A four day adventure down one of New Zealand's longest and most historical rivers.
Tuesday 29 December 2009 - Friday 1 January 2010
The Whanganui River is one of the New Zealand's most historical rivers as it has been used as a major transport artery into the centre of the North Island for hundreds of years. It is navigable for about 250 km from its mouth at Wanganui to Taumaranui. Note the different spelling of the river and the city. This argument has been going on for some time now. The Whanganui River is included in the Great Walks of New Zealand (even though it is a river trip).
There are several companies providing equipment for hire and also offering guided tours with all the necessary equipment. This is a trip that I had thought about for some time and now that I had the time between Christmas and New Year, I decided to do it. My lack of experience with canoes and given that I was travelling by myself dictated a guided tour with a group.
Day 1 (29 December) - We left Ohakune at sparrow's (7.00 am) so that we could load everything up and drive to the river at Whakahoro. The drive to the river took about an hour or so and followed the main highway to Raurimu (site of the of the most amazing bits of railway engineering in the country) and then a high quality goat track for 50 km to the river. The weather was miserable and wet, but it cooled things down and so was not much of an issue at all.
Our equipment was Canadian canoes with single bladed paddles and a waterproof barrel each. The two guides had barrels, chilly bins full of food, wine and beer for four days, tents, cooking equipment and utensils, safety equipment and so on.
The camp site was at Ohauora, 27 km from the entry point. It is a typical Department of Conservation camp site with cooking shelter, rain water tanks and long drop toilet facilities well away from the river. Tents were pitched and an excellent dinner served.
Our transport for the next four days.
The junction of the Whakahoro and Whanganui rivers.
The lunch stop at Mangapapa.
All loaded up after lunch. Ben (centre) was one of the guides.
The kids deciding to jump from the ledge.
The camp site at Ohauora.
The group consisted of two families from Auckland travelling together, including three teenagers and a nine year old. She loved it. There was also a couple from Palmerston North. Along with the two guides and the son of one of the guides, this made a total of 14 people in seven canoes slowly wandering their way down the river.
Day 2 (30 December) - The weather was much better, but it was very windy. With the wind coming upstream and you trying to paddle downstream, it was very tiring. It felt sometimes that you were being blown backwards upstream. We eventually paddled for 20 km from Ohauora to the camp site at Mangawaiiti. The lukewarm beer tasted good (just) after a hard day slogging into the wind.
The view down river from the camp site landing.
The lunch stop at John Coull hut. The sign at the top of the bank (top right) was the height of the river in the 2000 floods. The river is very prone to flooding and can rise very quickly due to its headwaters being on the side of Mt Tongariro in the Central Plateau. We were lucky in that respect and the river actually dropped overnight.
Just another stream entering the river.
The camp site at Mangwaiiti. Even tough it is a National Park, small fires are permitted. They keep away the bugs as well.
A typical DOC shelter, with dinner being prepared. There are two large water tanks behind the shelter that catch water from the roof. It is filtered (sort of) to get the bulk of the leaves etc out of it. Kerry (at right) produced some superb dinners and there seemed to be a never ending supply of food coming out of the chilly bins three times a day.
Day 3 (31 December) - The early morning fog was in but it soon burnt off for another glorious day. Our first stop was 9 km down river at the Mangapurua Stream. This is where the Bridge to Nowhere is situated. This is a monument to failed dreams by WWI returning soldiers and broken promises by the government of the time. Returning soldiers were given land in the valley so they could develop farms. However, the steepness and unsuitability of the land and the sheer remoteness of the area drove many of them off the land. The final farm was abandoned in 1942 once all government funding for the upkeep of the only road into the area was stopped. The bridge itself is about 100 feet above the stream and is as solid as the day it was completed in June 1936. The farms have all reverted back to native forest and scrub lands with only a few reminders that people actually lived there.
There are a couple of trails leading from both the Whanganui River and the Mangapurua Stream leading to the bridge. It is a very pleasant 45 minutes walk to the bridge along what was the only road into the valley.
Early morning fog.
The entrance to the Mangapurua Stream with one of the many jet boats that travel up the river.
The Bridge to Nowhere. The are no roads leading to it anymore, just overgrown tracks.
One of the deserted farm houses in the valley.
A pink foxglove.
Another view of the bridge.
The view upstream which is 125 feet below the bridge.
The waterfall at our lunch stop.
After the walk and lunch, we carried for another 10.5 km to The Lodge. This is a private hotel / camp ground and has hot showers and a bar(!) However, due to a booking cock up, they did not have rooms for all of us so some of us had to put up our tents out in the camp ground out the back. Again Kelly cooked up a storm. It was also New Year's Eve so we had a few drinks, a few fireworks (provided by the owner of the lodge) and settled in to see in the New Year.
Day 4 (1 January) - A later start due to the odd sore head. The river started to widen out as we canoed our way down the final 21.5 km from the lodge to Pipiriki. The river banks got lower and right at the end of the trip we emerged into farm land. The river was much busier due to the number of jet boats taking tourists up to the Bridge to Nowhere. Sort of spoilt the peace and quiet. The three biggest rapids are right at the end of the trip, Ngaporo, Autapu and the Paparoa rapids. After three days of practice we managed to keep upright, although I managed to get wet for the first time in three days, this being within view of the taking out point at Pipiriki. From there we were taken back to Ohakune for our final farewells.
The view upstream from the lodge.
The view down stream from the lodge.
The Tieke Marae directly across the river from the lodge.
Summary - This was a great trip. The silence along the river is magical and you are really in the middle of nowhere. There are no roads, only the river. No electricity, no mobile phones, nothing at all, except the river, the forest and wildlife (birds mostly, and a few bugs). The lodge gets all its supplies delivered by jet boat. The trip is not an adrenalin filled adventure. The rapids are very gentle, grade 1 and 2 only. It can get a bit bouncy if the river has risen due to rain upstream but we had nothing like this.
The two guides, Kerry and Ben were great. They have both done the trip many times and were very knowledgeable, safety concious, good cooks and all round good guys.