Day 53 – Bridge To Nowhere Camp to Matahiwi

Bridge To Nowhere Camp to Matahiwi (Whanganui River)

43kms

The rapids went ‘next level’ today. There were less of them but they were bigger. I got tipped out and floated about 100 meters on my back holding on to the kayak beside me but I had to let go when it got side on in front of me and I was getting dragged under it. Dad and Scott got through ok behind me. There were already a group who had gone ashore just past the rapid and some of them paddled out to fetch my kayak. Luckily they did, otherwise I would have had to have waited for a jet boat to find it and bring it up. There were about six of them today that came up the river. So I was left floating on my back with my feet in front of me, as we were instructed to do in that situation, so I could push off any obstacles I might run into like rocks or logs. There was nothing anyone could do to help me at that point until I had floated out of the rapid. I was able to stand up when I got closer to the shore but the water was still running fast at about knee deep so I very carefully and slowly walked about 15 meters to shore. It was all rocks and loose stones underfoot and one of my sandles had come undone. The only thing I lost was my hat. My phone stayed dry inside a snap lock bag in my shirt pocket which was held tightly against my chest by my lifejacket. No water got into the barrel I had which was lucky because it was fully submerged for quite a while.

Further downstream I was feeling a bit apprehensive going into some of the bigger rapids. There was one where the river became very narrow and there was a large rock that split the water into a fork. There was a canoe wrapped around it just under the surface. I opted to avoid this altogether because I wasn’t confident I had enough control to avoid the rock. To the left it was very shallow so I took my kayak over that and bumped and scrapped my way over the stones. Dad and Scott followed suit. Then there was another large rapid that is known as the 50/50. Again the river narrowed from about 20 meters across to less than five. I knew I could not get through it without tipping. It was the biggest rapid of the trip by far. I told dad and Scott that I was going to walk down the shoreline and tow my kayak. Dad and Scott were confident enough to have a go in the canoe which so far had proven to be more stable. I got out of my kayak as they entered the rapid and I watched them go into it. They started tipping to the right and then in an instant they flipped and were bobbing in and out of the waves holding onto the canoe. I had to get back in quickly to try and help them and caught up with them not far out of it as they were trying to swim to shore. I helped by nudging the canoe with the tip of my kayak. They managed to keep hold of it. Dad said his legs were tangled in the rope for a while which made it difficult to swim. A couple just ahead of us noticed what happened and paddled back upstream to help. Everyone was fine and no gear was lost and the barrells kept the water out again. So there was lots more action and excitement today!

There were three more rapids after that before we landed at Pipiriki. The hire company was there to load all our canoes and barrells. They also had the mountain bike for me and my backpack so I had to transfer all my gear back into it. I said goodbye to dad and Scott. It was really great sharing that experience with them and it was a really enjoyable three days down that section of the river.

I walked my bike and backpack and small backpack up to the top of the hill to the campsite. I wanted to keep going and knock some kms off to make tomorrow an easier ride to Whanganui which is roughly 80kms away. I had thought about continuing to Matahiwi where I knew there was a cafe and art gallery with accommodation. It was already 2pm and I thought it would take me 3 or 4 hours at least to get there because my map showed metal road for the whole 22kms with a third of it being uphill. The guy running the campsite was really helpful. His name was Junior. He knew all about the Matahiwi cafe and the owner so phoned them for me to organise it. $40 for a cabin. He then phoned the post lady to arrange for her to pick my backpack up and take it to Whanganui for me ($15). I had planned to organise all this myself but he just got on the phone and sorted it all in 5 minutes. Junior gave me a can of L&P after I told him I was raising money for Alzheimers Northland. I got an overnight pack ready and hit the road asap. I was peddling by 2.30pm. The road was sealed the whole way which was a relief and I made it to Matahiwi in under two hours. It was hard on the long uphill stretches but great fun coasting downhill and the views down the river were amazing. The cabin is nice and the place is like a mini holiday park with a good hot shower and kitchen etc. And of coarse the cafe for a coffee in the morning before I leave.

