Whanganui River Journey

We are two people who like ticking things off. The sort of people who will put ‘write to-do list’ at the top of a to-do list, so we can tick it off when we have finished. So, obviously, when we read about New Zealand’s nine ‘Great Walks’, we thought we had better start ticking them off.

Last week, we put our tick next to the Whanganui River Journey, which, though on the Great Walks list, is actually a paddle. We hired a Canadian canoe, put it in the river at Taumaranui in the middle of the North Island, and took it out again in Pipiriki, five days, 145km and 197 sets of rapids (apparently) later.

My photo-taking was somewhat inhibited by the necessity of keeping the camera in a waterproof bag in case we capsized in the rapids (which, I hasten to add, we didn’t – as much through luck as through skill, and thanks to the high water level). Here are some of the photos I did get.

Putting in at Cherry Grove, near Taumaranui, on Monday morning. We hired the double Canadian canoe (known in the trade as the ‘divorce boat’) from Canoe Safaris (www.canoesafaris.co.nz) in Ohakune, from whom we also got a very brief lesson on canoeing, and how to deal with some of the scarier rapids we would be facing on Friday, all of which we had forgotten by Monday afternoon.
First stop, for suncream and snacks. Grassy banks like this were common for the first 40 or so kilometres, after which the river enters a deep gorge, emerging again three days’ paddle later!
With steering pretty difficult from the front, and the threat of rapids around every corner, Gillian loved it when I put my paddle down to take photographs.
The high water level in the river gave us a pretty easy ride most of the time – we reached our first campsite by lunchtime, and had to get the tent up for shelter from the sun.
With just three waterproof barrels for all our gear, it was important to prioritise when packing. Dry pair of shoes for the campsite? Not important – throw in a couple more beers…
Not all of the campsites were right beside the river…Whakahoro campsite lies 400m up the bank from the Retaruke River, a tributary to the Whanganui. Luckily the view was worth it.
With noone else in the campsite, we got the best spot. After Whakahoro there is no road access to the river until Pipiriki.
Between Whakahoro and Pipiriki, the river enters a deep gorge. The bush clings to steep cliffs, as do the wild goats – non-native to New Zealand, and hunted, both for sport and as a pest.
With the water level high, it is possible to explore some of the streams that flow into the Whanganui, which kept this waterfall enthusiast happy.
Night 3 was spent at the John Coull Hut, perched on a cliff above the river. The campsite had been booked out by a school trip – 30 children aged 11 to 13 years from Wellington – who didn’t arrive until 7.30pm, having lost one canoe, and nearly lost two children with it.
Towards the end of the week the sun became a bit more shy and we saw some showers – a price we were willing to pay for the peace and quiet on the river. Although we saw other people in the campsites, we never came across them on the river. The better weather between December and February is accompanied by much larger numbers of paddlers on the river.
At the end of our fourth day we stopped at Mangaparua, from where a 40 minute walk leads to the Bridge To Nowhere. The government gave land in the Mangaparua valley to soldiers returning from WWI; built in 1935, the bridge was supposed to connect the settlers to riverboat services, but the best efforts of the returned servicemen struggled to make the land viable and the settlement failed; the bridge is all that remains.
Mangaparua Campsite, where we spent our fourth and final night.
The absence of light pollution makes for some pretty amazing star-gazing, and a good opportunity to play with my camera.
I was there too! Our final day was our longest (38km), took us through the biggest rapids, with a fairly strong headwind, and we had to be at Pipiriki by 2pm for our lift back to Ohakune – we were pretty tired, and a little soggy, by the time we got there, but happy after an excellent week, and beginning to wonder whether we could fit a canoe rack to the top of our campervan.

Click to access whanganui-journey-brochure.pdf


Night sky over Mangapurua Campsite

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