I was slightly anxious about the canoe trip down the Wanganui River. I really don’t like the idea of getting caught under water. I don’t so much mind falling out of my canoe and having to swim to the side as long as I don’t get snagged on a tree as I go.
Our group was Dave and Baxter sharing a canoe, a young Dutch couple who are cycling New Zealand, Kiwi Kay and I, along with Matt from Aussie who has his a single kayak. They all knew that I was nervous so were really good at reassuring me. Kay is an experienced sea kayaker so she was at the back steering and giving orders to me at the front. I was the powerhouse and just needed to paddle.
We started out knowing there was rain to come, heavy rain and thunder storms were predicted for later in the afternoon so I was keen to get to the John Coult hut ASAP. The trip usually takes 6 to 7 hours but we should do it a bit quicker because of the rain the previous night and that to come would mean the river was moving faster than usual.
We put all our belongings into the barrels provided and were pleased to see our food barrels had arrived. Barrels were loaded into the canoes, tied on along with a bailer and a spare paddle.
The rain came down in bucket loads as we went through one rapid after another. It was quite beautiful when I relaxed enough to look around at the cliffs so high above us covered with native bush.
Mostly we were at the back so we could follow the line the others had taken.
This worked well until there was a jet boat coming towards us as we approached a rapid. The Dutch couple in the lead stopped before the rapid when they should’ve kept going. The jet boat had to give way to us. So we all ended up in the rapid together. Dave and Baxter hit a big tree front on and we had to swerve to miss them.
Then Kay and I were in the water. We both managed to hold onto our paddles and the boat that was quite full with water and tipping over. Then we were pushed around with the current and I had to let go of the boat.
I just kept telling myself to” lay on my back and keep my feet up” as we had been taught. It worked as I made my way onto some rocks at the edge of the river. Meanwhile Kay continued to float way down the river with the canoe.
Eventually the jet boat came and rescued me then we headed off to collect Kay. She went down another set of rapids before she was able to get to shore. But the jet boat couldn’t get to her there so she had to swim pulling the half submerged boat to the other side of the river. I asked the jet boat driver if he could take me back as I didn’t want to continue. He said he could if we also took the single kayak and then the Aussie guy could share the canoe with Kay. That sounded a good idea to me.
But soon I was out of the jet boat helping Kay turn the canoe upright, bailing out the water and re-tie the barrels that had come loose. The tourists in the jet boat all looked pleased to film the rescue. So not only was my day a bit exciting but I think I made their day too.
Before I knew it I was back on the water so my chance to bail out was gone. We eventually caught up with the others who were anxiously waiting for us in the rain.
I was wet but not really cold as the water was surprisingly warm, probably compared to the rain.
So I survived that and was starting to feel better when we were heading fast towards a part submerged tree. We paddled with all our might but couldn’t avoid it. I had to lean right back in my seat as the solid branch skimmed over top of me nearly knocking me out of the canoe. It was very scary for me as I looked back over my shoulder to see that Kay was being knocked out of the boat by the branch.
So now I was in the damn canoe on my own barrellng downstream with Kay swimming alongside. I found a place to pull over and she climbed back in as though nothing had happened. What else can you do? So on we paddled.
We arrived at the John Coull hut about 6 hours later and pulled our canoes up the muddy bank as far as we thought necessary giving the rising water. We tied them to a tree couple of meters up the bank and began unloading our gear in the rain.
The canoe company had given us plastic barrels for our belongings so we had to untie them and carry them the muddy bank to the hut, probably about 70 meters. We passed some poor buggers in their sodden tents feeling pleased that we had paid $34 for a bed in the cabin rather than $10 for a campsite.
Wet clothes off and hung out to dry, a hot soup and a shared snack and we were all feeling happy again. Everyone adds something to the snack pile such as chippies, crackers, cheese, Buzz bars etc. No one wanted any of my carrots.
And there we stayed for all of the next day and night watching the river rise and the rain fall. The hut warden was a retired man who had spent his whole lifetime on the river, paddling, guiding etc. So I felt very confident taking his advice.
We needed to pull the boats further and further up the path as the days went on. There is a lot of water coming into that river from hundreds of waterfalls, streams and other rivers. Unfortunately were too busy paddling to take many photos.
But do the Wanganui River trip if you ever get a chance. Maybe not in torrential rain unless you like a bit of excitement?