Whanganui Journey Day 4« Previous post in category · Next post in category »
We had another early start today, but this is not difficult as after the sun sets there is nothing to do but sleep for the next 12 hours until it gets light again. This time I got up in the middle of the night, partly because we were so tired when we got in that we failed to observe protocol with the Canoe and drag it up the bank to tie to a tree. Instead we left it on the shingle beach tied to some driftwood, which would be washed downstream if the river rose. The Canoe was fine, lit brightly by the moon and stars, which are so bright in this part of the world due to the hole in the ozone layer directly above. I spent some time just looking at the stars and listening to the sounds of the wild before heading back to bed.
The morning was very cold, due to the perfectly clear skies, which concerned us because we knew we were facing some larger rapids today and there was a good possibility of capsizing. When we got going however, we were glad of the extra rapids as it made going easier against the wind which was picking up again.
Just before the first big rapid, we pull over onto a shallow area of water to pack away our extra clothing and make sure everything is secure. Our fellow campers come round the corner and we give them warning of the rapids ahead, then follow them closely in the hopes of learning from their mistakes. Around the corner we watch them go over the Ngaporo Rapids, a rather steep and bumpy ride, which they manage without incident. We follow, and find the rapid not as bad as all the hype. The warnings that we will get wet on this rapid seem unfounded as we got no more wet on this rapid than any other. Just after the rapid we pull into the Ngoporo campsite for an early lunch with the other canoe, and later a couple more canoes come downstream and join us.
Setting off again we reach the rapid which last nights warden warned us about. We watch our fellow campers struggle to keep to the left of the rock, and then struggle to get round the bend out of the rapid. I aim the Canoe very far to the left of the rock, away from the main current where the water is really shallow. We slide down the rocks without getting stuck, a bit of a cheat but we didn’t want to risk the whirlpool. Round the next couple of bends, the other Canoes all pass us and charge ahead leaving us far behind. We come onto the second big rapid which we were warned about, the Aitapu rapid.
In the distance we wonder why all 3 canoes ahead of us are heading to the far left of the River. This soon becomes apparent as one by one they drop down out of sight, the second Canoe disappearing completely before reappearing behind the third. Unknown to us, they had capsized on what is the biggest and hardest rapid of the whole river. As we approach the rapid we notice that all the Canoes have pulled up onto the stony bank just below the rapid – a bit of an ominous sign. The water goes through such a narrow channel here that the waves of the rapids get really huge. We start to head down, and I make the huge mistake of trying to steer the Canoe around the worst of the white water. This results in us hitting some hard on our left-hand which flips us over to the right. For a few seconds we teeter on the edge, not sure if we are going to go over or not, then gravity takes hold and we find ourselves in the river. If I were to do it again, I think the best way would be to go straight down the middle through the white water, while keeping your weight low in the Canoe and hoping for the best.
We find ourselves alive holding onto an upside-down canoe on the deep side of the river. We try to push the Canoe across to the stony bank on the right, but are totally helpless as the strong current pushes us downstream. We would have probably been stuck in the water for a while if it wasn’t for a strong, experienced canoeist who was following us down the rapid. He came over to us, invited us to grab a hold of his Canoe and dragged us ashore, where several strong men were able to right the canoe, tip the water out and take a photo of us looking rather bedraggled.
Not surprisingly we lost the gas stove and frying pan, because the company we were canoeing with could not provide any decent means to secure these items as they were too big for any dry bag or waterproof drum. Amazingly though, both water bottles and the map were saved, despite being loose in the Canoe.
The other Canoes set off – everyone having got soaked by the rapids, while we opt for a change of clothes, which we can afford to do when so close to the end. The experienced canoeist reassures us that there are only 2 more rapids left, neither being anywhere near as bad as the Aitapu Rapids.
We manage the final two rapids without incidence, though June very nervous of falling in again, opted to keep her weight low and hold on tight while I steered us through. The last few kilometers give us a good workout, being against the wind once again, but rounding the last corner we are relieved to see the jet boat ramp with everyone waiting for us. Wary of the last rapids – our driver had said on the first day that many people wave when they see him then consequently capsize in the last rapid – we both keep low, but manage them again without incident, though you can feel the Canoe tilt hard to the right on these.
On the landing we find that we are an hour early for our pick-up and spend the time lying in the sun, trying to dry some of our clothes over the Canoe. I went for a dip in the river to cool off as the clear skies are making this a very hot day.
On the way back to our backpackers, we get some fantastic views of Tongariro National Park, with Mount Ruapehu dominating the scene.