Monday, November 17, 2008

Whanganui River Journey

The Whanganui River

When is a Great Walk not a Great Walk? When it is a Great Paddle. Get it? Get it? C'mon guys, it is funny (that's for you John Bain). Honest. OK, maybe not, but it is true. There are nine Great Walks in New Zealand which just means the DOC (Department of Conservation) provides some extra facilities along the way. Some of the huts even have propane stoves ready to go for your cooking pleasure. It is pretty neat. The extra facilities allows people who might not otherwise go camping and exploring to still see the great outdoors.

Shady spots on the river are good spots!

Lush forests lined the river.

This Great Walk, the Whanganui Journey, was planned almost three months ago by B-Nelson. He had just started doing float trips before he left Oregon for the Ice and really wanted to do this one. He just contacted a bunch of winterovers to let him know he was doing and would love the company. Lots of people wanted to do it, but only seven made it. Some got stuck on the ice. Some went to Tonga. Some probably just went home. Brian, Katie, Rachel, Joselyn, Deneen, Dave, and I went in a van down by the river.

Lunch break at the falls.

Joselyn takes a quick refresher or Raja is just being mean . . .

This trip into the outdoors started like so many other trips down here for me. We took a very long bus ride from Wellington up to Ohakune. It was raining and drizzling the entire way up. I was once again worried that I was bringing the bad weather along. Luckily, there were enough people along with good weather karma to balance me out. We had 4 great days of sunshine and one that was a little overcast.

The Whanganui isn't always the deepest, but we never had to do a portage.

B-Nelson, our esteemed river guide.

To keep everything dry, we rented waterproof barrels. We filled them up with our stuff and left our bags and unnecessary gear behind. It was so nice to not carry everything even though the canoe and water were doing all the carrying. That is the beauty of the float trip. Unfortunately, I didn't adapt very well. I still packed really light, when I should have been packing every luxury in the book. We had three canoes, one kayak, nine barrels, and one cooler. I think we could have taken at least two more barrels. Next time, I guess.

Great rock formations.

Another lazy day in the kayak.

The first day started around nine in the morning from Cherry Grove, Taumarunui. The outfitter drove us up with all our gear and we set out. I think we encountered our first set of rapids within the first hour. Luckily, the rapids over the entire journey were only Class 1 and 2 rapids (out of 5) so they weren't too big. Brian learned to read rapids while his friend was training to become a raft guide so he led us through safely for the first couple days until we all got comfortable.

Formation Alpha Lazy to conserve energy

The view of the morning light from our second camp site.

By the end of the trip, I think everyone had taken a turn steering the canoe, powering the canoe, and kayaking. It was great. I learned to steer and kayak this trip. Lots of fun. By the end of it, everyone was so comfortable that Brian had stopped always leading and we were trying to find ways to make the rapids more exciting. I guess saying that I learned to kayak might be generous. I did kayak for the first time and I did go through some rapids without rolling, but I rarely was going in a straight line.

The other view from our second campsite.

Rachel explores a tributary of the Whanganui River.

Doing this trip in such a large group was a learning experience for me. I'm used to waking up entirely too early, waiting around a little bit for everyone to wake up, and then packing up and hitting the trail by 8am at the latest, maybe 9am. After our first night on the river, we didn't leave until 9:45am. We managed to push that back to almost 11am on our next to last night. Everyone would wake up early, but they would just move really slowly to eat, to pack up, and to do just about everything. On the first day it happened, I was wicked impatient. I thought them packing up meant it was almost time to go. It wasn't and I was ready to get going. Of course, if we got going, we'd just have nothing to do at the other end when we pulled into our campsite so I had no reason to be impatient except to maybe dodge the hottest part of the day.

More great rock formations

More river. (I get sick of writing captions half way through. Can you tell?)

My solution was to not expect that when people woke, ate breakfast, or put away their tents that we'd be leaving anytime soon. Even when we got to the canoes, I had to expect that we wouldn't be leaving anytime soon (there were rocks to skip!) I would workout in the morning when everyone was still asleep or just getting moving. Then, I would just grab a book and didn't really move to do much of anything until everyone else was almost ready to go. Someone asked me why I couldn't just hang out and chat. That makes sense, but that it isn't the way I work. If I just read on my own and socialized a little, I was just fine and that set the tone for a great day for me. After our second day, I didn't have a problem which was great. I might have even been appreciating 'river time.'

