Kiwi canoeist Mike Dawson braves new ground in Africa

Tired of the daily grind of training, Olympic paddler Mike Dawson took the bold step of putting his racing second. 

The 32-year-old has had a stellar year on the circuit, including World Cup silver, but he's likely to remember 2018 mostly for making it out of West Africa alive.

Angola's famed Kwanza river has been opened to the world by the Olympic paddler-cum-documentary maker.

"We were pretty intimidated," Dawson told Newshub.

"A little Kiwi guy from down under used to battling with cows and sheep when we try go to the river, and suddenly you're in the water with crocodiles, hippos, snakes, landmines."

West Africa is another addition to Dawson's impressive bucket list. His adventure kayaking has already seen him explore the gnarly rivers of Pakistan, the Zambezi, and the Nile.

But Angola had its own set of challenges.

"We were pretty nervous to get back on the water the next day because the flow was so low there were a huge amount of crocodiles… it was definitely playing on our heads a bit."

He was taking the risk to spread awareness about sustainability, all while showcasing the hidden rivers of West Africa, even to its native people.

"They'd never seen whitewater. We got to share our journey and share rivers they didn't even know existed in their own country."

Dawson's spent much of his life training for the Olympics every four years, and the adventure on offer is welcome relief from the tedium of training.

"The expedition stuff gives me something extra. It's totally different to just sitting there with a heartrate monitor ticking over the power output.

Risking his life on the world's most famed rivers not only taking him back to the roots of his sport, but also giving him a mental edge at the start line.

"If something goes wrong it's going to be a hell of a lot more serious than missing the podium, so I think it does put it into perspective."