Wanganui River Journey

17-24 March 2012

Saturday. With the airport as our meeting place, right from the beginning this trip felt different from the usual. We were to be a group of sixteen but those bringing their own kayaks travelled by car and ferry.

At Palmerston North Airport the ten fliers met most of the others so we only needed to hire one extra car to get the group to Taumarunui. While settling in to our cottage and cabins we contemplated the BBQ and the warm sunny evening. Some preferred to eat out but the majority enjoyed the evening outdoors with BBQ food and drink from the local supermarket. Later we watched the instruction video supplied by Blazing Paddles then listened to some very useful advice from our experienced kayakers, until we realised that the “what to do if…” scenarios were making our novice kayakers more and more nervous.

Sunday. The next morning we tackled the challenge of fitting all our gear into dry bags then squeezing the bags through small hatches into the kayaks. Three couples opted for Canadian canoes and had barrels to hold their gear. As they had spare space they helped out the kayakers and no precious liquid supplies had to be left behind. Late morning the fleet set off from Cherry Grove. The fleet was: three 2-seater Canadian canoes, four in their own single kayaks, five in single hired kayaks and then there was Geoff. Geoff in his Cataraft sat high up in a comfy chair in the middle of his raft, supported by two inflatable yellow pontoons aka “bananas”. The first day was not uneventful as many of us took an unplanned swim while getting used to our boats. Luckily the weather was warm and sunny. The water was fairly shallow with a lot of rapids and due to the number of bailouts it took longer than expected to reach our campsite at Ohinepane, 22km down-river.

Monday, and wehad a deeper river with more bush alongsideand numerous waterfalls. No, we weren’t going over falls, they were from side-streams joining the Wanganui. Some of us had fun attempting an extremely close approach to the Ohura falls. A cake for morning tea was also a highlight. We had rain that night but not until well after we’d set up camp at Maharanui, and it stopped early enough in the morning for tents to dry. (31km)

Tuesday. Today’s morning teawas at a cafe above the Retaruke River. Access required a hard paddle 500m upstream, followed by a bush-bash to reach the track which then headed steeply uphill—but they did have coffee and even Ice cream if you got in quickly. The river banks formed a steep bush-covered gorge with numerous streams and waterfalls cutting their way down to the river. The steep banks afforded shelter from the wind much of the day except when the river lined up with the wind direction and we had to paddle hard into a head wind. We camped at Ohauora and again it rained at night, but not a problem as all campsites had cooking shelters. (31km)

Wednesday. Anotherparticularly scenic day with a slightly shorter time spent paddling. After setting up camp at Mangapurua in the afternoon we piled into the three canoes to cross the river for the walk to the Bridge to Nowhere. This was not easy as we had to paddle upstream as well as across the river. All made it but each managed the crossing in different ways. (29 km)

Thursday. The overnightrain raised the river a considerable amount so that the boats we had left high and dry were floating by morning—thankfully all properly tied up. We had a late start that morning as we had to load floating boats. A short day on the water, we reached Ramanui campsite for lunch. As our leader was at the back of the fleet almost everyone missed the campsite and had to paddle back upstream, not an easy exercise but we all made it without mishap. By now we were averaging just 1 capsize per day and were making good time on the river. In the afternoon we walked up the Matemateonga track to the hut (we felt we should do some tramping on the trip). The top part of the track was unmaintained and became a bit of a bush-bash. On the way back to camp we stopped at a lodge for a few cold beers and two of us even availed ourselves of a shower. (11 km)

Friday. Rain overnight swelled the river even more but it wasn’t a problem, in fact, it meant we moved a little quicker and there were fewer rapids to contend with. This was the only day that we had rain while on the water and it was mostly very light with only brief heavier showers. We reached Pipiriki before lunch and had not long pulled all our boats out of the water when Blazing Paddles arrived to transport us back to Taumarunui. That evening we all enjoyed an excellent meal out. (21km)

Saturday. We had a leisurely drive with morning tea in Taumarunui, lunch in Fielding and a little time to explore Palmerston North before catching our flight back to Christchurch.

Capsizes, Wipe-outs and Shenanigans

The following incidents occurred over five days of kayaking and aren’t related chronologically as my memory isn’t that good. For the same reason the author cannot guarantee that the following is either accurate or complete. To prevent embarrassment, all “on (or in) water” incidents will be related using the name of the boat. Those who weren’t on the trip can have fun trying to match people with boats.