Katie tries not to kill Barud. Barud just laughs.

The Bridge to No Where

The river passed a weird tourist spot called the Bridge to No Where. In 1917 after World War I, New Zealand veterans were given the right to homestead plots of land in the area. Many of those families moved to the area because it meant cheap land and a chance to change their lives. Unfortunately, their main access was by the river and a small suspension bridge. The government promised to build them a bigger bridge, but was slow to deliver. The living was hard, the isolation was difficult, and the land wasn't great for farming. By the time the government built the new bridge in 1936 all but a few families had moved away from the area. After a major flood hit the area in 1942 , the government suggested the rest of the families move out as well. They did. The second bridge still stands today and it effectively goes no where.

The Tieke Kainga hut under a vanilla sky.

More great waterfalls.

Our final night was at a Maori hut. It wasn't very different from any of the other huts, but it did have a second building that they use for holding Maori ceremonies. Unfortunately, those welcoming ceremonies are run when larger groups are at the hut. Seeing the craftsmanship was still great and it might have even made up for the roosters and cows making so much noise at the farm across the river.

Some farmland near the end of the fourth day.

Even more great rocks.

On the last day, we were going to cross our most exciting set of rapids. An ex-guide told us about a wave train in them and that you could use an eddy pool to keep running them again and again if you were ambitious. I don't thin anyone realized we were at them until it was too late to ditch our gear or prepare. We just took the line that the leaders have so much fun blasting through. It looked like they were on a roller coaster ride when the bounced up and down so much.

Katie and Deneen hit the last big rapid, part 1!

Katie and Deneen hit the last big rapid, part 2!

Somehow, I ended up steering us through the rapids successfully. We took on a lot of water, but didn't get swamped like the canoe in front of us. I'm pretty sure we did the exact same thing as them, but just got a little lucky. It was kind of fun to watch them slowly sink in the eddy area. Rachel stopped bailing because she was laughing so hard. Joselyn started bailing with her hands. Then, Rachel finally started bailing when the water was coming over the gunwales and it was too late. So much great laughter. Instead of bailing my boat out which was also in danger of tipping, I got my camera out to take one great picture of Rachel and Joselyn.

Raja and Joselyn swamped their canoe after the last big rapid.

After we got all the canoes emptied of water, a few people took second runs through the rapids. I just ate lunch from the side of the rapids and enjoyed the view. I had barely made it through the first time and didn't think I would make it a second time. After that, there was only another hour or two before we got to the end of the journey in Pipiriki. We continued to meander until the end and then the trip was abruptly over. We got there late so we had to quickly pull in, load up our gear, and leave the site. It was a little rushed, but extra time to contemplate wouldn't have been anymore useful than when I was rushed off the Ice.

The end the river (for us).

The Wanganui River journey from Taumarunui to Pipiriki is 145 km river.
  • Day 1: Cherry Grove, Taumarunui to Poukaria campsite — 36 km
  • Day 2: Poukaria to Mangapapa campsite — 32 km
  • Day 3: Mangapapa to John Coull Hut and campsite — 26.5 km
  • Day 4: John Coull Hut to Tieke Kainga (hut and campsite) — 29 km
  • Day 5: Tieke to Pipiriki — 20.5 km


  1. You had Old Town canoes!! Lookslike a great voyage.

  2. Have you thought about traveling on your own? Since you have such a problem with the laid back schedule of others maybe you would be more comfortable with them gone. Being 30-something and still learning and adapting how to be around normal people must get tiresome. Who likes having to accommodate a hyper active self proclaimed better than you?

  3. You must be a new reader. If you read back a bit in the blog archives, you'll see that I travel alone regularly. In fact, my next post is also about me traveling alone. Welcome to a new loyal reader.

  4. I don't know how I missed reading this post ... I only caught it now.

    What incredible views of the river! I love kayaking but only have the time for a day trip through a certain fork...Now I think I have to make a multi-day trip out of it! :-)

    I'm glad you had a blast learning to kayak. You have good reflexes and learn quickly so I'm sure you did quite well, albeit not being able to row straight yet. Hope you take up another kayaking trip soon! :-)