Canyoning and the glacial facial

Canyon Explores

Nothing prepares you for that first immersion. Feet first, arms folded across our chests and dropped into a deep-freezing pool of rushing water. Your head submerged; your breath gone taken away by the frigidness of the water. It is freezing yet exhilarating and locally known as a glacial facial.


When you get kitted out by Canyon Explores it is hard to imagine that you would need so many layers. The sun was beating down, it’s hot, not a cloud in the sky. Yet, you are bundled up like Michelin man, being herded up the Routeburn track just out of Glenorchy, hardly able to move due to the layers of neoprene. All you could hear was the friendly chatter from the group, and on repeat “Sh#T it’s hot”

There is something unique about the rivers around Queenstown that are quite different from those in the North Island. The rocks and boulders are icy greys and although today they sat like granite sentinels in the turquoise waters, you can imagine the force of the water crashing over them when it’s raining, creating the massive erosion that creates these stunning canyons.

But today all was calm and the water smooth and even looked inviting. A few words of wisdom from our guides, “if a rock is grey, you can stand on it in, if it is green or brown – do not.” (Wise words as some found out later)

After a brief safety and how-to talk. Our first abseil into the canyon was just below a bridge and this was the last we would see of “civilization” for the next few hours, actually 8 hours. We dropped into a pristine pool of water and were instantly lost in the depths of the canyon.


Canyons change your perception, you are focused on the water, the walls, and what is around you. The light is different, the sounds is different, there is a feeling of awe, simply put, it just makes you feel ‘good’.

To say the water was cold would be an understatement, The average water temperature was around 10 degrees Celsius, which is chilly. We meandered down the river, abseiling sheer rocks and trying hard at first to keep our hands out of the icy water. That came to an end on the first rockslide. Arms across your chest, feet first, hold your breath, and wait for the chill.

The Canyon Explorer guides Mike and Alex, were an epic team. Constantly tying and untying safety lines and abseiling ropes, making sure we were safe and leaving as little a footprint as possible on the unspoiled environment. One abseils, in particular, Mike helped us abseil down into a turbulent pool known as The Cauldron. What seems like halfway down the abseil you had to let go and plunge into the water below. Then swim to the edge of a waterfall where Alex was waiting, firstly to stop you from being washed over the waterfall, then to belay you down into the next pool. It felt a lot more dangerous than it was.

As the canyon began to widen, somewhat sadly, it was a signal our adventure was coming to an end. We clambered over a few more rocks and back under the forest canopy to walk the final few kilometres’ back to the car park.



When you see the images canyoning it can seem a little intimidating; cascading waterfalls, jumping off cliffs, submerged in icy water, but it is without a doubt an experience of a lifetime and safe with the right professionals. That may seem very cliched, but it’s true. It really is a mixture of the place, the adrenaline, and fear, but I think that it is being in a place few people will ever get to see or experience that makes it utterly ‘unique’.


Huge thanks to the team at Canyon Explorers: www.canyonexplorers.co.nz and Ella from Destination Queenstown www.queenstownnz.nz


Some text and images supplied by clients mentioned



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