Friday, October 26, 2007

Dear British Airways,

As some of you may know, British Airways are banning kayaks from next month. Here is my letter to them, highlighting what they will lose. I just hope they change their minds, because if more airlines do this it is going to make it very, very hard to live our kayaking-travel dreams. I don't want play boating in Africa in a 10 year old play boat big enough for an elephant....

Dear British Airways,

I am strongly dismayed by your decision to no longer allow surf boards and kayaks to travel on your air-crafts. As such I regret to inform you that I will no longer choose to fly with you.

This is a pity because in the last year I have made six flights on your airline and I have enjoyed flying with you. Of these flights, only once were you inconvenienced by my kayak. However, your actions affect me in such a way that I have decided I will not fly with you again.

I find your decision a little hard to stomach, since my plastic white water kayaks is in many ways very suitable baggage. It is no longer than a pair of skis and very easy to carry with a handle at each end specially made for this purpose. Furthermore (unlike skis) my kayak is almost impossible to damage - even when I hit rocks at high speed when paddling it is not damage. I also find it astonishing that an airline with your reputation of service will not take such baggage when budget airlines such as RyanAir and EasyJet are no problems to fly with.
Basically if all airlines follow your line of reasoning I will no longer be able to explore new places with my kayak. This will be the death of my dream. I find that particularly sad because through my blog about paddling and climbing I inspire over 1000 visitors a month, to travel and explore the world too.

I may represent only one kayak trip to your management but that is only the beginning. Next week I am flying to London to New Zealand, I am just glad that I've chosen this time to fly Air New Zealand.

Thank you for your time,

Clare McLennan

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Climbing in Lofoten

Our days climbing in Lofoten were characterized by long days with beautiful sunsets. Gone was the midnight sun, we were a few weeks too late, but it was more than made up for by the magnificent sunsets.

A local who helped us to jump start Myrtle, our van, told us that last year they had only had one and half weeks of “summer” last year, but we got lucky this year. While the south of Norway had unusually high amounts of rain (even by Norweigen standards) we were enjoying great weather that made us want to jump in the cold lakes to cool off.

The climbing was fun, mostly 3-5 pitches long, and all trad climbing. It was nearly all crack climbing. In the beginning I was a bit of a crack virgin, not comfortable with painfully twisting my feet into the cracks, but by the time we left I was much more comfortable with it. On the plus side, the friction was brilliant on every single route we climbed, and that made climbing a pleasure.

Two of my favourite climbs were bare blueberries – This superb climb takes you up a huge slab split by a crack that changes from a hand crack in the beginning to a finger crack. It’s the sort of route that screams out from the valley “climb me”. And when you get there it doesn’t disappoint, as it is fun and varied climbing.

Another very long day saw attempting a sea to summit ascent of The North Ridge of Vågakallen. This was an alpine climb with all the best stuff, a long walk in, blue berries to eat on the way, a few loose rocks and a couple of huge chimneys one of which finished in a tunnel!. While it was rated just 4+, I felt that the harder pitches were much harder than many 5’s we’d climbed. (Maybe it was just my short legs in the very wide chimney!)

When we were tired and though we’d finished the worst we came to our crux. It was a huge cleft in the rock that spanned the whole ledge and which was too wide to step across. To get across this cleft would definitely require a committed jump. Having declined to jump the horns of the goat (Greig said “We’re climbers not jumpers, but I knew we were just wimps) we searched for another way, but there really isn’t one. We didn’t fancy abseiling down, so in the end we steadied our nerves and prepared to jump. Greig went first and then I followed. It was a moment of careful relaxed concentration and then pure exhilaration! I loved it.

The rest of the trip went pretty well, except for spending half an hour finding the descent route down. And then it was a long way down, so it was getting dark and starting to rain when we finally made it back to Myrtle only to find that the lights were on and our battery was flat! Thankfully we found a friendly local to help us out. Needless to say it was a great day out, but a very long one!

However, all good things must end eventually, and so after about three weeks we decided it was time to move on. We were a little sad to be leaving with so much rock rock left to be explored. The place had become nearly like home, and we loved camping at the place called Paradise. But as always there were more adventures to be had and one final, spectacular, route in the North of Norway was beckoning us further.

