Beneath the rapids

UK Adventurer Anna McNuff and NZ Endurance Athlete Hollie Woodhouse teamed up for the two-day tandem at the 2019 Kathmandu Coast to Coast. Completing the 243km event in 16 hours, 21 minutes, Anna shares a tiny moment in her preparation for the Coast that will stick with her for life.


“Paddle, paddle, paddle!!!”

Hollie is crying out at me from the front end of our banana yellow tandem kayak. I have only just noticed that we are racing towards what looks like the inside of a washing machine. Seconds later we are swallowed up by furious glacial water – what only a second ago was a smooth turquoise ribbon of river for us is now foaming white and as loud as it is numbingly cold.

Things were not going well. Only five minutes earlier we had wedged ourselves on what is known as a ‘surprise’ boulder, which reached out and snatched our boat. Like the earth-crunching glacial sheet of ice that feeds this river, our kayak ground forwards by only millimetres, awkwardly wedged with its rudder on the boulder and the front resting on the bank.

As soon as I gave in to the idea that we were going to be hurled backwards down the rapids, a benevolent wave reached out, grabbed our kayak and gently positioned us to face the right way.

Racing to catch up with the main group we noticed that they were all…oh look…over there…to our left. If they were over there, and we were over here, then…oh.

As we enter the rapids my head snaps sharply forward and in the roar of the crashing water I hear the voice in my head remind me not to focus on the fact that we are heading straight into a steep, rocky bluff.

Two women in a kayakTwo women in a kayak

Hollie’s shout to paddle breaks my train of thought, and I dig in to follow the command, moving my arms like a demented windmill. It works – we pop out like a cork onto the other side of the rapids and into clear water. Wahooooo!!! We scoot a little further downstream and ‘Eddie out’ into the bank. ‘Eddying out’ is a new term I have added to my vocabulary in the past four hours, along with ‘wave train’, ‘boyle’, ‘ferrying’, and ‘sweet as’ (although I suspect that the last one is a Kiwi term and not kayak-specific). My teeth are chattering, my hands are shaking. I am bubbling with adrenaline.

I start to think about how this all seems a little extreme for what is only my third kayaking session in New Zealand.

Here’s how the progression has gone:

  • Session one: a gentle 40 minutes on the Avon River in which I gripped the paddle so hard that I wound up with tendonitis in my right wrist and had to ice it three times a day for a week.
  • Session two: an hour-long morning session with 30 other experienced kayakers, where we were repeatedly overtaken by those in single kayaks.
  • Session three? Surely that would be a six-hour jaunt down the Grade II rapids of the Waimakariri River? Of course it would!

Learn more about the Kathmandu Coast to Coast below...

Kathmandu Coast to Coast

Safety rules

In all seriousness, and having started my kayaking portion of prep for Coast to Coast a little later than hoped, a journey down the gorge that day was the best thing I could have asked for. We were lucky. We sneaked into the guided trip with TopSportNZ with under 24 hours’ notice. Everyone else in our group was more experienced, and most had had previous trips down the gorge cancelled due to bad weather or dangerous river levels. What lucky ducks we were to get a shot at it first time.

Aside from the learning experience, there was a practical side to my trip down the Waimakiriri that day too. Although as a tandem kayak team member I don’t need a full Grade II kayaking certificate to compete in Coast, I do need a river safety certificate. And to make sure I proved my river safety worth I had to do a ‘wet exit’. A wet what? I know, a wet exit – as in, get myself out of the boat in moving water and show that I can make it to shore safely with Hollie.


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