As I was writing there was a short earthquake that lasted for about 10 seconds. I have never felt one before and this one was a good shake. I was lying on the bed and the cabin suddenly started shaking. It took me a while to register what was happening and by the time I got up and out the door it stopped. There is an older couple in the cabin next to me and they had come outside not knowing what it was and a bit confused. About an hour later they knocked on the side of my cabin. They said that they were quite unnerved about it and so we chatted for a while outside. They were thinking about driving back to Whanganui. I reassured them that we are safe enough here and to come out onto the lawn if it happens again. I’ve had enough excitement for one day I think.

Day 52 – John Coull Hut to Bridge To Nowhere Campsite

John Coull Hut to Bridge To Nowhere Campsite (Whanganui River)

31kms

We got away at 8.30am and the first rapids around the corner were the biggest yet. The waves spilled over the bow and I got very wet. So did dad and Scott. It was much the same as yesterday except for some jet boats speeding up the river past us. We had to move to the side and let them pass then sit with our bow into the wake so we didn’t tip. Also we tied up at a landing which had a track to the Bridge to Nowhere. Literally a bridge that goes nowhere in the middle of nowhere. There is an interesting story behind it but you can Google it if you want. After the walk, which took about an hour and a half, we only had another 6kms downstream to the campsite where we had booked a cabin. It had eight bunk beds but we had it to ourselves. There were three other huts. Also hot showers and a bar at the lodge which is a short walk up the hill. There is no road access so you can only get to it from the river. We went up and had a few beers.

Jesse and Josh got into some trouble on the river today. They entered a rapid down the wrong side and got their canoe wedged side on to a log. With the strong current it sucks the canoe under. It nearly broke the canoe in half and left a large dent in the side. That actually happened recently to someone else and the canoe wrapped around a rock and split in half. They lost some gear but were just happy that they got out if it ok.

The last day on the river tomorrow has two of the biggest rapids and obstacles. We have been told if we stick to the left on all of them we will be fine.

Day 51 – Whakahoro to John Coull Hut

Whakahoro to John Coull Hut (Whanganui River)

37kms

Dad and Scott arrived at around 10am. There was a group of about 20 of us getting on the river at the same time from two separate hire companies. After a safety briefing and some tips and instructions we were paddling by 11ish. I had a kayak and dad and Scott were in a canoe. We launched at the Retaruke river and it was not long until we came out onto the Whanganui river. Today is the longest day of the three. There were lots of rapids but they were all easy to get through but choppy enough to get very wet. There was a period of rain and wind which was not very pleasant but only lasted for about 30 minutes.

The 26 bunk hut was comfortable. It was fully booked and the camp site was also packed. The large group stayed further down at a campsite. We had our dinners and some chocolate and were in bed by 9pm. Everyone else must have been tired too because most were already in bed.

It is really nice on the river and very peaceful. At the moment the water level is much lower than usual so it gets very shallow in places and more exposed logs and rocks to avoid. Early on I even beached myself a few times before learning how to recognise depths and currents ahead of me. There are times when the current will pull you and spit you out in all directions and steering is almost impossible.

There are lots of people here who have paddled the river many times. There is even a group that have been doing it annually for 43 years.

Day 50 – National Park to Whakahoro

National Park to Whakahoro

53kms

Total 1203kms

I would like to come back to National Park again and use it as a base to do some more activities around the area. There are heaps of awesome day walks and other activities like mountain biking, rafting, 4wd and skiing in winter that would be great to do with the family when the kids are old enough. The town has indoor rock climbing and mini golf too.

Ben from Whanganui River Canoes dropped off my mountain bike at 8.30am to the YHA and took my backpack. He was on his way to Whakahoro so delivered it to the Blue Duck cafe for me to pick up on arrival. Just out of town was the start of Fishers track. It was an awesome ride and all downhill for approximately 13kms. I can’t remember the last time I rode a bike. I got a bit too confident coasting down the track and could not stop in time for a large rut ahead of me. The front wheel hit hard and I smashed my shin on one of the pedals. Then I went too fast into a muddy patch and the bike slipped out from under me. I landed on my side and hurt my knee a bit on a rock. I came across two wild goats and two deer. They sprinted away from me down the track and then eventually into the bush. When I came off the track it was another 40kms of road to Whakahoro. Mostly metal road. I had a very sore arse by then end of it. I passed Josh then Nick and Dani and Jesse was already at the Blue Duck cafe when I arrived. I got a coffee and noticed a massive chocolate brownie that had just come out of the oven and was cooling on the table. I told the lady how good it looked and she cut me a piece and gave it to me with my coffee. She mentioned that they were making a big goat curry for a few tourist buses coming into town later and told me to come back at 6.30 for all I can eat. We all hung at the cafe until after dinner. A lady called Sue joined us at our table. She is an ED doctor from Auckland and is cycling the country south bound.

