By Rata Lovell Smith
Our connection to the natural word is what shapes us. The West Coast is raw in beauty and unforgiving in its might. The salt licked wind is forced upwards by Ka Tiritiri-o-te-Moana leaving in its wake rain. The rivers breathe like lungs as they rise and fall, the trees grow strong but bent as they withstand Tāwhirimātea might.
The West Coast is a dynamic and challenging place to live. Tāwhirimātea shapes the environment and the people that live here. Being an adventurer on the West Coast requires a unique skill set — seen through the eyes of the whio, finding safety and beauty in the most unforgiving places.
Driven by passion and a sense of adventure, instead of ego, the West Coast adventurer quietly goes about their work. Just like the weather, they shape the people around them. They stand tall, soft and caring – no longer fighting to be equal because their skills, athleticism and educational philosophy naturally stand out. Being an educator who brings students from all over the country to learn to be West Coast adventurers is humbling and a gift I feel privileged to share.
I am a Wahine Toa who runs the Tai Poutini Polytechnic Outdoor Education Program. Every year 50-60 students between 19-30 years old move to the West Coast for the same reason I did, the wilderness environment on our doorstep!
From flying, climbing, mountain biking and kayaking, when you commit to a place because of the adventure on offer, you become attune with the natural world. Quite often, you will get more opportunities to experience amazing places first-hand than others who must travel to enjoy what is on offer here. We regard this as the gift of commitment to our place of turangawaewae.
You understand the tohu taka of the landscape and your curious eye seeks out the next adventure to fill your belly with fire. There is an ancient remnant of Gondwana lurking in the backyard – a granite slither that runs from the Hohonu range south past Turiwhate, Mt Misery, Mikonui awa, Red Granite Creek, and Kakapotahi awa. Ask a local and you will see the twinkle in their eyes, as there is a lifetime of outrageous adventures waiting if you have the patience, consent and passion to commit to these stunning riparian granite wonderlands of whitewater!
Keith Riley, the unofficial mayor of Ruatapu and adventurer extraordinaire, originally lit the fire in the belly of myself and my husband when we were 18 years old and very impressionable. Luckily for us, we had the right mentor and the right environment.
Falls Creek* is 15 minutes from our Whare. But it has taken 12 years to paddle and 20 years for Keith to paddle again. It is a West Coast kayaker’s dream and everything about it is hard – hard to paddle, hard to catch the flow and hard to access. It requires the right team and if you go about your work efficiently and humbly, you and your team may be rewarded safe passage through this sacred chasm of water and rock.
In my eyes, the Stewardship Land Reclassification challenges what we hold dearly as educators and recreationalists. We must ensure we retain the freedom to access high-quality adventures right on our doorstep, continuing to provide life-enhancing experiences and lessons for the next generation of outdoor educators.
*For video footage of kayaking Falls Creek, please visit Two Dash Productions on Instagram.
We launched our Outdoor Community campaign in 2015 to showcase the diverse range of recreational pursuits that our member clubs and individuals are passionate about.
Our celebrated activity for 2022/23 is Whitewater Kayaking. Kayaking is a chance to explore the backcountry in a different way from tramping on land, and instead of being an obstacle to get past, paddlers can use rivers as a method of travel and source of adventure.
So, keep an eye out in places like Backcountry magazine and our Wilderlife.nz blog for stories, articles and resources on water kayaking. As always, if you or your club has ideas or stories to share, please get in touch. We would love to hear from you.