More information about the climbing
Lofoten is 100% trad climbing, although there are bolts on some abseils. I recommend that to get the most out of Lofoten, someone in the group should be able to lead 5+ crack climbs on trad gear though there is plenty of opportunity for leading up to 4+ pitches on many of the routes. For complete beginners there is plenty of leading practice on the rocks around Paradise where I loved climbing. I simply found a line that appealed to me and started climbing! We used the book, “Climbing in the magic Islands” to get around.

The routes we climbed:
Piano Handler Lunds Rute (Pianokrakken) A nice warm up.
Bare Blåbaer (Pillaren) Unmissable!.
Apa(Paradiset) Hard and committing.
1910 Ruta (Svolvaergeita) Classic or simply classical? – A polished, squirming up the chimney, and a very committing move without great protection!
Apple Cake Arret (Pianokrakken) If you go up the arete at the start the first pitch will seem much harder.
The Swedish Corner (Paradise) Challenging and easily top roped.
Gollum (Gandalfveggen) Lovely!
Gandalf (Gandalfveggen) Varied and challenging
RapellRuta (Svolvaergeita)
Forsida (Svolvaergeita)
Nice but loose in places. The easy first pitch seemed very commiting in places to me.
Guns n’ Roses (Gandalfveggen) Nice.
Skiloperen (Store FestVågvegg) Watch out for the very last move!
NordRyggen (The North Ridge) Vågakallen - Long but fun.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Lofoten, the magic islands

The boat trip out to Moskenes, Lofoten was a memorable experience. As you near the islands, the mountains can been seen, half hidden in the clouds, rising straight from the sea. They seem to fill every inch of these islands. I wondered whether there really were could be roads on the islands. As we neared the port I turned to Greig and said “Now I can see why you wanted to come here.”

It’s no lie. Lofoten is a magical. The many tourists who come flock here from all over Europe know that, but it is probably the climber who experiences The Lofoten Islands in their most magnificent splendor.

Hanging high on the cliffs the climber sees views which are so captivating that they do not encourage attentive belaying. More than once I was reprimanded by my partner for not providing enough slack, or too much because I was transfixed by the view.

During the day the view is a clear green ocean and orange algae covered rocks. In the evening the horizon disappears and the ocean and sky melt into the same pure white. Yes, if this place was a lot further south and a lot warmer, it would be swarming with tourists. Luckily for tough climbers who don’t mind the cold weather, this place remains a paradise untainted by the crowds.

On days when the climbing had taken its toll on our bodies, or it was raining we hid in the library finishing our latest game or headed to some of the tourist sites. The Viking Museums was pretty interesting but my favorite experience was a story telling session with a woman from the island in a rorbu at the museum of Å.

We sat in the dark as she told us how in the old days before engines, the men would row boats up the coast of Norway and then, when the weather was right, over to the Lofoten Islands. All of this in near darkness in order to fish for the cod which only come to Lofoten between December and April, when it is very, very dark in the North of Norway.

She went on to answer many of the question I had in my head about cod fishing and to sayt much about the history of the Islands. She told us both about the good times when merchants would come up the coast and lean times when the people nearly starved until they eventually asked the King for special permission to trade with Russia.

In the end I gained a huge respect for the people who lived and worked on the Lofoten, which added to my love of their beautiful red rorbus and aesthetically pleasing boats. I also got a chance to try cod liver oil. I don’t care how good that stuff is for you I will never take it! Yuck!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

"Welcome to Norway" - Ekstremsportveko in Voss

After a rather rocky boat ride we finally made it to Norway. After checking out cute Bergen we headed straight for Voss where the extreme week was in full swing.

It was super fun to be in a place with so many other extreme sport crazies. I loved camping next to the airstrip and seeing the parachutes land. It was especially fun to see the tandem pilots giving their customers one last thrill. It's also great value for money ('cause it's free!) watching crazy people paddle off Moneydrop.

However, on the water is of course where the real fun is to be had. I was feeling a little frisky after a few weeks of non-paddling, so I jumped straight onto the Bransetelvi with a couple of Norwegian friends Tor and Biret who I’d met the previous year at Sjoa.

