A nervis one or two

Bill Thomson describes a descent of Nevis Bluff rapid at high flow.

Unfortunately, there are no pictures of Bill's radical descent of Nevis, but there is an image of Bill on Aratiatia, Waikato River.

A nervis one or two

Album: A nervis one or two

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How many people have stuck at something for twenty years, way beyond the thrill of improvement? I can find something testing or zen in savoring greater subtleties within sameness, and as we all know no river is constant from moment to moment, year to year. Whose raindrops are whetting your thirst today?

A school holiday trip twenty years ago saw guru Steve Chapman chaperone Onslow College schoolboys Andrew Martin, Mike Lowrie, Chris Moody and myself through a learning phase coined at the time by the phrase "suck it and see." Steve's encounter with the Hollyford two summers earlier, however, instilled a caution in him which was not emulated by his proteges. Steve had dislocated his shoulder in the drop below Falls Creek and had been forced to relive the occasion many times as it had been captured on Super-8 film.

We gyrated our way south in our overloaded van, eight beady eyes scouring the landscape for potential 'runs'. To Chris, who thrived on Buller gurglies, any challenge was a good one, and the sight of Nevis Bluff rapid on the Kawerau was too good to pass by. That it had not been attempted before added a repulsive interest for the rest of us. The road must be 100 metres above the river so after a reality check at river level, we remainder on the trip found ourselves having our judgement well and truly shaken by Chris's statement, "I'm going to paddle it!"

"What?" We shuffled uncomfortably in our comfort zones. Andrew gave Chris his beat up old Olymp 6 to paddle so Chris wouldn't be damaging his new one, then we set up a futile safety at the second drop. I stood at the carpark, camera poised, Chris a mere pixel amidst all that white water, not considering for a moment that I might one day be passing that point.

Chris punched the first wave and rolled in the gurglies, drifted over the second 7m drop-boulder-pourover-hole thing, disappeared for three seconds and then rocketed into view 10m downstream. Then things started slowing down for him as his boat was filling up with water. When he reached the river-wide wave by the bluff he did about five cartwheels before being spat out and continuing downstream with the remaining half of Andrew's boat. Still upright with his nose in the air, he was quite the valiant figure. At this point I put the camera down and tried to assist, only to find there was no way down the bluffs.

Chris had a very bad swim but made it to the far bank. After clambering around for about an hour he realized that the only way back to the road was to swim, so in he got again. After this holiday Chris began life in the army and in his spare time began paddling with one paddle in a C1. I hope he's still doing fine.

I've stayed with my double-bladed paddle and have waved "Hello" to Nevis many times from the firm footing of the road. Happenstance I was visiting Queenstown during the floods of Nov'99 with a groovy little playboat that bobs to the surface just fine. This time I found myself succumbing to the slippery slope of similarity and freaking my friend Erik Bradshaw with my own observation "I can see a line", and pronouncing "I'm going to paddle it!"

It's a rapid of huge scale. It was pumping 620 tonnes per second over and around boulders the size of our garden shed. You cruise thru 2m ripple standing waves with the speed of a coin flick. Then instantly there's the first crux looming with a narrow circuitous corridor.

I made this upright and had plenty of time to set up for the big second drop which had two tongues of solid water in the white. Throwing myself forward to protect my spraydeck, I slipped off one tongue onto the next and did a deep, aerated forward-somersault, rolling up facing upstream, thinking "look out for the bluff." The bluff wasn't a problem though as instead I was pushed the other way toward the pour-over boulder on the left. I got to peer into the depths of that hole as I clipped it and did another roll. Moving to the left hand eddy at the right corner was easy enough and here I got out to wave elatedly to Erik.

From here down were some extraordinary 4m standing waves with foaming piles on top. The sort you could play on for days if you didn't have some pressing celebrating to be doing. However, like the renegade kayakers twenty years before, kicked out of Queenstown by the municipal cops for boiling a billy on the footpath, we didn't have time for a cup of tea, let alone a night of it. The demands of regular living meant a sensible nights sleep and work the next day...