One Wakatipu adventurer returns as another leaves to test limits

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Our Emily’s wild ride …

A pioneering riverboarder is set to make the first descent of one of the biggest whitewater rivers in the world. 

Queenstowner Emily Cournane and an international expedition team – who all met while working as river guides in the Wakatipu – will take on Nepal’s mighty Sun Kosi river. 

Armed only with slim boards, wetsuits and fins, the 10-strong team will spend two weeks battling Class Five rapids along a 280km stretch of the river. 

They will be the first riverboarders to navigate the Sun Kosi, which is fed by melt waters from the greatest mountain range on earth – The Himalayas. 

Cournane, 29, says: “It is exciting. 

“No one has done this before. There are definitely risks. 

“Obviously we don’t know the river at all. 

“We’ll have a local rafting guide and hopefully with most of the big rapids we’ll be able to get out beforehand, have a look and scout out our lines.” 

The extreme sport combines the thrill of ‘running’ whitewater with the skill of surfing waves. 

“We don’t have the protection of a raft or kayak, just a helmet and buoyancy aid. 

“You have to be focused and make split-second decisions. You plan a line to avoid rocks, tree branches and hydraulics – boils of whitewater where the river comes back on itself. 

“It’s pretty scary getting trapped in them and spun around. You can be in there for a while.” 

Their epic challenge has received support from renowned explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, OBE, who describes them as “a new generation of adventurers; different techniques, the same spirit”. 

Adventurer Bear Grylls has also recently tweeted about the team’s endeavours. 

The team members, who cut their teeth on Queenstown’s Kawarau River, fly to Kathmandu on Saturday. 

They will be in the water from 6am to 3pm most days. 

Now a massage therapist, Cournane worked as a river guide and ski patroller for more than five years.
“One of the main thrills is finding decent standing waves,” she says. 

“It’s like surfing on the ocean except you can stay there as long as you want really. Hopefully this expedition will publicise the sport and help it grow.” 

Cournane was a founding member of governing body NZ Whitewater Boarding Associ-ation (NZWBA), along with expedition leader Huw Miles. 

The NZWBA was formed by Queenstown guides to standardise safety regulations after British tourist Emily Jordan drowned while on a Mad Dog Riverboarding trip on the Kawarau in 2008.

… and our Erik’s crazy ski trek

A QUEENSTOWN adventurer has become the first person to ski the length of the South Island’s Southern Alps. 

Erik Bradshaw, 43, skied 800km along the spine of South Island from St Arnaud, Nelson Lakes, to Fiordland. 

The arduous solo journey took the businessman almost three months. 

“Without doubt this is the hardest thing I have ever done,” Bradshaw says. 

“Sometimes it was miserable; in a small tent coated in ice being flattened by a storm and knowing you’re a long way from home,” he says. 

“But other times it was breathtakingly beautiful with towering snow-capped mountains, blue skies and amazing snow.” 

Bradshaw survived skiing and climbing for 12 hours a day and camping in sub-zero temperatures at night – having a good understanding of his body was critical. 

“If I was too timid I would never succeed, but if I was too bold I wouldn’t make it home again. 

“Waking the next day and repeating day after day. To do that without getting tired, sick or injured required a careful and innovative approach.” 

This is only the second winter traverse of the Southern Alps, after Graeme Dingle and Jill Tremain in 1971. It is the first time on skis. 

Bradshaw has been a keen mountain climber since his youth and started back country skiing at 15. 

The Royal Humane Society presented him with its Bravery medal for the rescue of trampers in the Matukituki Valley. 

In 2006, he went to Antarctica with his partner Christine Ryan. They run Queenstown software firm Ibis Technology and have 15-month-old son. 

He began the traverse on August 8 and finished October 26.