What an epic gem of a river! We put in on what seemed quite pleasant water, but 100m later, that all changed. Round the first bend was a triple drop, two slides and then a boof over the drop. Sweet. Then, straight away we were at the top of the big slide. My paddle buddies told me not to scout. “If you look, you won’t run it, but it’s all sweet – just follow the water down the middle and don’t roll.”

Well, it should have had the sign above it “Welcome to Norway”. They were certainly right about not scouting because it was huge and it wasn’t quite the even slide I was imagining. But there wasn’t much time to think that as I hammered my way down trying to find the water to follow.

Looking up from the bottom, it was really a sensation of “Wow – this is Norway and I’ve just paddled one of those huge, scary slides”. And the river, it was only beginning…

All in all a great day on the river. I loved the paddling and I loved the honest atmosphere of this group I was paddling with. When it got it wrong, for instance when I didn’t take my throw bag when photographing a few meters from my boat, then these guys let me know. I was really impressed. No wonder Norwegians have a good safety record on their own rivers.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Soca, the jewel of Slovenia

I don’t know what Soca means in Slovenian, but in paddlarian, (the language spoken by paddlars from Germany, Hungary, England and as far away as New Zealand) it has come to mean paradise. The Soca valley, in the gorgeous Julian Alps, is a little paddlars paradise that I won’t forget in a hurry.

The night we arrived in Soca it started to rain. Well not just rain but thunder. Infact the impressive thunder and lightning display kept up the entire next day. This gave us lots of water.. Amazingly, despite all the rain the water was still clear and green due to the filtering effect of the limestone rock. Yes, there’s definitely something special in the water here.

After the epics of the previous weeks, paddling on the Soca, was exactly what I needed. This was finally a place to relax and have some fun. The runs are generally moderate, (class II and III), but with a tricky rapid or two to keep some spice in the day. There’s also plenty of opportunity to train for the harder rivers, with the opportunity of choosing easy or hard lines on nearly every rapid. A special treat is the Soca canyon. This is even more narrow than the one on Le Guil, but just as pushy with high water.

And it’s a great place to go with beginner intermediate paddlers – you can have your fun while leading them down the river! If you are looking for a place to learn to kayak, (or a place to teach a special friend) then go to Slovenia. Honestly, the love affair starts here!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Fun and games in the dolomites

The Dolomites. The name brings sweaty palms to all those have ever dabbled in rock climbing. As we drove through Milan a blessed relief. After a couple of weeks of epic paddling it also felt like it would be nice to do something else for a change.

Driving though the Dolomites is probably the closest to the mountains a couch potato can get just sitting in the car. The roads are very slow going as they wind up their way up and down the mountains and the views are terrific. You find yourself straight across the to the imposing rock wall on the other side and it feels so close you can almost touch it.

I guess this is why so many people choose to come here cycling. Because despite the incredibly steep roads, where ever you go in the dolomites there are people cycling . One day we got caught up in a road cycle race. It included a 5km climb up to a path, for which our van didn’t get out of second gear the whole way. Impressive!

Of course, for us it wasn’t enough to just look from a distance. We needed to walk up the mountains, to touch the rock and to climb. After trawling through the volumes of the guide book we found our climb, the East Face Direct Route, on Catinaccio Central
Summit 2981m. It was a bit longer than we had planned to do, and a bit harder too but once we saw it, it was too late – we decided to give it a go anyway.

The next night after a long day we were still on the mountain, sheltering under a blanket of packaging foam listening to the lightening war above us. We had simply climbed too slowly and had lost the route mid way. After a week of bolted climbing in France we had been surprised how poorly marked the route was, and found our description was quite minimalist. In Summer, we would have been surrounded by many other teams on such a classic as this, but in late May we were very much alone as the thunder boomed around us.

The morning slowly dawned and after a time unfroze our bodies. Then when we started to look at the line of pitons we were following, we realised we were still off route. Dehydrated, and tired and lost, we decided to head down.

