Order calendars via zakshawphotography@gmail.com or the secure Paypal option below.

Order calendars via zakshawphotography@gmail.com or the secure Paypal option below.
My 2014 calendar was entirely photographed on the western side of New Zealand's Southern Alps. "Land in the West" is printed at a size of A4 with twelve calendar month pages displaying stunning outdoor environment photographs. Take a look at my Facebook page to view all twelve 2014 calendar images! Order here via Paypal or email me at zakshawphotography@gmail.com if you would prefer to pay with online banking. Thanks for your support!
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Monday, December 14, 2009

Southland Times. Interview Lifeblood of the Nation. "Rivers are the lifeblood of our nation and hopefully people will realise that."

This hot off the press! Story below the link.

Southland times interviewed Keith Riley and myself upon our completion of the East Waikaia descent. Keith Riley grew up in the deep south and his connection to the Waikaia valley is strong.

We were interviewed by Mark Hotton an Invercargill journalist. I attempted to influence the story by highlighting that the speed at which the Wild Rivers campaign was launched was due to the fact that although NZ has many different user groups and people involved in the river environment that ultimately NZers immerse themselves in the environment for similar reasons. On the surface it would seem that jetboaters, fisherman and kayakers would struggle to agree and make fast campaign headway due to the nature of each sport. However with threats to NZ's river environments mounting campaign members relised that regardless of craft or activity that many different groups choose to recreate and appreciate the river environement for similar reasons.

I left the interview feeling like I had left a clear message. The message being that the Lifeblood of a Nation expedition is not just about a group of kayakers trying to protect their favourite rapids nor is the expedition entirely focused on paddling full on whitewater. A deeper message underlies what we are doing. If more people in NZ were aware of whats out there and develop a greater affinity for our remaining wild river environments then NZers will relise that the types of people fighting to keep our rivers wild are actually everyday Kiwis. The Wild Rivers campaign members are an accurate cross section of the NZ public.
"Rivers are the lifeblood of our nation and hopefully people will realise that."

