Eyes Above The Waves

Robert O'Callahan. Christian. Repatriate Kiwi. Hacker.

Thursday 4 April 2024

Whanganui River Journey 2024

The Whanganui River Journey is one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks” but actually a three or five day canoeing trip. We did it before in 2016, and I’ve always wanted to do it again. We have a lot of new tramping friends now so this seemed like a good time. We did the full five-day version from the town of Taumaranui, through Whanganui National Park and ending at Pipiriki.

We had a much larger group this time — sixteen people altogether, in eight canoes. We hired canoeing gear from Taumaranui Canoe Hire, who were good. You can carry more canoeing than tramping so we avoided dehydrated meals and brought real food for the entire trip. Managing real food for sixteen people for five days was a bit more of a logistical challenge but not too hard.

We camped on all four nights because the huts were fully booked by the time I got around to organising this. Fortunately the weather was excellent, with no rain and lots of sun, which made camping no hardship at all — except for a couple of cold nights. Some people’s sleeping bags were a bit light! But the flip side of cold nights due to no cloud cover is that we had spectacular views of the starry sky. The campsites were great, except that at the Whakahoro campsite (which we didn’t stay at in 2016) the canoe landing is very cramped and you have to carry your gear barrels 300m uphill to the campsite. Unfortunately avoiding Whakahoro is not easy, because it’s a long paddle to the next campsite.

The river travel went well except for one major incident. One of our less experienced couples had difficulty controlling their canoe and early on got it trapped against a rock by the river’s current. We were unable to free it so we had to climb a hill and make a phone call back to the canoe base requesting help. Eventually a jet-boat arrived and freed the canoe, but that couple decided to bail on the rest of the trip. It was unfortunate, but no harm done. It’s a bit unfortunate that there are some tricky rapids right near the start at Taumaranui, before you’ve had time to build up some skills. The three-day version starting at Whakahoro doesn’t have that problem, but it’s nice to be able to build up your skills over a couple of days and then use them for a few more days.

One lesson I learned is that it’s probably a good idea to tell people before the trip that we’ll assign people to canoes strictly on the basis of experience and strength, not on other factors like relationship status.

Other than that incident, while we found the paddling hard work at times (arms got tired, and hands got blistered) we mostly found the rapids quite easy. Out of the remaining seven canoes, three flipped once each, which is pretty good going. Some of the people who didn’t flip were later a bit wistful that they didn’t get the full experience!

The group dynamics were excellent. It was a diverse group and many people didn’t know each other at the beginning, but over the five days we mingled well. My canoe buddy was someone I had never met before the trip, and we talked a lot; this is a real advantage of canoeing over walking.

I assigned myself the role of lurking at the back of the group to make sure no-one fell behind. This is really important because as we saw, it is possible for a canoe to get stuck and need assistance. It can be frustrating at times but safety is paramount.

All in all, a really good trip that everyone will remember for the rest of their lives. Thanks be to God.