Five abseils of rock bulges, twenty abseils off pitons and two abseils off particularly bendy pitons later we finally made it to the solid ground again. We had spent 36 hours in our harnesses, survived two thunderstorms, been pelted by hail stones, lost several slings, one carabiner and one ATC, but we had made it down again.

There’s nothing like that feel alive feeling…

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A french lesson in river karma

After Italy we headed back to one of my favourite places, Briancon in the French Alps. You could spend a whole summer in Briancon as there is so much climbing, kayaking, and cycling, so with only a week to explore the area, it was hard to know what to choose. As fate would have it, I was also destined to learn a not so nice lesson about river karma.

With Adrian from Britain coming over to climb, and Sonja coming here for the long weekend it was real party. During the days the boys headed rock climbing we did some girlie boating. Then in the evening, we all joined up round the camp fire and tried to get to grips with the French language, smelly cheese.

I’d paddled once before in the area but this time it was just Sonja and me and that made it pretty exciting. The first day we warmed up with the Guisane and then headed to the Claree tibrt. Suddenly I began to understand the French paddler mindset a little more clearly as I slalomed unstoppably between the trees hanging over the water. At each bend there seemed little to do but to cross your fingers and hope that round the next corner the river would have a navigable path somewhere.

The next day we headed for Le Guil, one of my favourite rivers. I really love this river because there is so much varied paddling and also because of the castle on the hill above the put in. There’s also the excitement of jumping into a class IV gorge so narrow you can’t turn around, and I love that too.

After the gorge there’s only a few minutes relaxation before heading into another gorge where you can only see one rapid ahead and you know there’s some dodgy stuff coming up. Since we didn’t know the river very well it was pretty scarey stuff but we were coping pretty well with it all. Well that was until we came to the final rapid and were caught up by a team of local paddlers. At the point, ironically enough I must have let my guard down and felt a little safer. I missed my boof, landed straight in the hole and tried to roll several times before deciding it might be better to swim.

Now I don’t swim much, and I had never taken a swim on hard water, so when the hole started playing with me I got a surprise and I got really scared. It was several recirculations and a couple of throws later that I finally managed to grab the rope and drag myself out of the river, and once again get a good gasp of air. After getting my breath back I tried out my pathetic French to thank my lovely rescuers.

After that ordeal I decided to call it a day and try the French sport of Via Ferrata instead. But the next day we were back on the river, to finish off the lower section. Near the end of the run we came across several scared paddlers in the river and on the banks. I don’t know when they had first swum, but by the time we reached them only one of them was still in their boat. It felt like river karma had brought us there, and now it was time I repaid my debt. So we helped them to rescue their boats and made sure they all got back to the road safely. So it seems it wasn’t just me who the Le Guil river gods had decided to play with that weekend!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Italy and the Teva Extreme Games

Paddling in the heart of the Italian mountains was characterised by steep drops with exquisite crystal clear water set deep into the valleys. Above us rugged mountains towered overhead of the tiny villages perched on the edge of the river. When I first got there I could hardly believe that there was enough water to paddle any of the rivers, but once in my boat the creeks transformed into a (often terrifying) hydroslides.

I had come to Italy to take part in the 6th Teva Extreme Games held in Val Sesia. I was a first time visitor to the area with few expectations of what I had got myself into and I felt this event really lived up to its name. The rivers were extreme and so were many of the athletes who came to paddle and party.

The competition is set in the beautiful mountain villages of Balmucia and Rassa. These villages are like a kind of modernised Nepal that despite being located in Europe still hadn’t quite made it into the twenty first century. This was confirmed that night when three cows with their cowbells wandered through the campsite followed by an old woman. From the moment I arrived in the valley, I knew it would be hard to leave.

After several days of driving to Italy, trying to coax our GPS system to avoid imaginary roads and the expensive French toll motorways I was absolutely trashed. Unfortunately the poor route choice also meant I had also lost my practice day. So day one of the competition on the challenging Egua river was also to be my warm up day for the paddling season. Luckily I had the good fortune to run in to a German friend, Anna, who with a healthy dose of positivity showed me the lines. Together with the cameradie of the other women competitiors I made it through the first and most challenging day. I had come last out of everyone, but that day, I had been just to have competed.

