Wanganui River Canoeing 18th – 26th February

Day 1 Saturday – Wayne

On Saturday the 18th February Colin and Judy, Peter and Sandy, Christine, Hazel, Chris, John, Russell and Wayne met at the Timaru airport for an early morning flight to Wellington on the start of a week-long North Island adventure. The flight to Wellington enabled us to look down on the mountains around Kaikoura and on arrival at the Wellington we were met by the Juicy Rental people and we picked up two rental vans and started driving towards National Park.

The weather was hot and humid and we were grateful for the vehicle’s air conditioning. We stopped for lunch on a beach opposite Kapiti Island, then we stopped for some shopping before arriving in National Park. We booked into the YHA Backpackers in National Park, went for a walk around town in the evening, had an evening meal outside in the evening sun and went to bed early in the hot bunkrooms in preparation for the Tongariro Crossing the next morning.

Day 2. Tongariro Crossing – Hazel

An early start today saw us heading in 2 directions – one group in each direction on the track. We were at the Ketetahi track end by 7am and started walking up through the bush in the rain. After about 2 hours we were out of the bush but still in the cloud. Visibility was pretty limited but we enjoyed looking at the tussock shrub land and volcanic rocks with the occasional smell of sulphur. We went by the Ketetahi Hut which had been badly damaged by Tongariro erupting in 2012.

After this we started seeing people coming the other way and swapped car keys when we met the others coming down. Going north to south we had more up-hill. Going past Blue Lake we were still in the cloud but visibility started to improve at times once past Central Crater. There were quite a lot of people around the Emerald Lakes but numbers were not as high as usual because of the weather. The moonscape of this area was quite fascinating. We had a final climb up loose sandy scree to the top of Red Crater. We were lucky the cloud cleared briefly for us to see in to the crater. From here we descended down to South Crater which is a large flat basin where we stopped for lunch. We then followed around the side of Ngauruhoe and where lucky to have some views down the Mangetepopo Valley which we followed out to the car park. We then drove to Whakapapa Village and met up with the others. As it was going to rain again overnight we spent another night at the backpackers at National Park rather than going on to Taumaranui and put tents up in the rain.

Day 3. Taumarinui to Poukaria – Christine

Up early to ensure we got to Taumarinui Canoe Hire in time for the Trip Briefing at 8am. This was very involved and covered everything possible that had anything to do with canoeing safety, rules, how to everything, campsites. Nothing missed. Then after a last chance visit to the supermarket to stock up on water (there was no safe drinking water along the way) and supplies, we then had to show that we could paddle and control our canoes. We were informed the river was flowing at a high level and that the beaches and landings would be smaller.

It took some time to load barrels with gear, get canoes to the water, load the barrels into canoes and tie everything in. Then off we went. Well this was very much a learning day, which we got to put to practice the useful information about how to navigate rapids and read the river. It wasn’t without mishap and a couple of capsizes at the first bigger rapid with a tight-ish s-bend and a big rock. This made for a longer day on the water before reaching our campsite at Poukaria (aprox. 34kms). Now we got to experience our first camp site, the untying and shuttling of barrels up the hill, set up camp for the night.

Day 4 Tuesday – Christine

Poukaria – Mangapapa. This was our second day on the river and a “bigger” day with around a 34km paddle.

We have established an early morning routine, rising at 6.30 and on the water around 8.30am.

En route today we viewed the noted Ohura falls and a stop off to the “Blue Duck Café” which is also the start of the cycling and walking track and has a smart campsite with a bunkroom. Management of the barrels and handling of the canoes has become a lot more practised and it is noted that the access to the campsites consist of a climb up the side of the valley wall to the terraced area of the campsite. Access to Mangapapa was a little more challenging than our first night. The river is running at a high level, although it has dropped over the first day and looks as though it will be dropping all week. I have enjoyed great weather again today after the early morning mists and at the other end of the day enjoying a swim in the brown water to freshen up.

Day 5 Wednesday – Peter

The now clockwork morning routine is well embedded. That is up at 6.30am and on the river by 8.30am. This was a pleasant paddle to John Coull hut for lunch and onward through awesome scenery to the Mangawaiti camp site. This proved to be a great workout lugging our barrels high above the river to our campsite for the night.

