafting is a very exciting way to travel down a river by using a special inflatable kayak weighing in at just over 2 kg and folding to almost nothing. This means you can add it to your tramping pack, walk in to somewhere new, and raft your way out. Hence ‘packrafting’.
‘Sounds great! Sounds EASY’, you may think, and with the whole thing feeling very accessible it’s a tempting activity that after a bit of investment you may just try out yourself sometime.
But even with a little understanding of the often-changing nature of New Zealand’s rivers, and a vague idea of how skilled river kayakers generally are, packrafting is also a very easy way to find yourself in a bunch of trouble in fast-flowing water.
The packrafting course was run through the club with Expedition X (Packrafting New Zealand) instructors, allowed us to have a great time messing about on the water, but in safe conditions and constantly focusing on the risks in our surroundings.
DAY ONE : Saturday 6th March
07:00 : Depart from Wellington Railway Station
08:00 : Begin instruction on Hutt River
17:00 : Return to Welington
The first day was full of excitement, starting with a considerable amount of theory. This left me thinking I was very glad to be doing the course, as there was clearly a lot I wouldn’t have thought about otherwise!
The gear session took us through the raft itself and the different options available (depending on you and your activity), the paddle, helmets, personal flotation devices (PFDs), stowing luggage, clothing and even footwear.
Then it was time to get wet, first of all making sure we could manage ourselves in deep and shallow water, cross fast-flowing sections effectively, and control our passage to be as safe as possible if being swept along with the flow.
The next stage was to introduce the raft. How to get in, stay in, fall out, flip the raft, get back in while in deep water, not lose the paddle, and help others get back in to their rafts.
Before the end of the day we were being introduced to how best to enter and leave eddies. We learnt that eddies are our friends, and that we should be aiming to travel from eddy-to-eddy for the entire journey.
By the end of the day I was shattered, but very excited for some actual river travel on the next day.
DAY TWO : Sunday 7th March
08:00 : Depart from Wellington Railway Station
09:00 : Begin river travel at Otaki Forks
17:00 : Return to Wellington
The second day was our chance to put some of the skills from the first day into action, and add a bunch of other learnings too. We were lucky enough to have Marie H join us, who took the first course with the club and it was great to see her in action and talk to her about what she had experienced since then.
It was a beautiful day, and because the Otaki river was low our instructors found some tricky and exciting ‘moments’ to put us all to the test.
It was also interesting hearing them discuss how different the river was since they were last there. While some of the features were no longer a problem the low water had meant that other features had become much more of a risk, so we had to portage our rafts and gear to stay safe.
It took us the full day (with a fair bit of ‘play’ as well) to travel just a few km down-river, but we came away with our heads and hearts buzzing from the new experience and learnings.
A massive thank you to Richard for organising this course through the WTMC, and to the instruction team at Expedition X.