Day two saw us relocate to the beautiful Rassa and the Sorba river. Driving into the valley I was impressed by the size of the drops but after that previous day this river seemed like a piece of cake. After the second practise run I was even starting to enjoy the paddling. Then they put up the route for the extreme slalom. Not only was the route demanding and the touch-the-rock type of slalom meant we’d be paddling most of the drops with only one hand on the paddle! However once only the water it all came together and I really enjoyed the slalom and the sprint race that followed.

After the competition an Italian paddler Suzanne invited me to go paddling on a river with a “bit more water”, so I jumped at the chance. We headed to the Sesia, the main river down the valley. As we slid into the water Suzanne pointed out a little chapel with an inscription “Think about all of your dead”. Hmm, interesting way to start a river trip... Then it was 45 minutes of active fun paddling as I tried to keep up with these guys on their local run. Once more, I couldn’t decided whether the paddling or the scenary was most spectacular on the run!

Like everything else that they do, the Italians do paddling with style. At the takeout we had wine and cheese and there was many loud and boisterous Italian greetings as my new friends met old friends. Never before have I seen a Porsche with kayaks on top, or a camper kitted out in leopard skin complete with a leopard skin bath robes and a smiling babe to greet her wet and soggy paddler!

Then there were only two more events left as part of the competition, but luckily we had saved the best to last. First of all there was the legendary Teva party complete with large amounts of red wine, paddler antics and some disco dancing. Then the next day, a little worse for the wear we turned up for the the boater cross.

Finally it was my chance to shine. When the banner lifted I took off into the lead down the first rapid. But my celebration was short lived, as my inexperience showed and I got caught up in the approach to the next drop. By the last drop I had regained one place and then lost it again. The race was short, but the most fun race I’ve ever done.

Thanks to Teva for sponsoring the red wine, Francesco for organising the event and all the other paddlers who made it fun. Congratulations Anna, for coming 3rd. For a full listing of results check out Playak.

Friday, April 27, 2007

A summer of kayaking and climbing is waiting...

This morning was really warm and the bike ride in to work was lovely. The birds were singing, the smell of Spring was in the air and I just wanted to turn away from work and keep cycling. Lucky for me that’s pretty much what I’ll be doing when I leave tonight. You see, tonight I start a four month travel adventure in Europe. There’ll be plenty of time for kayaking and climbing and visiting old friends. Maybe I’ll even find time to squeeze in a castle and a museum now and again.

The trip will start by flying to London to buy a van. From there it’s off to Italy to compete in the Teva Extreme Outdoorgames. Then the time will be right for paddling and climbing in the Italian and French Alps. And that’s just the beginning as over the following month there is still much that I would like to explore in Slovenia, Austria and Switzerland.

June will see me returning to UK for a wedding and then I’ll be off again to discover Norway. I’ve already beeen to Norway several times but it’s such a spectacular country I just can’t keep away. This trip there should be plenty of time available to visit the fjords and admire the scenery as well as do some hard core paddling and big wall climbing. With the midnight sun I’ll be able to play quite literally until I drop!

If all goes well there’s a final adventure to top it all off and that is Tajakistan. While it’s still in the pipeline, the plan is to meet up with some old tramping club buddies from CUTC and complete our own climbing expedition on the over 6000 meters peaks. The culture experience of visiting this country which sees very few westerners is going to be just as exciting as the climbing.

So it’s an exciting summer ahead for me, and maybe you can be a part of this adventure too. I’m looking for some more paddling buddies, so if you’re going to be in the same place as me then send me an email and perhaps we can hook up. The other thing I’m looking for is some help with gear in exchange for sponsorship on my site. If you can help me out don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can always find me at

Finally, I’m sure you’ve got a lot of exciting things happening over the next months too so I invite you to join my email list. If you want to be notified when I write something new, just type your email in the box on the right side of the page. That way you’ll never have to miss another adventure.

Catch you again soon.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Sunlight sends me on my way – Part II

The true story about what happened when I came back to Sweden in the middle of winter.

