Te Araroa Trail on the Whanganui River
Sometimes things really don’t pan out as you hoped they would…
Anouck, Anja, Markus and I woke early and packed our bags ready to embark on the Whanganui river stretch of Te Araroa trail. We had a leisurely breakfast in the Blue Duck cafe, and waited for the canoes to arrive at Whakahoro landing.
Canoe hire for Whanganui river journey
The folks from Taumarunui Canoe Hire arrived at the designated time – along with all the other canoe hire companies. This could have been done a lot better, and we marvelled at the inefficiency of it all. It was utter chaos at the departure point with numerous vans pulling tens of canoes, and all the customers milling around trying to find their company. This turned into everyone getting canoes and barrels off the backs of trailers and trying to get the best spot on the bank to load up and go.
Chaos and mud!
There was no jetty – just a dangerously slippery muddy slope. It was a complete free for all, with each company issuing different instructions to their customers, handing out maps and trying to get people’s belongings loaded into the canoes.
We packed our belongings into 5 barrels per canoe for a 2 person dugout canoe. This worked out as 1x food (individual barrel), 1x everything else (individual barrel), 2x backpacks (in a barrel together). We tried the barrels securely together, and to the canoe. I left my first aid kit out and clipped to the ropes in a flimsy dry-bag (my own) so I could easily get to the sunscreen and toilet paper. My water bladder was tied through the ropes too.
My phone, in its Lifeproof case (best money I ever spent) was around my neck on a lanyard and tucked down the front of my life jacket. Karen at Taumarunui Canoe Hire made us some splendid iced chocolate muffins, which we enjoyed before setting off.
We started paddling at around 11am, the very last of the group to leave. Anouck was in the front and I was in the back. It took a little while to get the hang of the steering – using the paddle as the rudder – but we were doing pretty well, and handled a few small rapids.
After about 40 mins we were about to enter another rapid, when there was a huge rock just under the water in front of us that neither of us had seen. I valiantly attempted to steer around it and ended bumping up to the side of it. We dipped the canoe towards the rock, as shown in our safety demo and tried to steer around it. But despite our best efforts we couldn’t move around the rock. The pressure of the water was holding us fast against it.
I knew that if we rolled inwards to try to get out of the canoe (which apparently is the correct method) we would be trapped between the rock and canoe. So we did the only other thing possible, and got out the other side. As we did, the canoe filled up with water very very quickly.
I discovered we could stand. The water was my thigh height (with a very strong current). Again we tried to pull the canoe away from the rock.. but it was firmly wedged. When it completely filled with water we were stuffed. The canoe wrapped itself around the rock, but amazingly didn’t break in two.
It was a pretty scary few minutes to be honest. Our entire belongings were now tied to a boat which was full of water wedged against a rock, in a large, fast flowing river. Anouck managed to wade to shore in a very fragile state, whist I remained perched on the rock the boat was wrapped around, shouting instructions for her to to sit down/breathe etc. etc.
Having done my river crossing safety course I knew there was no way I could wade across the river, so I remained on the rock.
Anja and Markus who had been ahead of us, made their way back up the bank. I indicated to them from my perch on the rock that we were in trouble and that they should should paddle on & get help. There was no cellphone connection on the river.. and the next place to raise the alarm was the John Coull hut which was 7 hours downstream.
We were in for a long afternoon!
I saw my water bladder bobbing madly on its piece of string downstream of the canoe, so pulled it back in, managed to bite through the string & stuffed it down my life vest. My first aid kit was also in grabbing distance so I clipped it to my front and reapplied the sunscreen – was another 30 degree sunny day.
After about 1.5 hours a jet boat suddenly appeared! It was Dan from the Blue Duck station, en route to rescue some other people… He pulled up, assessed the damage and asked if I thought I could untie the barrels.
It took about 15 minutes, but I got all the barrels off with our gear, then we picked up Anouck on the bank. Dan took us back to Whakahoro. My phone survived as did my $20 piece of sh*t Warehouse watch – which hilariously I’ve cursed almost every day of the journey and had to sew back together a few times. All up the only lost items were Anouck’s water bladder and camera, and a large red canoe.
Back at the Blue Duck station I immediately called the canoe hire company. Not an easy call to make, but Karen was fantastic. I arranged to get picked up from Whakahoro tomorrow. Next, I called our accommodations along the river to see if we could get refunds.
We spent the afternoon with Luzia and Jan and Rain (USA) who taught us to juggle. I also met a lady I used to work with in Tauranga. New Zealand is great like that, you meet someone you know wherever you go!
We drank my bottle of wine and ate my block of chocolate intended for the trip. We felt much happier afterwards. Sadly that was the end of my Whanganui River journey – a very expensive couple of hours on the river.
I was gutted! This was one of the weeks I’d been looking forward to the most on TA, but c’est la vie … It’s still on my bucket list. I may try to squeeze it in at the end of the trail in March/April by solo kayak.