In Uncategorized on April 20, 2010 at 4:59 am

We go up the Dart River in a jetboat, which can operate in less than 4 inches of water.  We need a boat like this because the Dart River is a braided river, meaning it isn’t one constant water channel, but consists of a network of small channels separated by small and often temporary islands called braid bars. Braided streams occur in rivers with high slope and/or large sediment load. Thanks Wikipedia.

In action this means that the path you take up or down the river is constantly changing as the river creates new streams of different depths, along its length.

For over three hours our Pilot? Driver? Navigates this ever changing river at speed, checking the water for the bubbling surface which denotes a deeper path, keeping away from the still pools under which lurks shallows, and rocks destined to tear the bottom out of our craft. He explains what he’s looking for after he brings the craft to a halt, rolling it up against a bank of pebbles and rocks, as the river runs rapidly past us, the jetboat now part of the temporary island. And as soon as we set off I’m looking for what he’s looking for, imagining I can see the best path as he swings, left and right, sudden decelerating and changing direction to find the next channel of deeper water. The sun is high and the air is clean and crisp, the mountains surround us, lining the sky to the left and right of us.

As I’ve mentioned before it is breathtaking being here in this national park, on this river in New Zealand. As the water muddy and grey works its way around us, bores us along. It isn’t until we cut away from the main river and down a little channel that we see how muddy the river is when set against the turquoise nature of the glacial melt that we bob gently in. We are set free from the confines of the boat to walk up a little ten minute path to stand over a huge torrent of water, spilling down even further beneath our feet. The force of it is a terror to the senses. It pummels the rocks beneath it, creating the outlet we have only just travelled up.

We head further upstream, and now the water is rougher, it is more of a slow progression, even as we jet up against the flow of water, surging forward, slowing, slipping back, heading right, round, uprooted trees, that at any minute will move and tumble towards us, huge boulders around which the water parts, even as it attempts to carve it into a smaller shape. We go as far as the river will allow us. Beyond this point it is no longer safe says our pilot/driver. So we turn back and begin our descent, and it is a descent. I hadn’t noticed before, but we have been surging continuously upstream, the operative word being up. For now we plunge back down, faster than we arrived, and the drop in altitude is noticeable as we race with the river, with the currents back down to Glenorchy.

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