Enjoy the story below - Zak

A remote and rugged stretch of Southland river has been kayaked for the first time. Mark Hotton talks to a former Invercargill man about his involvement.
He sits above a mass of tumbling whitewater, a three metre drop from the edge of a waterfall to safe water below.
His helmet strap is tight, but it gets another quick tug just to be sure, before the lifejacket is readjusted again. He takes a deep breath.
A thin layer of plastic sits between him and the dozens of rocks that create the whitewater he is about to tackle.
He disregards everything but the line the tiny kayak must take to negotiate the rapid.
He has walked the river up and down, backwards and forwards, and can picture precisely where he needs to paddle, where he needs to twist to manoeuvre a tight spot and where he can pause to let the water flow do the work and get him through safely.
Most people would be shaking in their seat at the prospect of launching themselves into a grade five rapid in a rugged back country river.
But former Invercargill man Keith Riley has spent 15 years kayaking New Zealand rivers, gathering the skills and experience necessary to take on such a challenge. And he will nail it.
Mr Riley returned to Southland last month with two friends to kayak what is believed to be a previously undescended section of the stunningly beautiful and remote east branch of the Waikaia river.
He and two friends, Zak Shaw and Dylan Thomson, flew by helicopter to the start of the river and spent three days kayaking the 16km of river that drops 600m.
They describe it as one of the top three kayakable rivers in New Zealand, with Mr Riley describing it as the pinnacle of his kayaking career.
"I've never encountered a river of that steepness and difficulty where apart from two tiny sections there was a kayakable line through it.
"Mentally it was super draining because we'd scout long sections and have to remember long convoluted lines – you wanted to write the lines on the front of the boat so you didn't forget them on the way through.
"Physically we were rooted. The kayaking is quite physical but then you're moving up and down over boulders and difficult terrain, lifting boats and that all accumulates."
He paddled the west branch of the river about 10 years ago and the trio have chosen to tackle its twin as part of a series of expeditions, Lifeblood of a Nation, to support a Wild Rivers campaign and raise awareness of New Zealand rivers.
"It feels like the East Waikaia finally appeared on the radar in the realm of what's possible in a kayak only in the last three or four years," Mr Riley said.
"With the evolution of kayaking and the equipment we've been able to explore steeper and steeper rivers."
The river is in one of the most remote parts of Southland, north of Waikaia in the Old Woman Range. It is that far north the closest town is Alexandra, as the crow flies.
They worked out it could potentially be kayaked without seeing it in person by looking at the gradient of the terrain, and estimating the flow amount and size and taking a punt.
A punt that paid off for the trio.
"We've flown in all wide eyed and have been blown away by the quality and quantity of whitewater," Mr Riley said.
"The pictures make it look super extreme and make us look like full on loose bastards.
"But what they don't show is the amount of time we spent moving up and down the river, discussing consequences and putting different safety in place.
"We don't paddle any of that without total confidence that we're going to hit the line as we planned."
The years spent kayaking and understanding how to put safety systems in place has made those types of extreme rapids more manageable, he said.
Mr Riley, an outdoor recreation tutor at Tai Poutini Polytechnic in Greymouth, said the Waikaia River below the Canton Bridge down was an iconic whitewater kayaking trip but the upper part had the potential to become an even more significant trip.
"It's under-appreciated and most of the population wouldn't know about it. I'd regard that as one of the most stunning and spectacular places in the country."
The Waikaia River has a special affinity for Mr Riley. It was where he learned to paddle and it is those types of connection that link the Lifeblood of a Nation expedition and the Wild Rivers campaign.
The Wild Rivers campaign was created by groups – including Forest and Bird, Whitewater NZ, Federated Mountain Clubs and Fish and Game – concerned about the rising threat to wild rivers.
Mr Shaw said the Life Blood of a Nation expedition was a Sparc funded initiative to link in to that campaign while highlighting the threats many New Zealand rivers faced and what could potentially be lost to hydro-electricity projects.
The Lifeblood team is a mix of three of New Zealand's most well-known kayakers Mick Hopkinson, Graham Charles and Mr Shaw, who have teamed up for an adventure that aims to profile New Zealand's wild rivers. They plan to photograph threatened rivers while exploring new and demanding kayak runs.
"The underlying theme was to support the Wild Rivers campaign (wildrivers.org.nz) which aims to raise the consciousness of the New Zealand public and remind Kiwis of the importance of rivers and the part they play in everyday life so they're not taken for granted," Mr Shaw said.
"It's not about firing off big drops and getting scared and being extreme."
The aim was to profile river journeys – both family trips and classic New Zealand river trips and raise greater awareness and appreciation of the role that New Zealand rivers play.
"The rivers are under threat from privatisation when they're owned by the people.
"Ultimately these things are irreversible. Hydro isn't a renewable source – it has huge impact on a river environment.
"At the moment it seems we have this free open season where anyone can look at a river and go through the resource consent process and eventually come away with a fairly sizeable scheme that is going to produce some significant returns.
"But they don't own the river. I think a lot of New Zealanders are realising that maybe we do need more electricity but maybe we need some sort of futuristic outlook where we look at which rivers are stunning and particularly scenic and look at preserving them." Footage and photographs off the trips were being collated with the possibility of a book and possibly a documentary being created.
"If we can get more people passionate about what's on our back doorstep and getting them thinking about what happens when you mess with the environment, then that's a good thing.
"Rivers are the lifeblood of our nation and hopefully people will realise that."
To follow the expedition visit http://www.passion4adventure.blogspot.com/

Friday, November 27, 2009

Nevis River Highlands. SPARC - Lifeblood of the Nation

"The Nevis River drains the Hector and Garvie mountain ranges, flowing north towards the Kawarau River. The valley is at first a wide open expanse and was the scene of prolific goldmining during the late 1800's. Many historic relics remain in the upper valley as a testament to the industry that was there" - http://www.wildrivers.org.nz/river/nevis-river
Image above - Zak Shaw

Keith Riley, Ants Longman and myself recently spent a day in the Upper Nevis Valley. The flow below the Nevis Crossing road bridge was on deemed too high and so we continued up river. The area we visited would be inundated should the Pioneer Generation dam scheme go ahead.
Image - Zak Shaw

Image - Zak Shaw
Spaniard grass and unique landscape. Nevis Valley - Image - Zak Shaw

The Upper Nevis gorge - Image - Zak Shaw

Paddler Keith Riley
Image - Zak Shaw

Paddler Antz Longman
Image - Zak Shaw

Paddler - Keith Riley

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wild Rivers - Lifeblood of the Nation

Kokatahi River - West Coast
Wild rivers are New Zealand’s Lifeblood. The Lifeblood of the Nation expedition is aimed at raising public consciousness about New Zealand’s rivers and the threats many of them currently face. Lifeblood is aimed at highlighting what we have and what we stand to lose.
For an indepth write up on whats happening check out this backdated link

Waikaia River - Southland

Waikaia Revisited. "Adventure stories may constitute the original definition of what is worth talking about" Paul Zweig

The crucial junction. Dont miss this one. Make a false move and you'll end up in Gore.....
Image - Zak Shaw
This week we rallied for a second time into the Waikaia River valley. A hail storm pelted the van and ominous southerly driven clouds hung over the hills. The cold snap had locked up the remaining snow pack on the Old Man and Garvie Range and the Waikaia flow had diminished.

