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Packrafting in New Zealand with Barny Young

Updated: Sep 21, 2021

Interviewed by Kokopelli Packraft. Photographs by Barny Young and Peter Williams.

Founder Of Pack-raft New Zealand Barny Young Paddling Through A River Gorge

What river in New Zealand did you run with the pack-rafts?

Pack-rafting Class Four Whitewater In New Zealand
Whataroa West Coast New Zealand

What are the first three differences you discovered between kayaking and pack-rafting?

1. Packrafts are very stable due to their width but if you flip it’s harder to roll up versus a kayak which is a lot more narrow and less stable. It's safer and easier to take along friends who have zero white water experience on low key fun missions. They really do expand your adventure horizon. 2. Packrafts are small, lightweight and easy to carry - the biggest limiting factor for a kayak is its size, making it very hard to travel with (e.g. on planes) and carrying a kayak more than a few km becomes very difficult not just because of the weight but their size makes them very awkward to carry on rough terrain or through the bush. 3. Pack-rafts have multiple uses. For example; you can sleep in them in the bush and you can use the lightweight feather pump (used for inflation) to help start a fire.

Pack-rafter Paddling Whitewater Rapid

What are your first thoughts on the Kokopelli Nirvana Self Bailer?

I was pretty stoked on this boat. Putting it on the river for the first time I was definitely sceptical and thought I might find myself having to portage a few rapids that I would normally easily run in a kayak. However, I was very quickly blown away with just how easy it was to control, and whip in and out of eddies and I was even able to get it up on edge and boof it (a move where you do a late stroke to lift the nose of your craft up and over a hole or hydraulic). All in all, I was very impressed with this boat and would feel confident paddling it on some technical class 4 whitewater which is pretty remarkable considering its size and weight. I also found the T-zip an amazing feature and an ingenious way of storing gear.

Pack-rafting A Whataroa River Rapid On The West Coast Of New Zealand

What are your first thoughts on the Kokopelli Rogue?

Remarkable boat, obviously the spraydeck is great for keeping water out and I love this feature because as a kayaker this is what we are used to.

Barny Young Pack-rafting Whitewater

Kokopelli Nirvana Self Bailer or Rogue? Why?

Nirvana Self Bailer - It has more space for storing gear on top and the thigh/knee braces gave me more control in it, I also loved the added feature of the T-zip (this feature is available on both boats).

Pack-rafter Paddling Away Into Sun On Blue River Gorge

What are the advantages of exploring with a pack-raft versus a kayak?

The main advantages of exploring with a pack-raft over a kayak all come down to size and weight. Because they are so light and pack down to the size of a sleeping bag pack-rafts are an awesome tool for many missions whereby carrying a kayak is either too difficult/not feasible for adventures that are multifaceted (i.e an adventure where most of the trip involves hiking but there might an epic ice lake or gorge to explore somewhere en route). A pack-raft is also great for taking friends out on easier missions as a kayak is not only difficult to carry but has a steep learning curve making it hard for beginners to jump right into it without building up the skills first.

Pack-rafters Camping At Whataroa Ice Lake Below The Whataroa Glacier In New Zealand

In what situation would you take a kayak over a pack-raft?

For harder whitewater, I would personally always choose a kayak over a pack-raft because it is just far more manoeuvrable, faster and makes picking your line much easier. The trips I would use a pack-raft for are trips described above where either a long walk is involved or taking friends who have no experience for a fun adventure to explore some of our epic backyards.

Pack-rafters Portaging Rapid

What's the best paddle adventure you've ever been on?

I recently paddled the Hokitika River in a pack-raft at low flow. This run is one of my home runs in New Zealand. What makes this run so special is the pristine clear, drinkable water and the stunning, sheer-walled gorges with cascading waterfalls dropping in that you float through. The locked-in gorges also mean the only access is via a flotation device such as a kayak or pack-raft meaning many of these gorges have only been seen by a lucky few.

Pack-rafting Hokitika Gorge New Zealand

What are three items you always pack when you go for a paddle?

1. A 1.5m long sling with a carabiner (Great for rescues, lowering boats, etc. Also important to make it at least 5m so it can be used to make a harness if you need to abseil anywhere) 2. Throw-bag 3. Foldable river knife

Birds Eye View Of The Whataroa Icelake West Coast New Zealand

You're going pack-rafting on a Class II river with someone who's brand new to paddling. What are two tips you'd offer that person to make their introduction to adventuring on the water smoother?

First, if in doubt, paddle hard out. Second, try to keep your pack-raft pointed downstream and you'll be much more stable.

Pack-rafting the Butler River With Butler Hut In The Background

How do you discover or come across the places you decide to paddle, explore, and adventure in?

Normally through recommendations from friends or rivers that we have previously paddled. However, if we’re looking for first descents generally we will use a lot of google maps these days and look for rivers that have a mix of the right amount of gradient and plenty of tributaries feeding them so that there will be enough water.

What was the hardest (or most important) thing to learn in regards to paddling rivers above Class III?

The most important thing to learn for class 3 and above is it’s all about breaking the rapid down into plenty of bite-sized pieces and always having a plan b. Catching eddies is an important skill that helps you break rapids down and if you want to progress from class 3-4-5 it’s all about catching as many eddies as you can on your local run and making those eddies harder and harder. If you feel confident catching every eddy on your local run then it’s a good sign you're ready to progress!

Pack-rafting A Rapid On The Wahio River Franz Josef Glacier

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