Watery Whanganui adventure

Taumaranui 1036km – Whanganui 1362km (day 59-69)

Be careful what you wish for….this rang in my ears for our Whanganui River trip. I had been campaigning for a few years to do the Whanganui Great Walk (which is the canoe trip). I pictured languid water, swimming holes, green gorges filled with sunshine and birdsong. Our December TA experience – not quite like that.

After 2 nights recovery in Taumaranui, where the Friday night RSA visit stood out as a highlight, we were ready to start our 8 day canoe to Whanganui. Yes, 8 days! This section of the TA has options, and we opted out of the Tongariro walking section, deciding instead to canoe from Taumaranui to Whanganui. We knew it would be long, butt-numbing, and potentially boring, but seemed like the best option for us.

My advice, if your river trip is delayed a day by torrential rain and river in flood zone, reconsider your options. Do not let the ‘she’ll be right’ kiwi operators fool you. Yes, near flood means fewer rapids (big tick), but it also means no swimming in mud coloured water, faster rapids, and no beaches or river banks to stop at. (all big crosses). Still, that is hindsight for you!

After another day in Taumaranui, the highlight being running into the indefatigable Kay Chapman (from Nelson, who we are running into in random places since TA day 1). After a second safety briefing, and 5mins in the canoe, we set off. 2 canoes disappeared happily down river. We laughed with Mel and Tyler, fellow TAers, as a single canoer sauntered past us. We were laughing and keen to enjoy the famed Whanganui River.

Honestly, the first spill was quite fun. We both kept hold of our paddle and canoe, and kicked to shore. A third of people tip on the first day, so we are in good company. Right the canoe, bail out water, stop shaking, all good. The rest of the day was fun. Mainly farmland around, a few more rapids, all good. Lovely campground at Poukaria, birds and sunshine.

We set off the next morning slightly nervous, but optimistic for a nice day on the water. After a couple of mild rapids, I asked for a break, to let my nerves and hands calm down. Wrong move. The harmless rapid beside our stop, was just waiting to eat our canoe!

We didn’t manage to enter the channel straight on, so a submerged tree put a halt on our canoeing. I got sucked under and out down the rapid, still clutching the paddle. A welt of bruises on my thigh testify to the force of the rapid. After swimming manically, I reach the beach about 100m down from rapid. Pete was stuck by canoe in the rapid, trying to shift our 5m long fully loaded, Canadian canoe. We can’t even talk, the noise separating us is immense. Various outcomes cross my imagination, none good.

But none, also, featured Dylan, the strong quiet Frenchman in the solo canoe. He rounded the corner, I flagged our distress, he pulled up above the rapid, then risked himself to help Pete! His strength enabled them to shift the canoe right, and soon Pete was hurtling down the rapid, holding the canoe.

Drag to shore, right canoe, bail madly, sit, shake, calm. Everything was ok. But could have been so different. We recovered enough to keep going, but not enough to relax, and we got off the river after 5 days, at the first chance we had.

John Coull hut and campsite are amazing facilities with a ‘flock’ of Kereru to entertain you, and an evening show of shirt tailed bats. The fellow paddlers were great too. Beer and camping at Ramanui was excellent, and the campground lady at Pipiriki gifted Pete a bottle of wine for his birthday. The gorges are stunning, Bridge to Nowhere just mind-boggling. Cut off from everything for 5 days was somehow revitalizing. What a magic part of the country. Do see it for yourself. Just maybe not in December, the day after a flood.

That rapid doesn’t look tough……
Beautiful camping
Our loaded canoe