Up in the Blue Mountains, 2hrs from Sydney and the nearest surf beach, there’s a hidden and adventurous water world that is best experienced from inside the warm comfort of a snug fitting wetsuit.
Welcome to the world of canyoning.
What is canyoning?
Canyoning is the adventure sport where you follow ancient water courses down through deep rocky slots. It can involve a mix of sliding, jumping, swimming, walking and even abseiling over waterfalls.
These mysterious formations are often narrow dark slots, formed where water has run through the sandstone plateaus of the Blue Mountains over millions of years. Hidden away, these mystical places are a cross-between Avatar and Jurassic Park.
As a sport or adventurous hobby, canyoning has a strong tribe and community feel about it, as though canyoners are all part of a secret society (they’re hidden from view most of the time!).
Canyoners tend to keep the knowledge and maps for canyons fairly close to their wetsuited chests because they are keen to help protect these precious places and teach low impact canyoning to newcomers.
How to get started
Because canyons are generally where the sun don’t shine, the water is very cold all year round. Although there are some dry canyons, it means that the season runs only October to March, when there’s less chance of getting hypothermia.
So apart from a trusty wetsuit to keep you warm in these dark and magical places, there’s a whole bunch of essential kit that you’ll need. The great thing is that when you go with a guided tour, they’ll provide all this for you, so you can just focus on the epic adventure and discovering this hidden world.
You’ll need to pack everything you should normally take on a hike, like food, water, first aid kit, warm clothes and a personal locator beacon, but you’ll need to keep everything dry and safe inside a waterproof dry bag. Your experienced guide will be able to provide you with one of these, along with teaching you all you need to know to keep you (and our canyons) safe. Trust me… everything will get wet!
There’s a good bunch of licensed professional guiding companies in the Blue Mountains that have all the right gear, with highly experienced (and super friendly) guides, to take you through some of the best canyons around, to show you the ropes (literally) and even carry them for you!
What to expect
If you’re after a rush of adrenaline, with the ultimate adventure of wonder and discovery, sliding your way through a secret, hidden world, then canyoning is for you!
Throughout the day you can expect to be walking through cold water, scrambling over slippery rocks, sliding down small waterfalls and feeling the rush as you do water jumps or abseils – all whilst constantly in awe of this incredible Avatar-esque environment.
For most of the trip you’ll be going downhill, but that means there’s usually a solid uphill hike back out, so a good level of fitness is best.
What’s so special about them?
Because these environments are so protected from the outside world, you can expect to see plants and animals that don’t grow or live anywhere else. These truly amazing places need museum-style protection – so it’s super important to leave no trace and reduce our impact. By going with a licenced guide, NSW National Parks can keep an eye on the number of people who are entering the canyons and help ensure the sustainability of these fragile places. Not only that, but these qualified and experienced guides love these places almost as much as the creatures that live in them and want to help teach people how to protect them, by following the canyon code of practice.
Is it dangerous?
Canyoning is an adventurous activity for sure and there are risks with abseiling, swimming, cold water and slippery surfaces, so for those new to canyoning it’s essential to go with experienced guides or groups.
- You can check out what a canyon can be like without the heart pumping bits by visiting the VR Canyoning Experience at Blue Mountains Heritage Centre.
- Some Bushwalking Clubs are a good alternative to commercial guiding companies.
- Old fashioned Volleys are a good choice for footwear in a canyon.
This article first appeared in the NSW National Parks & Wildlife blog. Check out their site for loads of inspiration and download their great app for offline maps and track notes to hundreds of tracks and trails in NSW.