We set off led by experienced kayakers Jade and the Yellow Penguin with Grey Hunter, Red Rescuer and Big Yellow as Tail-end Charlies. Iona was our first casualty when she flipped in the second rapids. Iona’s captain slid out but managed to maintain a hold on both paddle and boat. While a camera was destroyed, a lost hat was later retrieved from the water.

Beulah’s paddler did lose her hat but her shoes were retrieved—croc’s float well. Beulah was talking to Eileen and didn’t see a large rock until too late. Forgetting the advice of the night before—lean towards the rock—Beulah’s person was dumped out but was ably assisted by Red Rescuer. Unwilling to float through the rocky rapids in shallow water, she struggled against the swift current and slimy rocks to reach the opposite shore then walked barefoot along the bank until past the rapids where Big Yellow (having heroically rowed across the river and upstream) ferried her back to Beulah.

Faith was notable for the most unintended swims—four. In one amusing rescue Faith’s driver parted company with both boat and kayak—but never fear—Big Yellow to the rescue. Unfortunately she was unable to mount the throne and had to be towed to shore instead. Faith also managed to turn upside down near the shore in shallow, calm water. No one is sure how this was managed but at least she was able to self-rescue.

Betty got stuck on two rocks with no way out but to eject and accept Red Rescuer’s assistance to reach shore. Margaret also got stuck on rocks twice but managed to self-rescue once. Even the Yellow Penguin strayed too far into shallow water and had to be assisted by the Big Bananas.

The best rock story goes to Penelope. Thinking they were on a tramping trip, Penelope made a summit attempt in a canoe. The front end of the canoe rode up the rock leaving the forward paddler hanging in air until the heavier weight at the back slid the canoe backwards off the rock, surprisingly without a wipe out. Unfortunately there is no photographic evidence of this feat but we do have video evidence of the style with which Penelope’s rear paddler twirled his paddle.

Our only pile-up occurred when Faith the kayak was mown down by Moira a canoe. All three ended up in the water. Luckily this was the only canoe capsize as it takes some time to pump the water out. Two shoes were lost, unfortunately one from each paddler.

Strange to watch was a kayak (Iona) and a canoe (Moira) suddenly heading back “upstream”. Such unusual behaviour gave those at the back of the fleet ample warning to both avoid the whirlpool and to pull over to watch the show.

Also amusing was Beulah kayaking up a side stream thinking the hard work was because of the current, not realising that Margaret was getting a free tow. Revenge was had later when Margaret seemed to be paddling hard and making no headway. If anyone had thought to look around they would have found Eileen holding fast to Margaret with one hand and a rock with the other. This small war of Margaret versus Beulah and Eileen further escalated into several incidents where one craft snuck up behind another to cause mischief.

Casualty list: 1 watch, 1 hat, 2 shoes, 1 camera

And the award goes to....

For assisting the most rescues Red Rescuer

Main River guides Yellow Penguin and Jade

Oddest Craft Big Yellow aka The Throne aka Double D aka Two bananas etc etc

First capsize Iona

Most Capsizes Faith

Slowest recovery after capsize Beulah

Only hire kayak to NOT capsize Eileen

Only canoe that DID capsize Moira

Most near misses without capsizing Margaret

Collision leading to a double capsize Moira and Faith

Most artistic use of a paddle Penelope’s rear paddler

Highest summit attained in a canoe Penelope

Standing up in a canoe Margaret’s front paddler

For not doing anything silly enough to get an award – Betty and Grey Hunter

Thanks to all the cooks. With weight not an issue we enjoyed food somewhat flasher than the usual tramping fare. Finally many thanks to Mary Hines for organising this once in a life time trip. We all appreciated the huge amount of work involved and were impressed that she even managed to order great weather.

The paddlers were: Mary and Tim Hines, Geoff and Mary Korver, Gary Huish, and Margot Bowden, Ron & Susan Keeble, Mary McKeown, Pauline McFarlane, Geoff Price, Darcy Mawson, Jillian Wilson, Yvette So, Pauline McFarlane, Kevin Hughes, Heather Murray. (HM)