Optimistic that we would still have enough to float Keith and I recruited our man at High Country Heli and the job was on.

Image - Zak Shaw
West meets East. Our flight took us over the West Waikaia River. It looked low but manageable so our pilot released the strop holding the kayaks airborne over the tussock.
It was great to be back in the heads of the Waikaia! Surrounded by stunning alpine scenery and with time on our side we chilled out for an hour or so and walked up towards the Garvie snow slopes. Our belief was that the west Waikaia would be a solid day trip but after our first 500m of river travel we called it quits. Several sieves, portages and trickle of water to move around on had us revising our day out and the West meets East Waikaia trip was born.

Open tussock travel with a kayak is in relative terms quite easy. We climbed at first avoiding Spaniard grass spears and after an hour we had broken the back on the climb and began our sliding, dragging descent into the East branch.
Image - Zak Shaw

Our hike over positioned us a long way up the East and at 3pm we began what a week before had taken three days. By 7pm Keith and I had bombed the day one section, abandoned the kayaks and begun our 2hr hike out.

Image - Zak Shaw
Day two - Dylan showed up with a 4wd and we got back into our gear without much effort.
We remembered the river well. Most of the rapids were still on and throughout the day we ticked off a few drops and moves that had been too full on a week prior. Regardless of good memory day two still required 8 solid hours of kayaking. We linked the East Waikaia with the West and continued on out to Canton.

Image - Zak Shaw

Keith Riley looking good on a drop that a week before had been a fast paced headhunter. (The rock jutting out from the right)

Image - Zak Shaw
After the trip I looked at the Southland Council website for the flows -

For this second run we were in there at rock bottom levels that ranged from 11 - 9 cumecs!
I'd expect the flow range for the East Waikaia to sit between 30 and 12 cumecs at Piano Flat
The first descent flows were 29 peak - 16 lowest. (over the three days)
First Descent daily flows - Day 1 - 24 - 18, Day 2 - 29 - 20, Day 3 - 22 - 16

Fiordland and a fantastic ride in a boat! River research Lake Te Anau

Image - Zak Shaw
The concept is good. The potential story has potential. If only I had a larger story to share.
Lake Te Anau, small power boat, food, maps, rifles, whitewater kayaks with carry systems and the idea that Fiordland still has rivers that have not been kayaked....
The excitement surrounding this mix of ingredients was in good supply but the river fruit was not found.

The crucial link for the Fiordland plan came in the form of Karl Boomsma (pictured below and left) Booms the boat owner came to the party just a week in advance agreeing to shuttle Keith and myself around the shores of Lake Te Anau. Loaded craft is a massive understatement. When all the gear (essential stuff) was loaded the boat concerningly sat low in the water but hey..."it will be fine"
Fuel comsumption was a major player heading into the second half. We picked the most distant arm of the lake to head to and that took three hours. (Big lemon) Severely under powered we chewed through a significant amount of fuel. Upon arrival at the Worsley River mouth we were met by sandflies (a given) and the relisation that our fuel tank was a little lighter than we would have liked.
To cut a long story short that night we played cards and drank beer with an old school mate of Keith's who was easily persuaded to hand over some of his gas.
The kayaking....Didn't happen. We left the creekers on the beach and headed up the Worsley with our gear and guns and went hunting for the day. In an attempt to get two birds stoned at once we scouted the Castle creek and stalked the rivers terraces at the same time.
The day was spent observing a river with little gradient and low water or in the case of the Castle River a steep creek with no water.
We still had a grand time and the boat made it back up the lake in a large swell to the boat ramp!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

LIFEBLOOD OF A NATION - First Descent of the East Waikaia. One of the most sustained and mentally demanding river trips in NZ

To gain some perspective of what its like to stand beside the East Waikaia River one needs to consider this.
A relentless barrage of whitewater flowing through alpine tussock highlands. A medieval landscape of craggy backcountry and subtle contours. A world colored honey and blue. An archaic scene, a place seldom travelled, horses, carts, spaniard grass and the constant roar of water....
When the attack came it did so for three days. Stonking class five, so damn good!
Those who kayak will appreciate some comparison between rivers. To understand the unrelenting nature of the East Waikaia multiply the Nevis Rivers length by four and its gradient by two. The stats pour onto the paper something like this.
Put in elevation - 1000m, Drop in elevation - 600m, Length - 16km.
For the bulk of the run it drops at an average of 60-80m/km with around 10 cumecs at the put - in and around 18cumecs at the East/ West Waikaia rivers confluence.

