No walking for 8 days!!! (Whanganui river canoeing)
I was both excited and nervous. Whanganui River was the most anticipated part of our North Island journey, but the rapids and the 8 days on a river in a Canoe with Arthur was a little concerning. Yes, we had to learn to communicate but as for the rapids I am thrilled to say I learned to love them so much so that I longed for them in the stiller waters.
There is a reason they call the canoes the ‘divorce boats’, we did have a day were we argued pretty much most of the time, it was also due to tiredness and the gloomy weather I must add. It is not like you can just go separate ways either, although there were a few moments I considered jumping out of the canoe leaving Arthur to his own but I had to settle with a gentle splash with the oar in the water. Luckily, we got the arguing out of our systems that day, leaving the rest almost argument free.
On our first five nights we were booked in on DOC campsites along the way, meaning we would meet a lot of other people and stay in well maintained camping spots with water and long drops. Luckily, it wasn’t a long weekend or holiday season, otherwise the river can get crowded. We had previously met another TA couple that were doing the Whanganui section the same way as us. It was a German born Bastian and his Austrian girlfriend Karin. Happy to have found other travel buddy’s after our sad loss of Anton and Emma and then of Ben, we decided to stick together. We met other cool paddlers along the way as well and as most of them had booked in for the same camp sites we had some nice joyous evenings, especially as we were able to take a lot more food and even beer in our canoes. No, there was no back packs and no weight limit. We were given two barrels each to fill up so we had gone all out with our food: caned sauces, fresh veggies and fruits and as I said even some beer. Heaven!
It was so wonderful to drift along the river between steep cliffs covered in thick New Zealand bush with the occasional wild goat jumping around. Well, eventually we saw so many goats that the novelty started to wear off but if you want a pet goat this is the place to get one as they are becoming a pest, breading too fast and eating too many native plants. Sometimes, we would just lie down, letting the current take us and we wished it was possible to move forward with similar effort when we resumed our walking too. The weather was great and the riverside was something out of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn story especially when Arthur was playing his harmonica or Bastian pulled out his bamboo flute.
Sometimes I felt like we were the first people going down the river and I liked to pretend that I was discovering a new land. It really feels like that, with no visible human touch and the mad bush. Sometimes we came across little waterfalls trickling down the moss, hitting the water in million small drops and sparkling like diamonds in the sun. There were big waterfalls too, announcing their presence with a loud rumbling long before we could see them. Other times the waterfalls formed in caves that we could only hear or just see a glimpse of if we paddled the canoe half way in. There were some pretty bad ass caves we could walk into as well.
Although sometimes things could get a little repetitive, it never got boring. It could be one of the large variety of birds flying past diving for fish or the sheep and goats scaling the cliff edges to the point were sometimes I thought they were stuck screaming for help in their ‘near to death’ voices, but when they kept happily jumping around on the almost vertical edges I had to admit they were perhaps just laughing at me. Other times, we had do some difficult manoeuvring around rocks and rapids and when you think you have seen it all a dead bloated deer floats by looking much like stuffed animal with its legs in the air. Yikes.
Bridge to Nowhere (literaly)
Although I was determined to savour as much time as possible on the river, our days were going past fast. Before we knew it the five days of the ‘Great Walk’ part of the Whanganui River was reaching it’s end. On the last day we had been promised some serious rapids before Pipiriki where everyone was being picked up at except us and the other TA couple. I was seriously exited.
I could feel a strong presence of old Marta with me and I welcomed her like an old lost friend. You see, for a long time old Marta, the one who is the biggest adrenaline junky of us all had deserted me, or more so, been driven away a little bit. New Marta had stopped doing crazy stuff and so slowly become more and more scared of things, things I know old Marta would have enjoyed. I had blamed it on getting older but I guess all I had to do was to throw myself into something and let her return naturally. So with her in the canoe I felt exited and keen for some serious kicks. The rapids turned out to be a peace of cake for us, although it was a lot of fun. They call one of the rapids 50/50 as normally at least half of the canoers will tip over but this time everyone got over dry. Well not dry, as the waves still came crashing over the edges just, luckily no swimming after the canoe though.
