Canoeing the Whanganui River

Rivers have great names around these parts; the Te Henui river snakes around our garden and is just big enough to swim in, for exercise I run alongside the Te Henui to the sea, down to the beach, then across the sands to the Waiwhakaiho river.

The Waiwhakaiho is a larger river than the Te Henui and boasts one of New Plymouth’s proudest constructions the Whale Bone Bridge, and finally last weekend I had the chance to paddle the swollen waters of the Whanganui river that flows through the Whanganui national park in the region of Whanganui (north island, New Zealand) and, unsurprisingly, terminates at Whanganui – the city. The names may sound exotic but as you can see the Kiwis have been very practical in their application.

Ellie and Viki up front in the 'engine' position.
Ellie and Viki up front in the ‘engine’ position.

The group consisted of 3 canoes and 3 couples, Ellie and myself in the red canoe, Claire and Nathan in the FAST blue one and Vicki and Chris had a cool yellow vessel. I’m not sure everyone will agree that ours was the slow canoe but it did have the most deformed hull and listed heavily to the right even if all the weight was shifted to the left.

It’s not often I participate in an organised trip, I’d always assumed I wouldn’t enjoy conforming to other people’s plans. Anyway, it’s my own loss because the canoeing was brilliant and I didn’t feel that my liberties were very curtailed at all, and I have Claire and Nathan to thank for organising it. Mostly we just paddled when we liked, where we liked. I say ‘where’ we liked because there were some great contributory rivers that we explored as well and some small caves and rocky shores that we used as lunch stops. The only fixed or enforced events on the trip were the entry point, the campsites each evening, the exit point and a few safety rules like life jackets etc. It sounds as though I have an issue with authority, but I think it’s more a distaste for restrictive mollycoddling in my adventures.

As you can probably see at the back of the yellow canoe  Chris turns into a jellyfish when it rains.
As you can probably see at the back of the yellow canoe Chris turns into a jellyfish when it rains.

The Trip took two and a half days, we were dropped off at Taumarunui, about 10km North of Owhango and paddled south on the Whanganui river to our pickup point in Pipiriki. There are 11 campsites within that 45-ish mile stretch of river all of which are only accessible from the water, there are no roads, no runways and certainly no trains, so, as you can imagine, the facilities at the campsites are delightfully basic. There are drop toilets and rainwater for drinking but no electricity, although one warden did have a generator running under a tarp at one campsite so he could watch the rugby on television via his satellite, which was just sat on the ground!

Taking it easy on the calmer stretches.
Taking it easy on the calmer stretches.

I recorded a partial GPS trail of our route on my Garmin 310xt before the battery died on the last day. I didn’t think anyone would be interested in the stats at first so I didn’t bring my battery or solar charger. In making that decision I forgot to factor in that we were canoeing with a maths teacher and accountant so I ended up grabbing what data I could on what battery remained; I had been using the 310xt as a normal watch for the last two days so I knew it would expire before the trip was over – It’s rated at 20hrs GPS battery life on a full charge.

Mastered control over the canoes at this stage with a good parallel formation.
Mastered control over the canoes at this stage with a good parallel formation.

Three days on the water is really just a small taste of canoeing as a way to travel but it became immediately apparent that I’d like to travel on more rivers, the pace is slow but the activity is engaging, it really is comparable to cycle-touring in many ways. I love the idea of seeing parts of the world that can only be visited by water and I’ll definitely be looking into some of the longer rivers in europe to paddle down, perhaps even something with a few more rapids. I think we all enjoyed those parts most.

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