New Zealand was in the midst of a nation wide heatwave. Coming from Brisbane, where the humidity reaches astronomical levels, it wasn’t too bad, although here in New Zealand the sun does burn you to a crisp if you leave skin uncovered. So with some hot temperatures giving us the motivation we needed, Lanna and I gave the rock climbing a break and headed to the closest canyon to Christchurch. Tui canyon.
Heading out of Christchurch in our trusty van ‘Breianne’, we made good time along searing hot roads. Our air con doesn’t work so we enjoyed the hot breeze whipping our faces while we moved and dismayed at the stillness when we had to stop.
The last part of the road is unsealed and we arrived in the Glentui picnic area with a cloud of dust in our wake. I was ready to go, but Lanna had been feeling a bit unwell and wasn’t up for it. Being quite short and easy, I decided to do the canyon solo. Lanna would accompany me to the start where she would watch from the lookout platform, which is also handy for canyoners to check water levels before starting. Due to the dry spell, it was at a low level so I was confident it would be easy.
Starting Tui Canyon
Since Tui canyon is so short, you can wear your wetsuit for the 10 minute walk in, peeling off the top half and zipping up when at the creek. Even if you aren’t canyoning, the pools just before the first drop are worth checking out via a little track heading down to the left of the lookout platform, and this is what some other people were doing when I arrived. One girl even had her dog along. It felt a little strange given the remote areas I usually am in, to be walking up to a casual group chilling in a pool, with me clad in a full wetsuit with harness, helmet and rope. As always, they were very intrigued. They had no idea that this sort of sport exists.
I set up my first abseil, making sure to leave the rope much longer than usual. Going solo meant each abseil had to be right. Dropping down the rope into the pool at the base, I was again reminded how much cooler the water was here in New Zealand compared to Australia.
Lanna on the first abseil the next day after my solo trip.
Moving on from there, a swim across another pool lead to either a 4 meter jump or a handline around. I opted for the handline this time, because as much as I love jumps, being alone meant jumps would be risky if something happened.
After the handline, the second and final abseil presented itself around the bend. Steep walls rose up each side. After this abseil, the canyon is escapable. A canyons escape possibilities are always at the forefront of every canyoners mind. Often, a canyon can be graded hard if it is committing. In the case of Tui canyon, the committing section is between the first abseil and the second. Once past that, there are multiple escape options.
The second abseil went without a hitch and was pretty cool ending in the waterfall itself. Optional of course, there was plenty of room not to get drenched, but what could be more awesome than being IN the waterfall?
The rest of the canyon is a mixture of rock hopping, short pools and down climbs. The rock walls are covered with lush green moss and the water is crystal clear. This was my type of canyon!
I swim through a deep pool, taking a moment to flush my wetsuit with cold water. It was such a warm day I needed it! As I turn the bend I see a wooden bridge crossing the creek with Lanna sitting beneath it by the creek.
the real adventure begins when the canyon stops
For some reason I thought there was another 3 meter jump coming up, one which I was keen on as I remembered it being by the track. This was my first mistake of the day. Not consulting the canyon topo. In the Canyoning in New Zealand guidebook, there are many great topos of the canyons. These show what features are expected, how big drops are, known hazards, potential escapes, plus much more. Canyons are always changing, so canyons still require adequate experience to interpret and then descend. Had I looked at the topo, I would have seen that the end of the canyon was basically 100 meters or so after the wooden bridge.
But I hadn’t taken a look at the topo.
I told Lanna there was still the last jump ahead and she continued on further along the bridge and track while I walked downstream. There was a nice constriction again and short little downclimbs, but within 50 meters it opened up again.
At this point, still thinking there was the jump ahead, I walk for roughly 20 minutes along the bare, featureless creek. Zoning out, my adrenaline kicked me into high alert as I splashed water onto the creek side straight onto a bunch of wasps on the ground. They rose up as one in a large cloud of movement. I don’t know much about bees, wasps, or hornets, but I do know I didn’t want to get stung by whatever this army was I had just stirred. I wasn’t sticking around. Having been stung once near the eye before, I didn’t want to have that experience again. And now I am all to aware that by being solo, I am completely alone. I would be their target.
I turned, and with magic feet, sprinted across the uneven creekside, over rocks and boulders, until I see a pool ahead. With one last heave I jump in, and feel the sharp pain run up my leg as my foot hits a shallow pointy rock.
Still in panic mode expecting the wasps to be after me, I ignore the pain and splash forward.
Only after reaching the other side do I pause and check if they still followed. I had covered maybe 10 meters from the initial encounter and my eyes searched the air for movement.
I relax and hold my foot giving it a squeeze test. By my estimation I have probably bruised the base on the outer edge. It hurt to put pressure on it but walking was ok at a slow, careful pace. With extra careful care I make my way back, along with the realization that I had probably missed the exit. I retrace the narrow canyon section and end up back at the wooden bridge. Lanna appears seconds later by chance, having found the track leading nowhere and figuring the same thing I had ignored, but she had suggested.
The canyon exit was here at the bridge.
I limped back to the van with Lanna, a little guilty for having ignored the obvious information in the guidebook. I am aware that though this canyon was easy, every trip, every climb, every hike, should be taken seriously no matter how easy or hard it may appear to be.
We stayed the night there in the picnic area and I took Lanna through the next day so she wouldn’t miss it, foot still sore but manageable. And from now on I vowed I would always check a topo on even the easiest trip. Missing a exit, turnoff or feature may just end up with some wasps reminding you!
Want to do Tui Canyon?
Tui Canyon is well worth a visit and can be done by anyone! You will either be doing it with a guided company or yourself depending on experience level.
FOR GUIDED TRIPS:
Guided trips are run here by Big Rock Canyons if you don't have the gear or experience. Its best to give them a call if you plan on doing it even as a self guided trip as you don’t want a traffic jam in the middle of the canyon.
FOR EXPERIENCED CANYONERS:
Get the Canyoning in New Zealand guidebook! It is one of the best guidebooks I have ever seen. Seriously, I'm not joking, it is literally the best guidebook ever made. There is loads of information on canyoning in New Zealand, its canyons, and what to expect. Give Big Rock canyons a call to find out when they will be running trips so there's no traffic jams in the middle of the canyon.
Where to stay: Glentui picnic area or Christchurch.
Best time of year: November to March usually works fine.
The rest of the information is detailed perfectly in the guidebook mentioned above.
Tui canyon is suitable as a great introduction for new people to the sport of canyoning! Its short but still packs enough fun to make it a little gem worth visiting!