Day 6 Thursday – Chris Mangawaiiti to Ramanui. A short paddle day today as we would be visiting The Bridge to Nowhere later that morning. Packed up the camp area and started the process of loading up the canoes. A few trips up and down the steep steps to the river and then we were ready to go. About 11/2 hrs paddling to the landing at Mangapurua for the Bridge walk. We were given very firm instructions not to leave the canoes in the way of the Jetboat’s landing area, so we pulled the canoes well out of the way. After about 40 minutes’ walk through the bush we arrived at the Bridge to Nowhere. This was built in 1935 and spans the Mangapurua stream. It is 130ft long and 125ft high. It was built with the aim to open up the land for farmers and returning soldiers. For a few years the valley prospered and there was a school. Gradually the area declined due to the remote location and the difficult access. There was a major flood in 1942 and further funding was declined and so the valley closed. We spent some time reading the information boards and taking photos. On our return walk we met by quite a few groups just arriving by jetboat and other canoes. Lunchtime, so we paddled the short distance over the river to the DOC campsite at Mangapurua, found a nice shady spot to relax. The wind got up during the afternoon paddle so we had to work a bit harder to make progress! About 2 hours down the river we arrived at Ramanui campsite. This is a private campsite opposite the DOC site at Tieke Kainga and the Marae. Ramanui was a in a lovely elevated situation and we were delighted that our host came down with his quad bike and trailer to help take our barrels up the hill ……what service!! We got our tents up to dry and enjoyed hot or cold showers and then we went up the hill to the Lodge where we enjoyed a cool drink. All very civilised! Returned later for evening meal and then off to bed as it got dark.

Day 7 Friday – John

Last day of our 5 day Whanganui River journey. 21.5 km to go. Three known rapids to go. As yet we have not fallen out. The notorious 50/50, will we be a victim of the river and her rapids. The river has fallen from when we had started so therefore the boulders are showing more and the current rushes faster between them. It’s 50/50.

It’s 8am on the water. I had lashed the barrels tightly down. The river mist had come in to join us again at about 4am and will not leave us until the sun rises above the slopes. It leaves an eerie feeling, just as in the 1980’s NZ made movie UTU. By 9am the mist had lifted, we were on the homeward straight. 10am we paddled ashore to a rocky beach that a few days ago would have been under water. We watched another canoe and kayak go past us. From the shore you never realised how fast you go on the river. They were going through the 1st of the 3 rapids. I watched and they made it. So did we.

50/50, a bit off hard paddling we’re through. Phew, got close there a one point. The river calms down, goes wide, just have to watch out for the jet boats and those tourists. Canoeist rules move to the right, turn the nose into the wake. Otherwise it might be splash and it won’t be the jet boat. The wake bounces from wall to wall.

Paparoa rapids, the last to go. I can see our landing just ahead at Pipiriki. Oops, I lost my concentration. I’m the one at the back using the paddle as a rudder. The river soon tells me whose boss. We are tossed to the side into an eddy current and we are now pointing up the river. A bit of hard paddling this side then that, we are now back in the river flow heading for our landing. It’s 12 noon, made it, we didn’t fall out not like some of our other companions on this river adventure.

The rest of the day was travelling back to Taumarunui, setting up camp again in the tents, clean clothes, a dip at the local swimming pool. Fish & chips for some and salads for others. Well done Judy. Well organised, not an easy task when it’s on the other side of the ditch and so far to travel.

Day 8 Saturday – Sandy

Forgotten World Adventure Tours Tauramanui

This is a great way to explore rural New Zealand on a disused railway line in either self-driven carts or on rail bikes.

Travelling through tunnels and over bridges to townships that are also forgotten! Spectacular scenery along the way.

Our group did the 10 tunnel tour being bussed to the start, morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea provided.

The day finishing at approximately 4.30pm. We then drove via Lake Taupo and the Desert Road and camped near Taihape for the night.

Day 9 Sunday – Judy

Mangaweka camp site by the Rangitikei river ,depart 7.30am,drive to Fielding where we split into two groups. One heading to Wellington and Tepapa. Our group went to have a cuppa at Hazels sons. Then proceed to Castle Point via a long and winding road from Masterton. It is one of those places that appear on calendars but is more stunning in real life. 2 hours walk about then back to Wellington, drop off the rental car and fly to Timaru.

Thanks to all the team for yet another great trip

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