Where no kayak has gone before
Lugging his 30 kilogram kayak up a rugged stretch of West Coast bush, Greymouth man Zak Shaw felt a buzz "like no other".
The 32-year-old outdoor education tutor at Greymouth Tai Poutini Polytechnic, was one of five white-water kayakers who last weekend completed the first ever descent of the Upper Waitaha River from the heart of the Southern Alps.
The team - made up of Shaw, fellow polytechnic tutor Keith Riley, Nelson doctor Justin Venable, Christchurch doctor Paul Currant and Christchurch engineer Will Martin - took three days to complete the epic journey. The group used a helicopter to access the top of the Waitaha, starting their kayaks from an elevation of 1220 metres.
Shaw, who has been kayaking for more than 13 years, described it as the most remote and rugged wilderness he has ever experienced.
"It was terrain that hasn't been travelled through with a kayak before. Parts of it have been deemed unpaddleable. It was savage." The physically exerting trip took its toll on the adventurers.
"We had some pretty big meals to keep our energy going. You want to arrive at the hut and pretty much eat continuously before you went to bed," he said. "It's a good drained feeling. You've accomplished something."
One of the most challenging parts of the 28km paddle was the Windhover Gorge where the river drops 200m in just 1km. The group arrived at the gorge after six hours of exhausting paddling and were forced to carry their kayaks up through the bush on a steep rough track.
"Moving uphill with kayaks through the rugged West Coast bush has to be one of the hardest physical things you can do. You have to be a pretty hardy soul to be tramping up there.
"That was 11 hours of back- breaking exertion, but it's a feeling like no other. It was really, really, hard work to get through day two."
Co-incidentally, day two of the trip was also Shaw's birthday.
"We celebrated with a few bottles of beer which were dropped at the hut by the pilot and had a good night that night," he said.
"The highlight of the trip was that I was on a big genuine adventure on a beautiful New Zealand river on my birthday. It's a pretty memorable birthday. I'll hold the memory pretty close for a while."
Sunday Star Times