Day 35: Whakahoro to John Coull The canoes were supposed to arrive at 9am, so I got up at 7:30am, packed my stuff and had a great bacon & egg breakfast at the cafe. The boats came in late, but at about 9:45am the truck finally arrived and due to blocked landing, we carried the boats and all of our food a few meters down to the river. It took another 20minutes until all of our gear was waterproof and safely tied to the canoe.
For the first day, we decided that I should be in control of the canoe and therefore take the rear position. In the upcoming days we than switched at lunch, as paddling in the front is much more demanding. A short security briefing later and with an excited "yes" to the question if we're confident enough to start, we pushed off into the waves of the Whanganui river. Just 5minutes later we were approaching our first smaller rapid, while having a jet boat in our immediate proximity. Having barely started, I steered the boat closer to the shore, making room for the jet boat and waiting for it to pass, before we continued our way south. It didn't took long to get the hang on how to manoeuvre the canoe, but maintaining a straight line wasn't as easy as expected. It was a beautiful and sunny day with a stunning scenery provided by steep cliffs and dense rainforest.
On the way to our designated campsite we passed many other canoeists, including some guided groups that would also stay at the same place, as options for camping were limited in the narrow valley. The official campsite filled up quickly and a total of more than 25 people ended up staying there. Some already totally exhausted from the very first day on the river, especially since paddling and hauling up all the food and equipment barrels to the campsite was quite strenuous. So I ended up helping a small boy and his mom to carry their stuff up the hill.
That big group on our campsite was lead by two guides and so we listened carefully to their planned starting time for the next day and made sure to leave just minutes earlier. Day 36: John Coull to Jo's Campsite The next day was rather short and the scenery quite similar to the first day. Due to the fear of losing my camera on the river I didn't take that many pictures. We stopped at the "bridge to nowhere" for an early lunch and changed positions.
For the rest of the day I would be the canoes "engine" at the front of the boat. The bridge to nowhere was interesting but not really spectacular. It was build after WW1 for soldiers returning from the war, who were given land in this remote part of the country. The bridge helped to connect settlements with the rest of the country, but due to the difficult terrain, these settlements were abandoned just a few years later, and so this bridge leads to nowhere these days.
After just a few minutes at the bridge we hiked back to the canoe and climbed to our landing zone - we had missed the official landing area by some 50m and therefore had to scramble over some rocks back to the boat. The same had happened to two dutch girls who both fell into the dirty river, when trying to get back to their canoe :-).
We arrived at our campsite at 2pm and got some help by Joe and his 4WD to carry our barrels from the landing to the campsite. Our campsite allowed nice views over the river and on the maori campsite Tieka Kainga on the other side of the river.
Our campsite was very spacious and so Alex, me and the two Americans Jack and Olivia found a place without any other non-TA hikers. We spent the rest of the afternoon at Joe's place, playing chess and watching the river.
Day 37: Jo's Campsite to Flying Fox Day 3 on the river promised two challenging river crossings and so Alex and I decided it would be best if I'd be in the driver's seat. The day started rainy and that last nights rainfall made the river slightly faster.
After about 2 hrs on the river we approached the first Ngaporo rapid. The waves were high and the rapid pushed us towards a rock in the middle of the river, but we got through safely and enjoyed the ride. We went to shore and watched Jack and Oliver crossing the rapid before we moved on. Just a minute later the second Ngaporo rapid waited for us, which also pushed us hard to the right and towards the cliffs, but this time we managed it perfectly and just centimetres from the cliffs to current pushed us with great speed forward again, away from the cliffs.
The river than got boring and really slow for quite some time and we had to paddle a lot. The only diversion was created by several jet boats, whose waves threatened to fill our boat with water. In the late morning we than got close to the Autapu rapid. This one wasn't particularly dangerous, but fun. I steered the boat right into it and than found myself in quite shallow water which impeded my control of the boat as I couldnt use my paddle properly. The current pushed the front of our boat hard right and I couldnt stop it, so I decided it would be better to turn completely instead of going through the rapid sideways. Alex and I paddled hard, did a - more or less controlled - "360" in the rapid and made it through safely.
Alex and I than changed positions at Pipiriki and continued downstream. Just after Jerusalem another unmarked rapid showed up. The river was very narrow and allowed limited space for manoeuvring, branches and trees made it even worse and so we headed straight for the center. The rapid wasn't necessarily tricky as it was rather straight, but the waves were so high that i and the boat got soaked and flooded. The amount of water in the canoe made it impossible to continue as we were about to tip with any further move and so we barely made it through the rapid and slowly steered to the next sandbank where we scooped the water out of the boat.
The rest of the day was just hard work. The river remained slow and the increasing headwind completely stopped us without paddling. We put in a lot of effort and paddled hard to get over with that stretch and arrived at the Flying Fox campsite by 5:30pm.
This time Jack and Olivia were the only other people to arrive here. Most canoeists had already left the river at Pupuriki, where the scenery changed from steep and rugged cliffs to a more open and developed landscape. Day 38: Flying Fox to Hiponga Park The next day was rather unspectacular. The scenery in the national park remained beautiful but the lack of rapids or a strong current and the headwind made it a long and strenuous day. It was a pretty good core exercise, but we were already looking forward to hiking again soon.
We passed Downes Hut in the early morning, changed our positions in the boat again and continued downstream towards Hiponga Park, where we should experience the Whanganui tides for the first time.
We arrived at this old and abandoned campsite in the early afternoon and tied our boats to the old steamer landing. At that time we didn't really think about the tides and when Jack went down to the boat again just a few hours later, he found them almost hanging up in the air. We had arrived at high tide and not given enough slack to the rope, with most of the water gone now, the boat was dangling on the pier. We were lucky to realise it early enough, as we might have lost our paddles sooner or later, which were still in the canoe.
Day 39: Hiponga Park to Whanganui The tide schedule for the first day of 2020 wasn't in our favour. We obviously wanted to leave at high tide, so that the outgoing tide would carry us to our final destination.
Unfortunately high tide was scheduled for 2am and 2pm. Alex and I had already decided that we were not going to wait at Hiponga Park until early afternoon and so we got up at 4am, hoping to reach the Whanganui Holiday Park before the tide would turn. This turned out easier than expected.
After a beautiful sunrise and some mystical early morning fog over the river, we arrived in Whanganui just 3 hrs after leaving Hiponga Park and even before the Holiday Park opened. We spent the rest of the day in the Holiday Park and Whanganui incl. a visit to the local cinema to watch the new Star Wars movie.