Local Southland boy and trip mastermind Keith Reiley confirms the plan.
Image - Zak Shaw
Andrew Gunn based in Waikaia jumped at the chance to help us out with access. It didn't take long for the landowners to be contacted and for permission to be gained. On the day Andrew from High Country Helicopters showed up in his number ones poised and ready to get the job done.
Image - Zak Shaw

Once loaded our flight began with immediate interest. Lots of whitewater, lots of drops. It never let up. Eddies were few. The lower river lay hidden under a canopy of Beech forest but as we climbed further tussock blanketed the hills exposing the river and what lay in store.
Keith and Dylan Thompson couldn't beleive their eyes. From my seat I gained rare views of the river below. Expressions on Keith's face were my only source of information. Like an excited child wriggling in his seat the windows were not big enough! Serious, raised eyebrows, stern, yes, yes, holy shit, ok, maybe, hell yeah, thats big, not sure, thats bigger, 50/50, yes, golden. I'm in!
Keith Reiley on route.
Image - Zak Shaw

Our team for the day stretched to three. (Andrew flies in three loads)
Keith, Dillon Thompson and myself.

Image credit - Keith Reiley.
Dylan Thompson arrived on the back of Keith's encouraging phone call the night before.
"You want to be here Dillon" "Whatever plans you have Dylan" I understand that Dylon but"
"I'll apologise to your girlfriend for ya mate"
Dylon drove three hours to meet us above the Canton Bridge and the day began.

Dylan and Keith at the rivers put in. The Waikaia catchment is also home to many historical sites including stone huts, cave dwellings, wooden barrels, pots and dirt sleeping pads.
Image - Zak Shaw
Things kicked off easy with five hundred metres of class two before all hell broke loose.
The environment was unlike anywhere I'd been before. Golden tussock, primeval stone pillars and big blue skies.
Image - Zak Shaw

Dylon stamped our mark early. A paddler who sees a line and whats possible in kayaking more often than most. This came apparent as hard moves and intricate lines with high objective danger came thick and fast. Image above Dylan keeps the nose up half way through a long (they are all long) hard and steep rapid early on.
Image - Zak Shaw

Our pace downriver was slow. The common thread with each rapid was "what's downstream of this" because sure enough around the next bend lay the next thing to catch our attention.
Stacked one after the other we found respite in small one boat eddies. Scouting required 200-300m long distances often from both sides in order to get the right information.
Image above Keith links it all together, staying composed and focused.
Image - Zak Shaw
The Southland high country. Mid way through day one things went into another gear. We were all paddling at the top of our game and deliberated for over an hour above a 400m section of relentless carnage. Limited eddies were the deciding factor and we opted for the "smart" decision to move overland. Time = 4pm. On day one we pushed through until 6pm. The whitewater had just begun to change character slightly. Landing in an eddy Keith's paddle suffered a crack in one blade. Rather than push on with our breakdown paddles we glanced over the map and came to the relisation that we had travelled downstream to within 500m of an established farm track that would lead us out to the van. We had always planned on hiking out with the days remaining daylight and so if you can call breaking a paddle good, it came at the right time. The hike back to the van took two hours on a 4wd road.
Image above - Zak Shaw

Day two we portaged a short section because of a tree jam. Rounding the next corner the intensity of day one came looking for us again. The scout for the following 200m of whitewater accounted for two hours of our day as we had to move up and down the bank to provide safety for each other. We all emerged unscathed from the bottom of this drop which was the accululation of several must make moves. In the above image Dylan Thompson probes and boosts confidence in Keith and myself.

Image above - Keith Reiley is online. After this drop we paused for a short lunch break.
Glancing back upriver the gradient of our previous drops run was remarkable. "Look at that, we're a loose pack of barstards aren't we" Keith Reiley...
Image - Zak Shaw

More of the same. Not to give viewers the impression we were starting to get bored. Every move required constant focus. Its been a long time since Ive paddled a river that has required such a sustained level of mental focus. The East Waiakaia is not about isolated hard moves.
Image - Zak Shaw - note we did not run the top part of the above rapid.

Image - Zak Shaw
Our intention with the East Waikaia had always been to push through in two days. Day two dragged on and on and on. After eight hours (we began kayaking at 10.30am after a two hour walk back to the river) our light in the gorge began to fade. Our energy levels began to drop off but we were sure the confluence with the West Waikaia was not far off.

Image - Zak Shaw
Dylan launches off another clean drop. This drop marked the entrance into another 300m long section. I opted to hike over the left bank and avoid making testing moves above a certain portage. Both Dylan and Keith greased the entrance drops and scampered quickly back for the last chance eddy.

