Get the most out of the festival

Bring the right attitude

As the canyoning season kicks off around New Zealand, its time to start considering how you’re going to make the most of the Canyoning festival in Feburary. This festival is run entirely by volunteers, who put a huge amount of time and effort into making it a success, so we ask for everyone to bring the right attitude to St Arnaud.

  • Be respectful Of the local ethics, the local environment (especially when walking in fragile forest), other canyoners and visitors to Nelson Lakes National Park.
  • Be honest About your level of skill and experience.  Both with yourself (and how much preparation/practice you need) and with others (when you’re discussing a trip you want to do at the festival)
  • Be ready to ask and learn If your not sure about things; ask!  Always better to get a little bit of help, than to keep quiet and screw up.
  • Be prepared The more experienced folks who volunteer to lead trips might be canyoning guides, but they are not guided trips!  If you’re less experienced, you need to put the preparation in ahead of time so that you turn up to the festival with at least a good foundation of all the basic skills and all the right gear.  You’ll also need to make sure you understand and are prepared to deal with Didymo cleaning.

Preparation is key

The Canyoning Festival provides a unique opportunity to hang out with fellow Canyoners from all over NZ as well as overseas.  This represents an incredible opportunity to exchange ideas, learn heaps and leave the festival a much safer, competent and experienced canyoner.  But to make the most of this opportunity, the folks who are less experienced canyoners, and/or less experienced in the types of Canyons in the festival area need to do a bit of preparation.

Its been interesting looking at the registration list;

  • 34 people have never Canyoned in NZ before,
  • 29 were “comfortable in canyons with low flows only”  (A2 or lower)
  • 16 had done fewer than 10 canyon trips
  • 41 Australians,
  • 6 who live in Europe
  • 2 from the USA

If you’re coming from overseas, to give you a background for your preparation, have a read of this first: Visiting from overseas?

This rest of this post is written primarily for those people who are in the above list, but hopefully it’ll get all the participants thinking about how they can improve their own canyoning skills, knowledge and safety.  So here’s a bit of advice about how you can prepare to ensure you’re in a position to be safe, be able to learn and most importantly have more fun!

Get the right gear

The single biggest thing you can do to make yourself enjoy your canyoning more is to be warm.  Toughing it out in a crappy old/thin wetsuit is just going reduce your enjoyment of the trip at best.  Being cold makes you more prone to fumbling, rushing and making technical mistakes which could lead to a mishap.  The cold also saps your energy faster; you move slower, get colder still, might have an epic……

Although February is on average the warmest time of year to go canyoning, a good quality 4/3mm suit is probably the thinnest you’d want to aim for.  Having a system which involves a few layers gives you the option to regulate your temperature. Bring thermal long sleeve shirts to layer under your suit, get a thin (1-3mm) neoprene vest to wear over the top, or even another thin shorty wetsuit.  3-5mm Neoprene socks are essential.  A neoprene beanie under your helmet is a great layer to have, as is a well fitted kayaking spray jacket.  (Just make sure its well fitting; loose shells obstruct vision of your harness, make it harder to swim and can get caught in your descender).

Some folks canyon without gloves; but those folks have made that decision after plenty of time canyoning here.  I recommend people turn up with 1-2mm neoprene gloves and see how you find the water temps!

As for technical gear, the main thing is knowing how to use it, when to use it and how to get away with less!    I’ve seen folks turn up with enough gear to aid climb El-Capitan, half of which they aren’t familiar using. A proper canyoning bag (one with drainage holes, and minimal straps) is important, as is having bag flotation and emergency gear.

There’s lots more information about gear on  and in the Canyoning Technical Manual by OTE rescue.   Have a good read, ask your friends, ask other canyoners and ask us if you’re not sure!

And once you’ve got that gear you need to;


Practice, practice, practice….

Before you turn up to the festival, you should have practised your skill set enough that you can do your thing with calm confidence in the canyon.   We saw some people at the 2016 festival who had to be supervised setting up their own absiel device….   The basic personal skills need to mastered.   Set yourself up an anchor in your back yard,  ensure you have the skill correct (using a reference book/resource) then practice it over and over to develop muscle memory and confidence.  Better yet, get a few friends together and practice as a group; keep an eye on each others’ technique and share your knowledge.

If you’re an intermediate canyoner, when was the last time you set a rope from a tree and practiced ascending/descending/conversions/self rescue?

If you’re leading trips, when was the last time you you practiced lowering a stuck canyoner?  Or rapidly converted to a raise in order to lift someone free of a foot entrapment?

To be in a good position to learn new skills, you need to have what you already know well cemented in your brain!  Once you’ve got those skills nailed on dry land, think about practicing them in the canyon.  This is where it really helps to have a mentor to keep an eye on you, as you select a spot to practice and to ensure you’re performing the skill correctly.

Keeping a record of the things you’ve learned and the skills you need to master will really help your development, plus provide notes for questions you might want to ask before the festival.


Do your homework about Canyoning (and other stuff) around St Arnaud

It totally depends on the number of experienced volunteers that we get, how much support we can offer to festival participants.  If you miss out on joining the few official trips led by the more experienced volunteers, then you need to have a plan B for canyon trips to do independently.  Also, it could very well rain the whole weekend, so do some home work on other activities/areas to consider if we can’t go canyoning close to festival HQ..

Resources for learning about the Canyons in and around St Arnaud;

Its worth refreshing yourself on what you’re in for at the festival if you haven’t been to the area before (which most of us haven’t).

Looking forward to seeing you guys there.  Lots of fun, friendly and keen folk who have put the effort in to be well prepared for the festival!

All the best,


Dan Clearwater

NZCA President