It was a little bit sad saying goodbye. We had made some new friends that we weren’t too happy parting with and it all got a little bit worse when we were told that a severe weather warning was forecast that afternoon.
We were told what to look out for and how much the river had to rise in order for it to actually be dangerous. I could see the big dark clouds coming our way but old Marta was still there and instead of getting worried when the stormy winds started up Arthur engineered a sail out of our tent groundsheet and off we went in ‘sailnoing’ style. It really worked.
Before long the top of Jerusalem’s church was announcing its presence. Yes I know, we were arriving to a place called Jerusalem. I’m not sure how it got its name precisely but I know it’s to do with a missionary traveling down Whanganui River in the late 1800 and a French nun starting a convent there. We had been told it’s a very historic place.
Happy to be there, we tried to find to a place to stop but there was none. The banks were steep and muddy and it didn’t help when it started to rain heavily. Arthur went to see were we could stay while I was trying to find a place to tie up the Canoe. Not only could I not find anything, I also ended up face planting into the water and sinking into the mud nearly losing my shoes. I thought it was shallow but when my foot didn’t stop I just kept going down until it did one meter later in the water. Unfortunately, there was nobody around to have a good laugh so I laughed alone like loonie. Luckily, there were two lovely nuns who ran the convent that invited us in for the night. The convent was now used as a museum and a place to accommodate travellers. We were over the moon. There were showers and beds for everyone and I think it was the most interesting place we had stayed at so far. It was filled with stories and quirky rooms. We showered, ate and played some piano, feeling pretty lucky to have come across this magic place. The upstairs, were Arthur and I were going to sleep, were lined with beds with only curtains separating one from another. It kind of felt a little bit like an old orphanage. There was something so calming about that place and even with its Christian crosses and Gods messages it didn’t feel too intrusive as I am as far from being religious as a lion is from being a vegetarian.
Although it rained heavily through the night and the winds sounded pretty strong, the river seamed safe to go on. First we wanted to properly check the place out in daylight though. It was very hard to get out of the comfortable bed too. Jerusalem is a very small town along Whanganui River. I think everyone should visit the place. It had such a peace and calmness about it, it would make a great spot for a relaxing weekend especially if staying at the convent. The Sisters of Compassion were so kind and lovely to talk to I was afraid we would never leave. The small church was a nice infusion of Maori and Christian cultures with carvings and paintings along the walls. It really was such a special place I can’t emphasise that enough.
We ended up leaving a bit later in the day. I was a little bit worried as we had 30Km to do but I needn’t have. The river had risen enough to flow nice and fast and the winds were strong enough for us to put up our sails and we were at our next destination in no time. The sun was shining on us and the gloomy rain from the day before was all forgotten. We were high on the greatness that Jerusalem had been for us. The day got even better when saw were we would be staying the night. It was a little red hut on the river side with 6 beds and a fire place. It was so incredibly cosy we wondered if we should just stay there for a few days. We swam in the warm river and leisured around in the sun.
Who would have known, our dream came true next morning. It must have rained somewhere up the river as the water levels had risen drastically. To top it all off, it started raining and we decided we would wait it out a little bit. We were safe and dry in a very comfortable hut and to be honest the river didn’t look tempting with is murky colours and large logs floating by. We decided to stay the day. We could write post cards and I could work on my blog. It was a win win. In the afternoon the sun came out and we had really made this little hut our home. I was worried, but not really worried, we would end up staying there for longer. I had eyed up a fat sheep around that I’m sure would be delicious.
The next day the river had dropped enough to look safe and we did our last day of paddling to Whanganui.
Canoeing Whanganui River has been more than fantastic and I was sad to pack out the barrels and bid our Canoe farewell but Wellington is waiting for us just around the corner and it’s time to get on our feet again. Although we managed to work on our communication and survival skills being stuck so tightly together, I feel 8 days was enough. I’m sure the canoe will be hugely missed at times, especially as we have a big road section ahead before heading in to the Tararoas. I keep looking at the map in disbelieve, I can’t believe we are so close to the end of North Island. In two weeks we will be in Wellington. It just doesn’t seem real but I can’t wait. Boy, oh boy, are we going to party hard there, you are more than welcome to join in on the fun!! : )
On our second day we found this amazing litle cafe surrounded by lavander fields.