Runaway Travel Stories

So you think you know how to cross a river?

My one fear coming into Te Araroa? River crossings.

Shudder.

If you offered me the choice of balancing over narrow, crumbling ridges and gravity-defying scree-sloped peaks or a single river crossing, I’d be up that scree before you could say “mountain goat”.

Two months later, having waded and squealed my way through more than 50 river crossings, things are very different. You see, New Zealand’s trails don’t just have the odd river crossing; sometimes you’ll cross the same river 16 times over the course of a kilometre (Mt Richmond Forest Park) or perhaps wade downstream in the middle of the river for a couple of K’s to find the next trailhead (Motatapu Trail).

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In other words, if you want to tramp in New Zealand, you need to know how to cross a river. And while we might not have started out as experts, I reckon we’ve done okay.

Wondering how we did it? Here’s our quick guide to river crossings:

Step 1. Freak out at the idea of crossing a river

Every river crossing should start with a good old fashioned meltdown. Poor Mat had to deal with more than a couple of these over the past months and he handled them like a pro (mainly by just telling me to get on with it!)

Step 2. Scope out the river

How fast is it flowing? How deep is it? Where are the rocks? Are they slippery? Are there any dead goats to avoid? Is there a good solid grassy bank to throw yourself on if everything turns to custard? And is there someone to catch you?

Step 3. Make someone else go first

If the river is small enough to cross solo, Mat gallantly takes the first steps. Then I watch his footsteps carefully and get him to tell me exactly where to step. When neither Mat nor I could work out where to cross, we “let” other trampers go first. Of course, if they can’t make it across, you can always go back to step 2.

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Step 4. Use your poles and waddle

Before we left, I googled “how to cross a river” and learned that, when crossing solo, you should use your walking pole as a tripod and shuffle sideways while facing upstream. Whoever wrote this is an absolute genius and should be awarded a gold river crossing medal. Streams, creeks, puddles – this technique works for everything.

Step 5. Grab hold of a mate

If the river is too big for tripod-waddling, grab hold of a mate. The strongest/biggest of the pair should stand upstream, put their arm around the smaller person and hold onto their bag strap. The smaller person should have their arm across the big person’s chest to hold onto their bag strap. Get this right and you’re solid. Then, the trick is to talk to each other with every step.

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Step 6. Freak out again 

Crossing a river safely isn’t complete without another meltdown while standing in the middle of the river. You suddenly realise you’re in the middle of a river. What the hell am I doing in the middle of a river?? Brain stops talking to feet. Coordination is a distant memory. You sway forwards and backwards a little (to the alarm of everyone on dry land) before regaining your grip on reality and sidestepping to safety.

Step 7. Congratulate yourself for being a river crossing extraordinaire

Well done, you’ve made it to dry land. Sure, you may have lost the respect of your fellow trampers. And sure, you have to repeat this another 16 times. But it’s all in the name of good tramping.

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