Wanganui canoe trip to Nowhere!

Trip Start Dec 01, 2009
Trip End Jan 23, 2010

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Where I stayed
John Coull & Tieke Kainga Huts

Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Saturday, December 19, 2009

We're getting a bit behind now...about 4 blogs back.  Does that mean we're back-blogged?  Not sure, but I do know that we've been spending more time participating in kiwi life (that means relaxing and enjoying), and a bit less time on the computer!

So, thinking back to Dec 16-19...

A few folks know that our old pal, Jason Berry, moved to NZ almost a year ago.  His partner, Ruby Kopelov, migrated over here too, and the two of them now reside in Wellington (more on that energized city in a couple of blocs).

Jason & Ruby met up with us in the little town of Ohakune, which bustles in the ski-season, but is quiet and mellow in the summers.  We all stayed at a Top 10 Holiday Park, which is a place where you can choose your accommodation type, from tent camping, to camping in a traveling van or small motor home with electricity plug in, to renting a room with shared kitchen and bathroom facilities, to having  "self-contained" unit, meaning bed, bath & kitchenette.  Ruby & Jason have their own camper van, and Mark and I picked up a self-contained unit where we could make a meal for us all, since Jason & Ruby were driving several hours to meet us after having worked the night before in the hospital.  We toasted and laughed after not seeing each other for more than a year, maybe closer to 2.  Before long, we were all tired, and turned in knowing we needed to make an early start to get shuttled down to the river.

The next morning we made quick brekkies in our little kitchenette, and drove a block down the road where Yeti Tours had our canoes loaded.  They gave each of us 3 big barrels to store food and gear, and Mark & I each had some small dry bags for the more frequently used items.  In no time we were loaded up and driving the winding roads to Whakahoro, our put-in (do you recall how "Wh" is pronounced?  See if you can figure out how to say the name of our put-in...back home, it might produce a bit of a guffaw).  We started on the Retaruke River, a tributary that dropped us into the mighty Whanganui River in a matter of minutes.  Already, we were laughing and playing, pausing at waterfalls, and in no time, hiking up little side-canyons to see what we could find.  

Everywhere the steep walls of the gorge were covered in a green-lover's delight.  Ferns and mosses clung to the cliff faces, pohutukawa trees showed their red flowers here and there.  Small trickling waterfalls plunged down every 100m or less.  The river was generally calm, with a riffle or pressure wave here and there, an occasional rock to paddle around.  Sometimes we'd paddle sitting, sometimes standing, sometimes just letting the current carry us.

Most always we were making jokes or laughing, practicing our kiwi lingo, much of which has been well catalogued by Ruby.  We learned a lot from Jason & Ruby about the hospital life here (both are critical care nurses), about national past-times, and other things kiwi.

Before long we made our way to our first night's stop: John Coull Hut.  We were in for a treat.  We tied up our boats and walked the path up to the camp grounds, along wooden boardwalks to the toilet facilities, and on to the main hut.  Outside the door was a basin filled with warm water for us to dip our feet in...very soothing.  Inside, we it was toasty warm with the wood fire burning (it was cooling off for the night already), a large kitchen with several gas-fired stoves, and several bunks, of which less than half were occupied.  Settling in was a breeze.  

Jason has an impressive appetite, and as such brought more food than your average horse could eat, including gourmet lamb & rosemary sausages, a huge bunch of salad greens & herbs from their garden, and a satisfying mix of gnocchi, potatoes, kumara (that's a Maori sweet potato), and cheese.  Everything we ate was tasty and satisfying, and I couldn't believe it was all finished off by the 4 of us.

After sleeping solidly, we awoke in the morning to quite a commotion...some serious political disagreement between our Maori hut warden, Olive, and her guest, something about who is or isn't part of a republic.  I never did figure out the details.  After their issues were resolved, both apologized profusely for any disruption to the guests, and the rest of us glanced back and forth at one another, trying not to get tangled into it.

Soon we were back on the river, exploring more slots and waterfalls, quacking at the ducks we passed, telling stories, and finding places to stop for gourmet lunches of mango, Camembert and other tasty goodies.  This time, we had an unusual hike to try...the Bridge to Nowhere.

After lunch we sauntered up the trail, the boys having their chance to get reconnected, and us girls getting to know one another.  We passed more of that amazing New Zealand vegetative diversity, some now becoming familiar, others causing us to take pause and admire.  It's all still fascinating and awesome, in the truest sense of the word.  After 30 minutes or so, we reached it: an impressive concrete expanse, known as the Bridge to Nowhere, leading to....a hiking trail.  Once upon a time, it had an intended destination, but the trade route lost favor, and the road was never built.  So now, it's a hiking trail down to the river, with the burliest hiking bridge one may ever see.  It was a nice place to sit in the sun for lunch, to gaze down 25m or so, and to sprawl out on the ground.

We returned down river, passed through a few more riffles, and paddled up another slot with knee-deep mud that Ruby bravely navigated.  With the sun still shining, we continued down river, until we reached Tieke Kaianga, the next hut on our stay, and a Maori village.  We were greeted by Tepuranga, a sprightly Maori man who showed us around then returned to weaving flowers out of flax leaves.  Later, the hut warden, Leslie, kept us laughing with her incredible wit, and showed us how to make soft fibers and weave a short rope in a matter of minutes out of a certain type of flax.  

With many hours of daylight still ahead, we sipped coffees, soaked in the view, and entertained ourselves like "wee ones" on the lawn with cartwheels, handstands, yoga poses, and mounting Germans (you'll have to see the photo to know what we mean).

After a meal of Thai noodles, pumpkin potato mash, salad & wine, followed by chocolate & tea, we sat around the fire while Leslie, in the sweetest imaginable voice, played guitar and sang a few ballads for us.  This came as a pleasant surprise, since when speaking, Leslie has a deep, almost gruff smoker's voice, which I had previously mistaken to be a man talking.

We slept solidly after a good arm workout, good food, and time with good people.

For our final day, we paddled solidly through the morning, stopping at a rocky beach for lunch, a good place for stacking rocks (see photos of our tough warrior-like/rock-stacking men--again, the photos will explain).  It was a more exciting day on the water as well, with bigger rapids to make us laugh, and eventually, JUST before the take out, for Ruby and Jason's boat to capsize, giving them a refreshing swim!  They were just fine, and an eddy helped them reach shore in no time, where they righted their boat, baled out all the water, and jumped back in to re-surf the rapid, and almost flip a 2nd time!!  No more excitement a minute or two we were at the take-out, Pipiriki (does that translate to "stinky pee?"), loading our canoes atop the van for the curvy road back to Ohakune.

See the video below for a few minutes of live action/relaxation.

We finished off our day with a snack of wedges & chips (pronounced "chups") and hot cocoa & "flat whites"--coffee with foamed milk, since it was still many hours before dark.  Ah, the river life...
Slideshow Report as Spam


Ruby on

Awesome write-up and photos, Wynne and Mark!! I haven't even gotten around to looking at my pics of the trip, and seeing this made me feel all relaxed again.... See you soon!

Heather on

Looks fantastic! And you both are looking very very relaxed and at ease. Loved the video soundtrack, clever.

RM on

Really high quality, well-composed pictures! And how did you remember all those food details? Taking notes while floating along, maybe?

Ruby sent me a link to your blog.

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