St Ronan's Well. A Little Canyon With a Big Surprise!
The canyoning festival was over but we weren’t done canyoning yet. A glimpse of a picture from a guidebook remained, high red-grey rock walls with dark depths begging to be explored. St Ronan's Well was marked as an ‘easy’ canyon in the guidebook, which had led to many ignoring it during the festival in search of the bigger ones. But I had a little feeling something nice was there...
And so, with my partner Lanna, and friends from Australia, Andrew and Jacinda, we decided to check it out, with not much expectation of what we would find.
THE DRIVE TO ST RONAN’S WELL
The drive out to St Ronan’s Well is through private property with a road access fee by the main gate. Winding along the Wairau river between the St Arnaud range and the Raglan range, the impressive scenery and sunny day was leading to an excited buzz about the trip, even if it was just an short and easy canyon.
Following the GPS coordinates to the start where we parked our car on some grassy flatland, we geared up and donned wetsuits for the short 5 minute walk to the start.
The road takes a sharp turn downhill, and this is the perfect place to drop into the creek below. The crystal clear water glistened in the sunlight and we double checked our equipment before we moved further into the canyon.
As the light disappeared, short drops and swims led us to the first abseil. Using a self belay abseil to get to the precarious anchor while setting a guideline at the same time, Jacinda led the way, managing to just reach the awkward bolt location up high.
Looking around while I waited, the surroundings were just stunning! It was much better than I had anticipated!
Some of the reddish looking rock reminded me of a canyon from Brisbane in Australia. It was my favourite one there, so the sense of familiarity was filling me as I prepared to descend deeper into St Ronan's Well.
COMMITTED DEEP IN THE CANYON
After the first abseil, a large, deep pool is the first full immersion swim in the canyon. Even though its late summer, the water is freezing, our thick wetsuits taking the brunt of the cold as it slowly seeps in.
At this point, like in all canyons, we are committed. Turning back now is impossible once we pull the rope.
We decide to down-climb the next drop after the big pool. Taking a moment to take some photos, I manage to capture some good ones!
Photography in canyons is notoriously hard. The dark, wet and cold environment has everything against the camera. I was using my DiCAPac waterproof camera case. Though not as robust as a solid plastic case, they are much, much cheaper. I would not recommend them for video, but for any stills, they fit almost all cameras, and have so far proven to do the job in keeping water out and my camera safe.
Nearing the end, the canyon opens up again and we could feel the heat mingle with the cool canyon air behind us.
One last waterfall to abseil and we were standing in the bright sun once again. I love that feeling after being cold. Though canyoning is an amazing sport, like any adventure you aren’t always comfortable.
But, that's part of the adventure experience! Without it, it’s not as rewarding!
AN EASY WALK OUT
Back at the river, we look around for the easiest path back up. Weaving in amongst the beech trees following the line of least resistance. Blankets of springy, thick moss covered the ground.
Less than 30 minutes later, we were back at the car, now sweating after leaving our wetsuits on.
St Ronan’s Well was a canyon deserving more attention. While not as long or technical as many experienced canyoners would like, it’s incredibly beautiful.
No commercial operators currently run trips there, but this will no doubt change in the future. The nearby town, St Arnaud, is a upcoming destination for canyoners after the 2018 canyoning festival (read my review here).
If you would like to do a trip here as an experienced canyoner, have a look at the canyon info pack from the festival we attended which has the details you need: PDF HERE.
And if you are thinking about getting into the sport of canyoning, have a look at this article and see if canyoning is for you!