Paddling, not walking! - National Park to Palmerston North
Okay, I'll keep this post brief-er. It's been a pretty awesome three weeks of basically just being on 'holiday'. I spent some time in Taupo after coming out of the last section and then moved on to Rotorua; stopping at a geothermal hot pool called Kerosene Creek for a night in between. Rotorua was excellent. I had my mountain bike in storage at the Nomads affiliate hostel (thanks guys!) and spent a few days riding in the Redwoods bike park with Joe, whom I had met at the hostel. If motorcycle touring 'off the beaten track' interests anyone, they should check out Joe's blog!
Moving on, I was lucky enough to find Yeti Tours, a canoe/kayaking hire company, that was still operating during winter! A mate Jordan that I had met a few months earlier at Greenstone hut when I was travelling through the Queestown area, happened to be slowly travelling north with his friend Ben before flying home. They were keen to do the Whanganui River Journey, so we all met up at Ohakune on Saturday the 31st. Before heading off the next day, Gavin from Yeti Tours let us sleep in his storage shed, which was...cold!
The next morning we were taken down to Whakaroro landing along with two French girls, Charlene and Perinne, to start on the Whanganui River. I started off in the kayak which was fun until the afternoon when I became very sore from lack of circulation to the legs and feet. Rapids were small and a good opportunity to get used to handling on the water. We arrived at John Coull hut close to darkness and were accompanied by hunters, Marsh and Flash.
The cloud cover in the valley kept the air at a reasonable temperature overnight. We had a late start after the guys went hard on the Jameson the night before. Charlene offered to take the kayak for a few hours, so myself and the girls set off a few minutes before the guys who were still loading their canoe. The skies cleared up and we had another sunny day by around 11:30am. The river was mostly flat but flowed at a decent pace which meant we didn't have to do much besides steer the canoe. Our excitement for the day was Perinne and I capsizing after hitting a snag in one of the widest spots of the river; maybe my instructions for Perinne to paddle got lost in translation. I accepted that we were going to collide with the tree, but the current was too fast for me to turn the canoe to hit head on in time. Swimming to a bank with the canoe in tow proved almost impossible in the strong flow. Charlene came over in the kayak to take Perinne to a bank while I rode out a rapid by hanging onto the upside down stern. Towards the end of the rapid the water became around thigh deep and I was able to slow down enough to flip the canoe before continuing to ride the current while pushing out water. After a short distance the current pushed me into an eddie where I could stop moving and start bucketing the water out and climb back in. I started to go hypothermic in the water and was shivering uncontrollobly by the time I reached the steep bank where Perinne waited. The water is pretty cold in winter! I had a few things sitting loose in the canoe when we capsized. Out of everything, the only item that got away was one of my dry boxes labelled as 'Moral Support!', which was retrieved by Charlene. Because of the late start and the time used to get warm again, we lost the time needed to take the walk to the Bridge to Nowhere. Not that we could have if we wanted to...a steamboat that takes people upstream had the whole landing blocked so that we couldn't bank. We arrived at the fanciest hut I've seen in New Zealand: Kiete hut just as the sun was setting.
Late start #2 saw us setting off at 11am. This section was meant to be the roughest for river rapids, so Jordan was keen on the kayak as he has experience as a raft guide, and I took the canoe with Ben. The rapids turned out to be not very big at all, and the only excitement we had was Ben and I getting stuck on an underwater shingle bed in the middle of the river, mid rapid. We arrived at Pipiriki a bit late and I was paranoid about not making it to the next campsite before dark. I said goodbye to the guys and girls then set off by myself in one of the canoes. The rapids after Pipiriki turned out to be bigger than I was expecting, but I found it easier to ride them in the canoe by myself. I paddled for 3 hours but unfortunately came about 3km short of my destination campsite, so I was forced to bank and set up camp in a big pebbly clearing next to Whanganui River Rd.
Worried that I wasn't going to make it to my next intended destination, I launched at 8am and paddled all day. The current was a bit faster than the afternoon before and I made much better time than I thought I would. I arrived at Downes hut by 2pm and had the afternoon to chill out with all the spiders living in and around the hut.
The final day on the river involved many paddle strokes. The small rapids were few and far between, and I spent most of the day earning the kilometres. I was on the river by 8am once again, and reached the final campsite by 12pm. I was trying to time myself to catch some of the high tide for the lowest section of the river. The tide flowing in either direction didn't seem to make a difference...I still had to paddle the entire time otherwise I wouldn't move. I arrived at the Wanganui Top 10 Holiday Park by 5:15pm and left to canoe on the riverbank for Gavin to collect. Kate and Tom Brock - the parents of a friend of my cousin (ha!), kindly gave me a place to stay, helped me to do a food resupply and gave me a night tour of the cool little town of Wanganui. Thanks so much!
The following 3 days featured 95km of roads, minus 8km on beach. The camp warden at Koitiata was really kind and let me stay for free because I'm a TA walker. I've switched to trail running shoes now and my knee has been totally fine. Unfortunately, doing 3 days on all hard surfaces with a heavy pack will lead to very swollen feet. I've been staying with Steve and Maria once again as it will be the last time I'll see them. Now that I've literally gone full circle, I'll make my way to National Park and continue north on the trail.
I'm super glad I did get to do the Whanganui River Journey as apart of the TA. I'd recommend that anyone travelling to NZ take the time to do it. The scenery is incredible, like nothing I've seen so far and the whole experience is very relaxing.