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‘Gradient and Water’ return triumphant from PNG Expedition

28 May 2013

‘Gradient and Water’ return triumphant from their Papua New Guinea Expedition

The fourth 2013 Sport New Zealand Hillary Expedition, Gradient and Water, returned home from Papua New Guinea last night after becoming the first to kayak the canyons of the Chimbu River – one of the most challenging wilderness kayaking runs in the world.

Team leader Jordan Searle, who was joined on the expedition by co-team leader Barny Young, Matt Coles and Ari Walker, said this was a couple of years in the making. “We kept things safe, but pretty much paddled everything we came across.”

The expedition covered approximately 50 kilometres, which the team covered over 10 days, including time to recover from sickness. Searle says that overall, the trip’s success was due to a culmination of detailed planning and overcoming plenty of obstacles.

“Towards the end, after what was probably the biggest rapid of the river, the gradient completely stopped and the river abruptly turned into a braided river system. I knew then we were out of the canyons,” said Searle.

“I couldn't help but throw a clichéd fist-pump when I realised it. Two years of planning and preparation that had come together and we'd made it happen. And all without injury or damage, just a clean descent of the Grand Canyons of the Chimbu.

“From the beginning the white water was great and the people were brilliant. On the first day children were running down the bank heralding our presence,” said Searle.

“We had a great four to five hours of class-four, with the odd class-five rapid to keep us on our toes. As the trip went on Barny and I became bolder and bolder, getting into our groove and breaking down the river with some eddy hoping and probing.”

While Searle says they were generally careful to scope the major rapids along the way, there were still “one or two close calls”.

“Perhaps we got too bold at one point when Barny over-committed to the biggest rapid of the second day and was forced to paddle it blind. That forced me to follow him and ensure that we both got through, which we did. Ari however, even after looking at the rapid from the bank, was pushed off his line and pinned against rocks. He managed to keep himself above the water and stopped the locals from jumping in after him, until Barny was able to get up to a place to pull Ari to safety using a throw-bag.”

Other obstacles included navigating around areas where the river went underground, and portaging carrying their kayaks and gear across land.

“At one point I was walking around a gorge when the cliff gave away beneath me and I fell five metres down into the gorge, lucky not to have injured myself,” said Searle.

Papua New Guinea presented other challenges to the team, including the necessity to avoid some areas due to the likelihood of hostility during local government elections in the Enga Province, the Western Highlands, and the rivers around Mendi. They were also tested when negotiating road blocks, access to land, and unwarranted requests for money.

“Of course Papua New Guinea threw some challenges with us, but it was all part of the adventure and I like to think that we set a sound precedent of mutual respect and appreciation, which other travellers will hopefully find when they go there.”

Sport NZ Chief Executive Peter Miskimmin says this is the second Sport NZ Hillary Expedition Grant for the team and they proved again that they deserved it, given their success, the way they’ve devoted themselves to white-water kayaking, and the way they’ve promoted the sport within their own communities.

“One of the reasons the Sport NZ Hillary Expeditions exist is because we want these adventures to inspire Kiwis to get out there. The Gradient and Water guys are brilliant at pushing their sport to its extreme and their enthusiasm for it is unyielding. They’re great Kiwis who have done us proud overseas and in some pretty intrepid land too. I hope they continue to inspire young Kiwis to get into the outdoors,” said Miskimmin.

For more information on the Sport New Zealand Hillary Expeditions, go to


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