Mark Twain wrote about Huckleberry Finn’s adventures on the Mississippi River. His modern-day counterparts, Queenstowners Sarah and Jeremy Lyttle, recently rafted from Arthurs Point to the east coast. They discuss their adventures, in conjunction with their pet dog, with Philip Chandler
Not many people can say they’ve paddled from their backyard to the ocean.
But that’s almost literally what Queenstown couple Sarah and Jeremy Lyttle accomplished over the festive season.
They took half an hour short of seven days to paddle or portage a pack-raft, with their two-year-old dog Summit, 230 kilometres from their Moonlight Track property, at Arthurs Point, to the sea.
Inspiration for their adventure came from a creek that runs through their land – it flows into the Shotover River and then to the Pacific Ocean, via the mighty Kawarau and Clutha Rivers.
Jeremy set up the trip early on Boxing Day, driving his truck to Kaka Point, on the east coast, then motorcycling back home.
About 8pm that day, they walked out of their place down to the Shotover River, putting in between Oxenbridge Tunnel and the Edith Cavell Bridge.
“We got a permit to go down the Shotover – it makes you feel official,” Jeremy says.
After turning left at the confluence with the Kawarau, they camped overnight opposite Lake Hayes Estate.
They were on a three-metre inflatable raft with about 50kg of camping gear – and a 35kg dog.
Sarah says Summit, a German wirehaired pointer lab, was super-amped.
“Every morning, we put his lifejacket on and he couldn’t get on the raft quick enough.”
“He really picks up on our energy,” Jeremy says.
“If we’re calm, he’s just pretty much snoozing, if we start to get stressed, he’ll stand up and get anxious himself.”
After the first night, the trio spent the next two days on the Kawarau, portaging the Nevis, Citroen and Retrospect rapids but running Smiths Falls, Twin Bridges and Roaring Meg.
Jeremy: “Through the Roaring Meg section we were close to tipping out probably three times – the boat filled two-thirds with water.”
Portaging, normally after deflating their boat, could also be tricky “through just typical Central Otago jungle”.
A highlight came when Queenstowner Greg Hay dropped off two of his Wet Jacket wine bottles on the same day as Sarah’s birthday.
The day after negotiating the Kawarau was probably the most brutal, the couple say.
Battling galeforce headwinds, they took eight-and-a-half hours to paddle 21km on Lake Dunstan.
“If you stopped paddling you just start accelerating backwards, rapidly,” Jeremy says.
After another day battling winds, they enjoyed their best day, knocking out 70km on the Clutha in perfect conditions.
On Lake Roxburgh, they even launched a kite to drag them along even faster.
That night, they slept on the floor of an old church at Tuapeka Mouth.
After a stop at Balclutha, they reached the coast on January 2, walking four kilometres along the beach – “every step you’re sinking in”, Sarah says – and another kilometre on the road to reach their truck.
“Our dog sniffed it out.”
After a beer and toasted sandwiches at the Kaka Point pub, they drove back to Queenstown, arriving after midnight, absolutely exhausted.
Sarah says at Kaka Point, and elsewhere along the way, “maybe because we were doing something quite different, everyone assumed we were international tourists”.
Jeremy: “It’s so cool to be able to do an adventure for that long and to be so close to home – it’s literally in your backyard.
“A seven-day raft trip is awesome by any standard – a lot of people would fly to the Yukon in Canada to do a seven-day raft trip.”
Sarah: “Like any adventure, there are some points where you’re like, ‘why are we doing this?’, but in the end you don’t get reward without suffering.”
Jeremy adds: “Everyone’s so risk-averse these days, but when you go on a trip like that you’re totally accountable for your actions.
“There’s no one saying, ‘don’t go down that rapid’.
“And in this day and age, where everything’s so expensive, it’s really cool to be able to do a week-long adventure for a relatively affordable cost.”
The cost of their boat? Only $270.