Back in Taumarunui we got a welcome home lunch from Josie and Ray at Kelly’s motel. It was such a treat to return to the same spot, especially one with a couple of trail angels going out of their way to help TA hikers.
Resupplying for the river journey took us hours. Suddenly all weight limits disappeared and a whole new array of canned and fresh foods opened up, creating endless possibilities for fabulous lunches and dinners. Just this made the river already amazing. Great food, a couple of beers, no packs, no hiking shoes. The whole week felt like a holiday from the trail, even though we still moved 227 kilometres south.
I absolutely loved the river. I was really happy that we took the journey from Taumarunui to Whanganui, from beginning to end. It just felt right: walking the country from beginning to end, paddling the river from beginning to end.
The river winds itself through a deep canyon in Whanganui National Park, through an untouched landscape that made me think that this must have been what New Zealand looked like before people started influencing it. Even though it is one of NZ’s Great Walks, we were alone on the water most of the time. It was such a pure experience.
I loved how the canyon amplified the sounds around us and dramatised the entire experience. The sound of an approaching thunderstorm rumbled around us as we silently drifted on the water. The canyon was filled with birdsong and I tried to imagine how much of it there must have been before the rats and possums diminished the birds’ numbers. In the night the call of the kiwi echoed on the walls of the canyon at the Mangawhaiiti campground and carried far into the distance.
I loved how the water appeared still and became a perfect mirror of everything around us. I loved staring into it before every rapid, watching the reflection fade into the ripples and waves announcing the drop. I wanted to freeze time and just lie still on the river. It’s a magical place.
The canyon also echoed our signing and our whoo’s and oopses and whii’s while tackling the rapids. It only took us half an hour to tip, which in retrospect was mostly my fault because I abandoned ship too fast. It only happened once and from there the learning curve only went up. The best rapids were on the first day, a true trial by fire, and rich after Pipiriki. PJ taught me how to steer so I could be captain too. I got hooked on canoes very fast.
On the third day I found a feather and put it on my head. While canoeing through untouched lands the only right thing to do was to adopt an Indian name and hence I became (queen) feather cat. Everyone started fishing them up so we got PJ the floating goat, Serina the water shroo, Marylène the lady bird and Jörg as Lionstein.
On New Year’s Eve we stayed on a little campsite called Ngaporo, the last campsite on the great walk. Our fellow campers built a huge bonfire and invited us to join. Unfortunately NZ weather had its ways and soon enough we found ourselves waiting under the shelter until midnight. 10,9,8, and so on, happy new year and a quick sprint into our tents.
On New Year’s Day we woke up to a bright clear sky and happily paddled into the new year. We payed a visit to the mud caves and tackled our biggest rapid on the river. It was my absolute favourite new year so far. A year that starts with a blast like this can only be good, right? Let’s hope so. Happy 2015 everyone!
– by Eef De Boeck