Before I went home to New Zealand for Christmas, I wrote an article “Sunlight sends me on my way” about overcoming depression by putting energy into your life. I still believe everything I wrote in that article, but I think I should add that sometimes the best way of helping yourself is to ask for help.

Because I learnt the hard way that you can't just keep putting energy into things without getting energy back in return. It seems some problems, require too much personal sacrifice to make it worth it. Everyone has a breaking point and I found mine just before I went home to New Zealand.

Luckily, when I hit this point, I was with my family and old friends. NZ was both a place to escape to and a chance to ground myself again. When you travel I believe that it’s important to be open to new ideas and ways of thinking, but I think I took it too far and I lost my own sense of self.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got some good supportive friends in Stockholm also, but at that time life and work were spiraling out of control. I needed to get away. I am deeply grateful for the love and friendship shown to me of everyone, both here and there, during this time. It was so important to know how much you all cared.

Unfortunately I wasn’t home long enough and when I got back to Sweden things fell apart. The darkness, alone at home, the same old place and the same problems were too much and I realized I needed professional help. But it wasn’t easy seeking psychiatric help in Sweden. I couldn’t speak without crying and yet I had to ring four different numbers, all in a foreign language just to get an appointment. The first day I gave up after three.

Luckily with help from my workmates, on my third attempt I finally met someone who could really help me. This person helped me make sense of what had happened. He helped me see that it was very destructive for me to try and fix everything myself. It was time to walk away for a while.

So if you’ve been wondering why I didn’t write much for three months, it’s because sometimes there are more important things to spend your energy on than telling the world how good life is. However honesty is important to me, so now I want other people in a similar situation to know that in truth I didn’t fix my depression on my own. Friends maybe great, but sometimes they lack both the time and knowledge that can really make the difference.

I don’t feel embarrassed about my depression, because is simply part of who I am. I feel it makes me humble and compassionate and this in turn makes me a better mentor and teacher. I also don’t judge other people so harshly because I know that normally happy, loving people can sometimes do really crazy and mean things. I know it because I am that crazy person just as I am that loving person.

Now I really do feel better again. The warm glow has slowly returned and in truth I feel an inner peace that I have missed for the last couple of years. I have more energy to do the things that are really important to me. Things like writing this blog in the hope that it helps you to accept your weaknesses and remember all the wonderful things about yourself. And if you can't do that then maybe it's time to seek help from someone who can help you remember what is so special about you.

As my mum would say, "The world would be a boring place if we were all the perfect".

"Egoless State" - it's an interesting read

Friday, April 06, 2007

From tourist to tourist attraction

I arrived at work on Monday to my workmates’ shouts that they had heard me and then seen me on the news the following night. Scarey! I hadn’t realized the guy with big camera was from Sweden’s national TV station. This came after an exciting weekend’s competing in the middle of two of Sweden’s most popular tourist spots.

The first event was Kvarnkrossen, a kayak cross competition in front of the magnificent Uppsala cathedral. The races started with a spectacular ramp built by a local high school. In this competition all went really well until the finals when I got tangled with another boat going round the first marker which allowed the other two to get away. However, I was still happy with a 3rd placing.

The next day were headed to the castle in the centre of Örebro for the Black River Mystery Challenge. This fun freestyle competition has its own creative rules where personal style counts a lot. Also you can choose how big you want it! The size and stickiness of the play-hole can be changed and how big you dare to go is factored in. What really topped it off the day however, was the spa beside the river to hop into when the fingers and toes started to freeze. A really fun day, with good music so many thanks to the Örebro paddlars for putting in the hard yards.

Sunday’s competition was done in good paddling style with a bit of a hang over after the the pyjama party the night before in the Örebro clubhouse. It was super fun meeting everyone again at the start of the paddling season. There were lots of story telling from our Winter trips to away to Uganda and New Zealand. Old friends, new places, and newer friends, older places. It was pretty funny to be asking my Swedish friends what the Wairoa Extreme Race and Bullerfest were like this year. It’s so nice to know that we are all part of an international paddling family.

So the paddling was worlds away from wilderness boating at home in kiwiland. However nice backdrops, large crowds and good food certainly have their advantages.

