Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Ninjas assemble: Whanganui River Journey

After our last Great Walk excursion, Lake Waikaremoana, we started planning the Whanganui River Journey. It is a 145km paddle down from Taumarunui to Pīpīriki with a few sections of class 2 rapids and a lot of flat sections. As we have been planning this since last October, we have a lot of logistics to figure out. How many people were going? How many nights? Were there huts available? Or do we camp? What gear did people need? Which company to rent gear from? Would they transport our kayaks? So we started another legendary email thread.

There ended up being 8 of us on the trip as Banu had to pull out late because her parents decided to visit. So there was a large contingent of Americans with Raf, Laura, Beth, Peter, and I. Followed up with the 2 Kiwis, Mike and Paula. Rounding out our group was Rachel representing Ireland. Little did we know that Irish would be descending upon the river in force. We encountered no less than 4 large groups of her people. Good thing they didn't her all the grief we gave her over the long weekend. Our itinerary involved us camping each night and paddling from Ohinepane to Whakahoro on Day 1. Day 2 was Whakahoro to Mangawaiiti. Day 3 was Mangawiiti to Ngaporo. With the final day being Ngaporo to Pipiriki. So it would be roughly 123km with a short 5.4km return walk to the Bridge to Nowhere. The journey down the river was an awesome experience even with the weather not being the greatest. We were treated to some pretty epic views on the journey: early in the morning there was the mist rising revealing the fern and pine trees. All day long we were treated to ducks and birds flying around, but not a fish to be seen. With all the rain, the waterfalls were in full display.

We finalized our plans the week before Easter with hiring 3 canoes and booking transport for our 2 bigger kayaks. We met up with the rest of the Ninjas at Taumarunui Canoe Hire late Thursday Evening. We ate at a little take away spot in town with Mike and Paula, that had some pretty decent onion rings and a fried chicken and homemade stuffing. We had to wait for Rachel and her crew to arrive as there was some paperwork to be done, but while we waited we got to play with 2.5 week old kittens. Matter of fact one of the boys working there just picked one up and put it in Beth's hand without uttering a word. All I heard was the little mewing escaping it open maw and I saw Beth as she looked around partially dumbfounded at the kid's back while starting to pet the kitten and shrugging her shoulders.

That evening, we camped at Taumarunui. The next morning we were driven to Ohinepane after given a very lengthy briefing. Beth and I had used this company back in December when we did day 1 with her parents and our briefing was significantly shorter. We didn't get on the water until close to Noon and we had 37km to paddle. Beth and I paddled our kayaks and the others were paired off as couples, except for Rachel and Peter. After getting the gear loaded and the 'Ok' from the staff that they could paddle the canoe effectively enough we went through our first section of swift water. We paddled for about a couple hours and then pulled over at Poukaria for lunch. This campsite is right after the remains of a car in the river. Beth ended up getting stung in the arm while we were eating lunch. It was low enough that it didn't rub on her life jacket while paddling. We pulled into Whakahoro after about 5:30 hrs and we had to navigate a very steep, muddy, and precariously placed landing spot to unload our gear before walking another 400m to the campsite. This crazy landing experience would be the start of a trend for the remaining nights. This campsite happened to have horses roaming around the site which were not too impressed with us. If it wasn't the first night, we might have ventured next door for some cafe food and a $4 shower. Instead we made the food we brought with to lessen our load. Which Peter and Rachel needed to do a fair bit as they brought a lot of fresh produce to eat.

Leaving Whakahoro was probably more difficult than unloading as we had a little bit of rain overnight and the landing seemed even muddier. We ended up paddling 47km which was the longest section we would be doing this trip. Raf had to bandage his hand as he had gotten a blister on his thumb. It ended up ripping open so Laura would do medical each night. A few others had sore hands, but I don't think anyone else had as much issues as Raf. The landing at Mangawaiiti was pretty gnarly. It was pretty packed when we showed up and it was a slick, muddy mess with a 5 minute walk up to the top of the cliff. We ended up bringing each canoe into a small section that allowed for the easiest place to unload which was still difficult. Then we moved them out of the way. While we were doing this, we were told by another camper that the water in the tanks was very low and that we should use only what was necessary. We set up our tents where there was available space, which meant we were spread out as the camp seemed pretty full. While eating dinner, the rain started to bucket down and a bunch of people showed up. There was a group of 4 Irish guys and a group of 10 from Auckland. Some of which thought they could wait out the rain before setting up their tents, but that wasn't to be. It rained late into the evening.

We left Mangawaiiti early to beat the crowds at the Bridge To Nowhere, which surprisingly also had a crappy landing. We had very little room to try to tie up and it was very muddy. For being a tourist destination with lots of jet boats the landing was very rustic. We walked the 2.7 km to the Bridge To Nowhere, where Rachel was stung in the leg. We took in the view and read about the history of the bridge before turning around and starting to see a bunch of people being dropped off by jet boat and a dozen of canoes showing up. We left the cluster that was the loading area and went down to Tīeke Kāinga to eat lunch. There is a marae here that we chose not to visit. Instead we rather get to our camp site at Ngaporo earlier and try to get some stuff dried out. While we were leaving, the jet boat operators played the game 'Can I knock the paddlers off their boat?', but they didn't win. On our way to Ngaporo we saw a bunch of bikers being picked up from the end of the Bridge To Nowhere. The part we walked didn't seem to be a great trail as it was wet clay and a steep drop off on the side.

Arriving at Ngaporo appeared significantly different from the previous other landings. In the place of the mud and steep terrain there was a loose jumble of various sized loose rocks. The comments about it were how many twisted ankles we were going to sustain. I told everyone who said that to shut up. Beth forbid me from walking on the rocks more than necessary. So I was in charge of setting up the tent and making food. The camp site was the best of the bunch. We had a spectacular view and there were very few other people there. Rachel, Paula, Mike, and Peter went for a dip in the brown river, it was up a meter with all the rain we had received the week before. We had a relaxing night and a lazy morning as we only had 9km to Pipiriki, where our pickup was scheduled at 13:30. On the way down, we encountered several jet boats. They were banking on someone going over during the rapid sections, but we didn't give them the pleasure. Instead of waving back, they would raise their tablet in front of their face and either take photos or video. We (Mike and Paula) fell over out of sight from everyone except for our group. They lost only 1 water shoe in the ordeal. So the 50/50 rapid only claimed 1 out of 5, but Peter and Rachel took on a lot of water as well. Mike and Paula modeled the latest in low profile canoes until we were able to get them to the nearest beach and get rid of all the water they took on board.

Arriving at Pipiriki we were surrounded by some of the 92 other people that Taumarunui Canoe Hire sent out over Easter weekend as well as all the other outfitters. Trucks pulling trailers started to come down the boat ramp and load up gear, but they were slow to pull out and we our loading didn't start until about 2. We didn't leave until 3ish and we had 2 hrs back to Taumarunu, but we got to watch the movie 2012 while eating banana muffins with chocolate icing and chips while drinking orange juice or water. Once we got back to Taumarunui it was a mad rush to find our gear and boats and get them loaded. After that we met up with the Ninjas for a bite to eat at the same take away place. We then played host to Peter, Paula, and Mike for the evening as they took a detour on their drive back to Auckland. Rachel, Raf, and Laura headed straight back as Rachel had to work like me on Tuesday morning.

Now we are planning our next adventure: The Nugget. This is a multi-sport race that we participated in last year. While on the trip we hashed out who would be doing which event.

There will be some pictures and possibly a video posted so we can remember and share this trip soon.

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