Image - Zak Shaw
Stern expressions....tired...how far to go? At 8.30pm the world dropped away extinguishing our hopes of making it out before dark. We were tired and not in good enough shape to consider firing up this 30ft drop.
On the lip of the falls is a terrible sieve and none of us felt any motivation towards running it after such a draining day out. For the second time we abandoned the gear and pushed through the broom to the ridgeline. The scrub tore skin from our hands scratching us to bits and made our escape a brutal exercise.

Image - Zak Shaw.
Feeling the burn we commenced day three. Being a little smarter in our approach we made good time back via open farmland and an airstrip. Linking grass clearings our descent back to the kayaks was easy. Then came time to resume the kayaking...

Image - Zak Shaw
Keith was the bold one and paddled first. Determined in his belief that the dangerous entrance move would be relatively straight forward leading up to the main event.
Keith moved past the sieve and set sail off the drop in fine form.

Dylan Thompson poised with the crucial stroke.
Image - Zak Shaw
Image - Zak Shaw
My turn came third. Nervous about consequence I welcomed a quick check in with Keith on my way to my kayak. My line went well. I arrived with speed at the edge and landed flat in the aerated pool.

After the first move of day three we celebrated success!

Keith Reiley picks up the camera!
Paddler - Zak Shaw

Job done! Keith and Dylan roll through the East/West Waikaia River confluence.
Image - Zak Shaw

Image - Zak Shaw
Keith and Dylan both carried HD cameras and have come away with some great footage.
Looking forward to seeing that on the big screen!

Thanks for checking in - Zak

Friday, November 06, 2009

First blood, Burke River scout, climb, abseil, paddle, freedom. Lifeblood of the Nation.

Lifeblood of a Nation - please see below for the background on this project.
cheers - Zak Shaw
Image - Cover shot! Eye candy and the heart of the Burke Rivers "Churn Gorge" 
Image - Zak Shaw
The Burke River was first descended thirteen years ago. As a three day adventure spearheaded by Keith Reiley a team discovered another stunning river trip in South Westland. Late on day two darkness fell as the paddlers arrived the "Churn Gorge" the rivers last attack. Poor light and a gorge reminiscent of the legendary Clarksfork of the Yellowstone's "Box canyon" forced an unexpected third night out.

Our day began at Haast beach. 
Image Zak Shaw
For years both Keith and myself had planned on returning to the Churn Gorge to inspect the whitewater that Keith had managed to catch a glimpse of. Memories of teacup drops in a seriously committing canyon provided the lure and encouraged us back.
Image above - We set out by crossing the Haast River loaded with ropes, harnesses and a rough optimistic plan.
Image - Zak Shaw 
Heading upriver we paddled into the Burke Gorge from the bottom up before the gradient began. The Burke gorge is an amazing sight. Stunning water color, trout every metre and glistening side creek waterfalls.
Image  - Zak Shaw 
The Churn Gorge!!! an amazing place to be.
Image - Zak Shaw
After half an hour of paddling we left the kayaks and set off with the packs. Climbing out of the gorge via a steep gully we moved quickly through open rainforest following deer trails. We managed to gain several views of the gorge below and felt good about paddling the whitewater. Once in the gorge at water level we had to be sure we could get out as the canyon walls were carved bedrock making every drop a must run.  
At 2pm we returned to the kayaks having seen the whole gorge. Access would require a 60m abseil onto a slopping ledge. A 40ft cauldron style waterfall flowing directly into another big committing drop has us peering out of the bush from 100m up with high interest.
Both drops are at the very extent of what's possible in whitewater. After the second drop we lost sight of the river before it charged around a bend into a certain portage that we were 80% wasn't possible. We then headed back to the kayaks having shot some great pics, but happy to be walking away. 
A short abseil into the gorge below the crux Churn drops put us in place for some full on kayaking. 
Image - Keith fires off the first drop
Zak Shaw.
5pm and about time to get wet. Inside the gorge we paddled several testing drops and everything was much harder than expected. One horizon line we paddled at blind but emerged unscathed. 

The Burke Rivers box canyon. - Approaching from the bottom its flat-water until you get to here. Anyone with a paddle can make their way inside the Burke Gorge. I highly recommend it!
Image - Zak Shaw
"Lifeblood of the Nation" is a SPARC funded initiative. Its focus is towards raising the profile of New Zealand's wild rivers. Rivers that all NZers can enjoy, should appreciate and are privileged to have. Check out www.wildrivers.org.nz 
Image - Zak Shaw