Pack up Your Troubles and Paddle
New Zealand’s only packraft operator Expedition X takes Guardian journalist Ellie Ross into a “secret corner” of the Rees Valley, an hour’s drive north of Queenstown, for a trek into the wilderness with a small, stowable rubber craft in her pack.
“[Expedition X director and head guide] Arno [Marten] tells me that 99.9 per cent of people who’ve been in this valley haven’t seen this spot, ‘because you can’t get here without a boat’. Even getting here with a boat has been tricky for us. I carried mine here on my back, to try out the growing sport of packrafting,” Ross explains.
“I’m not the only one: the American Packrafting Association, established in 2012, has more than 1000 members in 30 countries, and estimates that 10,000 people are now packrafting worldwide. Alpacka Raft, the largest packraft firm, started selling boats in 2001, and has seen growing interest and sales ever since.
“We begin at Muddy Creek, near the sleepy town of Glenorchy, with kit packing.
“The aim is to spend the first day hiking (or tramping as Kiwis call it) 13km into the bush, set up camp, then use our packrafts to return by river. My backpack holds 20kg of tent, stove, food, warm clothes, wetsuit and my secret weapon: folded into a pillow-sized bag and weighing just over 2kg, my packraft.
“In a packraft, without the distraction of a heavy backpack and tired feet, you can lie back and simply feel a place as it drifts by. I see it with fresh eyes. We follow Arno like brightly coloured ducklings chasing after their mother. Occasionally we have to carry our boats around fallen wood or shallow sections – but the water quickly gathers momentum, and so do we. Panic turns to pleasure as I bounce over splashing rapids, adrenaline racing. And it’s all the more thrilling because we’re seeing parts of New Zealand most tourists don’t get to see.”
Original article by Ellie Ross, The Guardian, January 15, 2016.
Photo by Chris Murray.