By Craig Radford
We’re the group who fill the top end of Murchison’s Riverside campground every Christmas, making it look like a commune or an occupation. We’ve been doing it for over twenty years now.
It all started in the 90’s with a group of friends keen to get out and paddle whitewater. Back in the day Murch was the place to go for Christmas and New Year’s. The campground would be packed with fellow kayakers and you’d paddle three times a day under the hot Murchison sun and gather at the pub each evening to share stories.
The numbers in Murchison have dwindled over the years, partly due to kayakers heading to the West Coast. Our group has stayed true to Murch and we’re doing our best to bring back its popularity by breeding our own kayaking dynasty.
We all started having kids about the same time. We’ve been taking them to Murchison for a summer camping trip since before they could walk. We’d take pushchairs and bath three kids at a time in a bucket. Two-person tents and three paddles a day have given way to trailers, three room family tents and a badminton net. Our kids will spend all day swimming in the river and jumping from the rocks at the eel hole.
Murchison mornings start slow with coffee and an endless queue of kids lining up for pancakes, made by Eugene, our Camp Mother.
To introduce the kids to the river we bought rafts – “Pancake”, an ex-commercial raft with a few leakage issues, and a fancy new blue one called “Sonic”. The logistics of getting at least ten kids on the river with the right amount of gear and adults to look after them is considerable, so we’re typically a one run per day operation.
Our favorite runs in Murchison are Doctors Creek on the Buller and the middle Matakitaki. These are chosen because they’re safe enough for the kids and have easy access. With the adults carrying the rafts, the kids will need to carry kayaks, paddles and all the other equipment.
Despite the beautiful and remote surroundings, the kids judge the quality of a river trip by the river snacks and how many jumping rocks they can hurl themselves off.
The oldest kids are turning fifteen now and moving off the raft and into their own kayaks. In the last year they’ve developed skills at an alarming rate. They’re learning to identify hazards, manage risk and fear, as well as understanding the importance of your “team” in what might look like an individual sport. They have an enthusiasm for the sport that only the young can muster.
The camaraderie they’re building with their paddling mates are so positive and remind us of the friendships we’ve made in this sport. It can be difficult to separate teens from their screens, but having kids keen to head to their next whitewater trip is refreshing and their enthusiasm infectious. They completed their first Grade 3 runs this season with runs down the Taipo and the Hurunui’s Maori Gully. Next year there will be plenty more Grade 3 and lots of learning as we keep the progression safe.
Kayaking has allowed us to visit some special places over the decades and experience some great adventures, but most positively to build strong friendships. It’s great taking our kids on the start of that journey. We’re happy for them to finish that journey themselves, as we’ve already compiled a list of river sections that we don’t need to paddle again.
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.