A large group of youths on a holiday programme arrived at the campsite. 150 of them. They are getting on the river tomorrow morning too. Hopefully they dont hold us up.

Day 49 – Whakapapa to National Park

Whakapapa to National Park

19kms

Total 1150kms

From Whakapapa village I entered the Whakapapaiti track which took me through some very nice beech forest. There were lots of beautiful, crystal clear streams and rivers coming from the mountains. Out of the forest the view of Ruapehu was amazing. I turned off onto the Mangahuia track and descended through an open tussock covered area. It was very boggy in places. The track came out to a campsite and SH47. I walked a further 6kms up the road to National Park.

I will not be walking again until I am leaving Whanganui next Saturday. That is two cycle days, three river days and a rest day in Whanganui. I will not be able to post any updates until I’m off the river.

Day 48 – Oturere Hut to Whakapapa

Oturere Hut to Whakapapa

17kms +4

Total 1131kms

I left the hut at 7am and made my way back up to rejoin the trail. That got the legs working and the blood pumping early on in the day. I was back up to the lakes by 8.30 and few few people were already there. The first of the ant trail. I had one final steep climb up to the Red Crater and then it was all downhill to the Mangatepopo hut where I stopped for some lunch. The track to the Tongariro summit was closed and so was the track to the Ngauruhoe summit. Hedley had mentioned last night that it is no longer allowed but admitted there is nothing they can do to stop people. The crossing basically takes you to the top of Tongariro but just not the official summit which is about 1km west. I could not see how it was possible to get to the top of Ngauruhoe anyway and it was covered in cloud by 11am. The wind picked up today. It was a strong westerly but helped keep me cool. Many people were underdressed and did not look prepared. No wonder so many people get rescued.

At the end of the crossing I took another track for 9kms to Whakapapa. I could see rain to the south and felt a few drops but that was all. I checked into the Whakapapa Holiday Park and have a cabin here for tonight before continuing to National Park tomorrow. I will go down to the Tussock Bar tonight for dinner and a beer.

Day 47 – Tongariro to Oturere Hut

Tongariro to Oturere Hut (Tongariro Crossing)

18kms +4

Total 1114kms

I started with a 7km road walk from the holiday park to the carpark entrance to the Ketetahi track. That is the northern end of the Tongariro crossing. Most people start at the southern end because there is less elevation to climb from that way. I was still on my way up when the ant trail was starting to come down. The first lot must have started early. It was a non stop line of people and I was going against the flow. It was particularly busy today after two days of bad weather. There were hundreds and hundreds of people. Easily over a thousand. I was talking to the DOC ranger Hedley who I met later in the day. He said things are going to have to change to cope with the numbers coming through and it may need to be capped each day. Also there are several ways to enter the crossing and the northern circuit so they have no idea who or how many people are in the park on any given day. On average since 2010, two people per week are rescued off the mountain!

The landscape here is absolutely stunning! It is like being on another planet. So far I have seen the Blue and Emerald lakes and walked into the central crater. On the way up I was looking back onto Lake Taupo. Once you get up to the central crater you can see Mt Ngauruhoe towering above everything and the snow topped Mt Ruapehu behind it. I took millions of photos. After the lakes I went down another track for 4kms to the Oturere hut. That was a steep, slippery and windy track down. I will need to come back up it tomorrow before finishing the second half of the crossing.

I am very glad I decided to stay at the Oturere hut for the night. I met the ranger Herby and we talked for ages about all things to do with hiking. He showed me some photos of very rare parasite worms he found in a stream today. There were three of them. He showed me the Snow Totara plant which was loaded with little red berries. They were sweet. It is everywhere here but I hadn’t noticed the berries. I heard there was a stream nearby for swimming so I went and found it. I sat in a pool at the top of a waterfall and had a nice long soak in the cool crystal clear water. A great way to get clean and refreshed at the end of the day. The hut was packed and lots of people camped outside in tents. There were at least 40 people there. There were a few families with young kids too. That was cool to see and I look forward to bringing my family here.