So now I’m world famous in Sweden. You too can giggle at me and my intelligent comments about freestyle paddling feeling like being in a washing machine! See Mystery Challenge and Kvarnkrossen for video clips and Edge Magazine and Orebropaddlarna for some great pictures. (I'm the one in a yellow boat with the red helmet!)

Monday, January 15, 2007

Heli-kayaking in Kiwi land

My trip home to New Zealand was full of so many fun times. After a long time away a real Christmas in the sunshine with my family was nice. Catching up with my friends was great even when the heavy rain drowned the BBQ. As was revisiting my favourite spots, swimming in Able Tasman National Park, chilling out in Murchison, running the Minga-Deception (the infamous Coast To Coast river bed run), climbing at Paynes Ford, cycling on the Port Hills, visiting Charleston, and soaking in the Welcome Flat Hot Pools. However if there was one thing I'd wanted to do this trip it was heli-boating in my favourite place on earth, the Wild West Coast. And there was no way I could rest until I had done it.

A typical heli-boating day starts somewhat like this. First there is the requisite slow breakfast and coffee followed by "H*ly sh*t is that the time?". Then it's a mad dash to the chopper pick up site. This is where the excitement starts. The wet and rough four wheel drive tracks are always a challenge especially when you're travelling in mum's lovely little town car with low ground clearance. "Sorry mum, I didn't warn you the water would come up over the bonnet...."

When you finally make it to the pick up site, or as close as the car will make it, there's normally only a couple of minutes left to throw on your kayaking gear. However, the chopper pilot is pretty clued up about kayaking time, so after all that mad rushing you usually find yourself waiting around and the nerves start to grow.

Finally you hear the chopper in the distance and everything happens at once. The heli is as small as they come but when you're you're under the rotors tying on your boat the "thump thump thump" is frightening. With that finished it's time to go flying and what a treat it is. As you fly up the valley, sneaking a peak at the river below, the heli pilot suddenly leans the chopper over sideways. The next second, thud, the wind rushing down the side valley hits you. Ooooo! Exciting!. And the paddling hasn't even begun.

Those days on the Coast we paddled many rivers. We slogged our way up the Styx with our boats on back for an eddy hopping feast. Then it was off to the turquoise blue-green glacial rivers. The Whitcombe is big water with big rapids, while the Whataroa intersperses hard paddling with scenic gorgeous gorges to lie back and float through. Finally we hit the cute Toaroha with some nice spots and gorgeous mossy scenery.

But one river stands out in my mind and that undoubtedly is the Arahura. This river has a fearsome reputation and it's well deserved. Paddling the Arahura is a real journey from the mountains to the coast. It covers two long days walk, and the tussocks at the put in really bring it home that you're in the high country. What follows is a whole day of paddling one and two meter drops mixed with a couple of big rapids that get the adrenalin really going. The water is crystal clear, and the scenery is out of this world.

This is committing paddling and it's a real wilderness experience as I found out after ripping my spray deck on a rock only minutes into the trip. This made for a rather cold day. But if that was bad, then worse was in store for Boyd after his deck popped on Dent falls. Paddling out with only hand paddles was certainly an impressive feat.

So our day on the Arahura was a mini-epic where we were constantly on our toes wondering what was round the next corner. And at the end of the day when we were cold and thought we had had as much as we could take we came to the grand finale. The seal launch is high, and I nearly didn't do it. But I'm glad I did it as this last stretch blew me away. In less than 500m this river has every sort of paddling you could ever wish for, a seal launch, a must boof drop and then a big-water-like roller coaster. All of this in a beautiful hidden gorge which only shows itself to those who dare to take the plunge.

I don't think the West Coast bush (which I've always loved and thought was spectacular) has ever looked as lush and green as it did paddling the final class III rapids to the take out. There was an unmistakable joy of coming out in one piece, but despite my relief I already felt a burning desire to go back and do it all again the next day.

When it comes to excitement there is very little that can compete with a days heli-boating in the wilderness of the West Coast of New Zealand. Thank you Ali, Boyd, Chris, Dan and Mo for being great river buddies and looking out for me. Because there's only one problem with a trip like this and that's the worrying sensation that perhaps nothing in the world will ever beat it!

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