“I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours. I love to keep it by me: the idea of getting rid of it nearly breaks my heart”
Jerome K. Jerome – from Three Men in a Boat (1889)
I listened as intently as I could. An upward pointing V indicated an obstacle under the surface of the water, when approaching a rapid the deepest water is in the longest downward pointing V, I should stay on the edge of the rapids flow if possible and watch out for the backward flowing eddies, shit, what did he say about rapids on river bends, ripply upward standing waves mark shallow water, but white curvy standing up waves is deep water, face downstream with feet up if you fall in, the rapid after I see the submerged car I must not go left, damn slow down, what’s after the White House on the hill – a camp, a submerged obstacle or a knarly rapid? “And if you run into a tree or rock, lean towards it, if you lean away you’ll be tipped over, so just remember to be a Greenie, hug the trees!” I was being given the rapid-fire 101 River Navigation lecture, diagrams were scrawled onto a white board, a video shown in fast-forward, photos of landmarks flashed in my face, and places pointed to on a giant wall-drawn map with place names I couldn’t pronounce let alone remember.
An hour later and with my confidence somewhat diminished, it was time to man the 10 foot canoe and bravely paddle my two children 154km down the Whanganui River, and down our very first rapid under the midday sun.
We headed for the ‘big V’, bounced our way down then immediately got caught by, and spun around by the back eddie. The sudden jolt in speed change had us all thrown sideways and almost out of the boat. Monica, vented loudly, and blamed it on my steering abilities. And so went our first 21km until we hit camp #1, my poor kids all the while suffering through anxious bouts of yelling that involved confusing cries of paddle and don’t paddle, who then returned to insult my river navigational skills with equal vigour. Who the hell thought this was a good idea?
However, with five days to live on the river, my river reading skills soon improved, and the anxious yells from front and back disappeared. We soon settled into a routine of breaking camp, spotting goats and flotilla (both dead and alive), paddling, floating, swimming, exploring tributaries, eating, singing, not paddling, making up un-pc songs, chanting, talking, navigating rapids, throwing ourselves overboard when it got too hot, going a little boat-crazy, more paddling, camp spotting, tent pitching, more eating and swatting sand-flies.
The weather was superb, and as I was expecting throngs of holidayers on the water I purposely chose to book the smaller DOC campsites, which were small but well maintained with clean fresh water. As such we hardly saw another soul on the river for the first four days, and each night we only had to share camp with one other party of canoeists, and one night had the luxury of a camp to ourselves. We felt totally alone most of the time, so it was a surprise to find ourselves amid a fleet of 40 plus canoeists on our last day as all river goers merged to make Pipiriki for the same pick up time.
All up a great holiday, the rapids are really nothing to worry about, (all except the third to last one where we saw three boats flip over). After seeing that, I chickened out and portaged over the shallows much to the disappointment of the kids … damn thrill seekers!
Stunning scenery, enjoy …