Saturday, February 06, 2016

Hawea Time

13 year old Australian Christian takes his first rides

The Hawea whitewater park is one of the friendliest, beautiful and awesome white water parks in the world. It runs all winter but only runs during the summer when the dam releases flow. For freestyle kayakers it ideally needs to run at 55 cummecs or more. Which means a pretty decent release of flow especially in the summer months. In the winter it flows for months on end at about 150 – 200 cm, the bigger and higher the release the more fun the play. But in the summer even 55 can be very rare. 

A world class feature (photo by Phillip Robert)

Local paddler Courtney Kerin shows what can be done

Last week the Hawea released a 55 cm plus for 5 days. As word got out that the Hawea waves were about to release everyone set about making plans to head over to New Zealands South Island and get some good quality freestyle surf time in the warmth. I was part of a crew of 12 plus paddlers from Sydney who jumped in a plane and made the epic flight to Queenstown to take part in a fun week of freestyle kayaking at the park. 

The view from the plane window (Queenstown airport)

We weren't alone on our travels as the flows brought in paddlers from far and wide. It was a truly international gathering with paddlers from the UK, America, Australia, New Zealand and even Peru. We meet up and paddle with well over 50 Kiwi paddlers durning the course of the week. In total there was over 32 kayaking kids, alone, some as young as 11 surfing and tearing it up at the park. It was amazing seeing so much talent, so young. The kids were ripping it up. Showing us oldies, day after day how it was done. 

Fun week paddling with loads of local kids
Big smiles everywhere (photo by Phillip Robert)
So much fun hanging out with this crew

The first 2 days were freezing, so much for the summer flows. It felt cold enough to snow. The Aussies shivered from dawn to dusk and the kids went a slight shade of blue. Then on the 3rd day the sun came out and the park came into it truly beautiful form. The sun glistening off the water. The crystal blue flow. The mountains all around landscaping the natural unspoilt valley. True beauty everywhere. 

Jack throws a huge loop
Local paddler Maddie gets ready to drop in to the top hole

The look of fear as Josh takes his first surf.

Christian learns how to surf the big waves
Claire O hitting another massive loop in the top hole
12 year old local Fraser in shock as his first loop plug works

Every morning we would wake up and do some paddlers Yoga led by the awesome Anna Bruno. Then a crew would jump on the river and paddle the stunning class 2 rapids down to the park. The rest of the day would be spent surfing, swimming and playing at the park. 

Singo showing us his Yoga skills
Some of the classic warm ups are the best

All week on the water all the paddlers at the park worked together to share their knowledge and love for the sport helping everyone on the water develop massively and learn some new skills. Keeping an eye out for each other, encouraging and celebrating everyones successes and rescuing each other when things didn't go quite to plan. Then in the evenings everyone would gather as the sun set, under the stars to chat about their day sharing favourite memories and tales, eating awesome food and discussing and setting goals for the next day. One night a big crew gathered together to run through some paddlers first aid scenarios sharing tales and stories and chatting through some real useful skills and things to know. 

Paddlers young and old chatting about the waves

12 year old Nic ripping it up
Chatting to the kids as they wait there turn in line
Positive Petr calls down the next surfer into the hole

The kids party surf together

Tandem surfing and helping out the local kids as they learn to surf
The young kids make sure the oldies are safe from the sun.

By Saturday the final day of water release everyone was so shattered but so happy. The weather scorching through the clouds. Loads of local surfers and body boarders came out to join the show. 

Surfers love the lower wave at the 55cm flow
Never tiring 14 year old Lotte surfs all day everyday

Then Sunday with the water gone the Hawea river disappeared and with it the atmosphere and crowds. It went back to being peaceful and still. A little trickle of water running through an empty park. However the fun wasn't over. It was New Zealand of course so I headed into Queenstown dropped off some of the Aussies who were already heading home and back to school and set off into a local Canyon with my old room mate and good friend Dave. 

Chilling in the canyon as Dave gets ready to do the 4m jump

We spent the afternoon zip lining, abseiling and scrambling, climbing and sliding our way through a stunning gorge. The week then finished with BBQ pizza watching the sunset over the lake and the remarkables. Then it was time to head home. 

Just stunning. NZ really is a truly amazing place.

Thanks to everyone who helped make it a super fun week. I look forward to boating with you all again soon. 

Let me know when we will next have a solid block of good flow.

Massive thanks to Christian Hliounakis, Lorna Cartwright Hliounakis and Phillip Robert for the awesome photos.