15.02.2011 - 19.02.2011 25 °C
I awake bright and early to pack our car and load up on organic veggies. We say our goodbyes to our wwoofer friends before heading north along the west coast. Tomorrow we start a three night/four day canoe trip down the Whanganui River (pronounced Fong-a-newie). It will be an epic journey through deep cut gorges and down some raging rapids, but with our extensive training on the Saugeen River we'll be fine. Today, we have to reach Wades Landing, just north of the town of National Park, where we will be renting our canoe and camping for the night. Our first stop after leaving Harmony Farms is at Papaitonga Scenic Reserve for a quick jaunt through native vegetation to Papaitonga Lake. The “dune lake” formed over time by steady winds building up sand and damming off a stream from the ocean. This is our first walk on the North Island through native forest and its just as stunning as the South Island.
Further up the sandy west coast we reach the town of Whanganui located at the mouth of the largest navigable waterway in NZ, the Whanganui River. We take the winding scenic route up a shingle road beside the river to gaze over the waters that will carry us on our journey. Along the way we come to a slip which has pummelled sandy soils across the road. Luckily there are vehicle tracks through the sand and we barrel through the single lane safely. Finally after umpteen hairpin turns and Julie telling me slow down around every one we reach our destination. Julie checks us in at Wades Landing and they instruct us to have our gear packed into their waterproof barrels and be ready to leave by 8 am. Our essentials pack up nicely into 5 barrels and of course we have the cooler containing more essentials.
In the morning the sun greets us warmly as we load the truck and are driven to the launching point at Whakahoro (pronounced Fa-ka-whoro). With some aid from the driver, we get our canoe packed, we jump in, and our oars hit the water. The Whanganui River is 2 to 3 times larger than the Saugeen and is carved deeply into the soft sandstone/mudstone to form amazing sheer cliffs and waterfalls. I start fishing as soon as we reach a nice deep pool ripe with trout. The trout are huge and very feisty, causing trouble right away. I quickly went through my only two lures loosing 5 trout in the process! So, without any fish, we continue downstream, taking in the lush native fauna that drifts by. The riparian vegetation is made up of broadleaf podocarp forest, with beech trees dominant on ridge tops. We fly through deep rapids with Julie hollering out which way to steer the canoe to avert danger. Julie is frequently splashed by rogue waves rolling over the front of the canoe, so armed with only a bathing suit on we hit all rapids without fear of getting wet.
We pull into Ohauora campsite and are greeted by yellow caution tape across the trail leading up the bank to the camping area. Investigating further, we realize that a slip from the steep slopes above the campsite had destroyed the long drop toilets and left a trail of destruction. Our plan was to camp here but instead we forge on to the next spot, another two hours away. After a steady paddle, since the sun was dropping behind the gorge walls fast, we arrive at John Coull Hut and campsite. This is the where 95% of paddlers spend the night, and since we hadn't hurried our canoe trip in the morning we are one of last to setup camp. Luckily the rain waits to fall until after our tent is up and we are safely under the cooking shelter preparing our long awaited dinner.
The river is sign posted for each campsite and hut making it simple to find the many sites along the river. The campsites are spaced approximately 2 hours apart along the river, and the huts are spaced about 6 hours apart. Each campsite along the river has covered cooking areas with stainless steel counters and plenty of seating. There is a water tank which collects rain water from the roof of the shelter and a hand pump at the sink to provide rain water. It is a great well thought out system and we are thankful for such luxuries.
Through the night rain continues to fall, but with sunrise comes blue skies and another beautiful day on the river. Canoeing is an easy way to meet and chat with others paddling down stream. We canoe beside many couples, one particular pair offer to take pics of us, and us of them, with the plan to exchange e-mails and trade pics. For lunch, Julie spots a quiet pebble beach beside a small waterfall for a peaceful rest before continuing on.
Our days journey takes us alongside cliffs decorated with interesting lines and embedded rocks, and small caves and crevices. We reach The Bridge to Nowhere, where after docking the canoe and hiking for half an hour we find an interesting historic landmark. The bridge was completed in 1936 to provide access to farmland given to soldiers following World War One. But the settlement was abandoned and the bridge now stands deep in woods in the middle of nowhere.
We camp the night across the river from the Bridge to Nowhere at Mangapurua which turns out to be a very quiet choice as all other paddlers continue to Tieke Kainga, the next hut. The only sounds that fill the air as we hungrily eat dinner is the chirping of the fantails and the sound of them flying by catching bugs on their wings. Once the birds have had their fill, we fall asleep to cicadas humming and the river flowing. This is much more soothing than the previous night at the noisy John Coull Hut.
Julie and I set out on the river after a rejuvenating nights accommodation in our tent at Mangapurua. The waters are mirror like reflecting their surroundings, as we calmly make our way past trickling falls and waterfowl diving for breakfast. Cliff walls sandwich us in at times while paddling steady through the still waters. We reach Tieke Kainga, the full service hut and Maori Pa site to relax while having lunch. A Pa is a Maori meeting house used for funerals and weddings, among other community celebrations. They are sacred places which you must be invited into and you are not allowed to take photos within them.
Back on the Whanganui, we have another two hours of paddling to get to Ngaporo. This section of river is deep and slow with few rapids, so paddling is a must. We take turns paddling while the other lays back for a siesta. Eventually we hear the water roaring and get ready for some fast waters. We burst through the waves, taking on heaps of water and drift ashore to our last nights campsite, Ngaporo. Here we meet Peter, Dave and Bill, kiwis from Auckland and Northland New Zealand. They welcome us warmly to the site. They are in their mid 60's and drinking whiskey while bbqing up a feast of lamb steaks. After much conversation, Dave, from Kerikeri, invites us to drop into his home for a visit and even offers us his home to use as a base for exploring the Northland area. We have fun joking around with these old guys before watching another brilliant sun fall behind the forest on top of the clay cliffs lining the river.
We set out on our last day with thoughts of one last major rapid we must encounter named “Drop Scene”. With adrenaline pumping we make our way to the much anticipated finale after first stopping at a huge overhanging cliff and a secluded waterfall. Approaching the massive rapids, we dig in our paddles and Julie hollers directions to sneak down the right hand side out of the major waves that could swamp our canoe. We let out a cry of joy and relief after conquering the Drop Scene, now back to the lazy river that we know and love.
Today's short two hour paddle comes to an end in Pipiriki where we wait for Wades Landing to shuttle us back to their home base. It was an amazing 87.5 km journey through dense wilderness on a picturesque river with my best friend. We've had a blast and encourage others to travel down the Whanganui by canoe. With the remainder of the day, we hop in our car and head to Turangi, the trout fishing capital of the world. Here we will wwoof at Awhi (pronounced a-fee) Farms.
Along the way we pass the Tongariro National Park, home to the ominous Mt. Doom and Mt. Tongariro, two active volcanos. We have plans to hike the Tongariro Crossing in the coming days and hope for clear skies, since currently it is shrouded in cloud. It's Saturday night and the guys from Awhi Farms (Bowman, Urban and Alex) are out selling wood fired pizzas by the road to make some cash. They have made a cob oven from clay and mounted it on a trailer to tow wherever pizzas are in demand. We have a great dinner of pizza before retiring for the night in our tent at the back of the farm.