The day has been planned for sometime. As we skid and bounce along dirt tracks toward one of New Zealand’s biggest rivers the tantalizing footage I’m about to shoot makes me froth at the mouth.
I’ve been kayaking before but never through rapids and NEVER on a journey that would last a few days. Surely the video I’ll capture will look exciting and fast paced for the vlog. What a good way to wet the beak of new followers.
The safety talk begins. Paddle left to move right. Paddle right to go left. Steer sharply to the right by placing your paddle in the water to the rear right hand side of your kayak. This would all be sinking in if I weren’t attaching the GoPro as quickly as possible.
The briefing end nears. ‘has anyone got any questions?’ our guide Ben from Whanganui River Canoes asks. I stay silent as I want to get going. ‘Hey mate. You’ve been on kayaks before I take it?’. ‘Yep, loads of times’ Matt responds unconvincingly. ‘I’m a pro’. The welsh charm fails on the first Kiwi. Matt 0 – Kiwis 1.
He accepts my questionable assurance, gives me a cherry farewell and leaves.
Let’s begin the vlog!! GoPro on. GoProooo on! GoPro ON?
Reverse back to check in. ‘Excuse me what should I do with the batteries Im carrying?’ I ask the attendant. ‘I’d put them in your checked baggage just in case sir’. Matt proceeds to take all batteries and place them in his checked baggage…. including GoPro battery which will be needed as soon as he lands as he is heading STRAIGHT for the Whanganui River.
Reverse forward. Shit.
Note: Don’t forget your GoPro battery on the Whanganui River.
Don’t let things get you down when you’re away has to be on of the most important parts of traveling. Dwelling on things you cant change and allowing them to eat away at you will kill anyone’s enjoyment when traveling. Best attitude to have is brush it off and carry-on. Remember traveling isn’t real life. You’ll have plenty of time to start complaining and worrying when you return to the daily grind.
So I proceeded to dismantle the GoPro rig while watching the group I’m with disappear round the bend. Finally I get it all packed away and jump in without a second thought abut the rapids ahead. The rapids Ive never gone down before.
Bang! Boom! Whoop! Kapow! The only person that would have been impressed is Adam West. I barely stay in and get myself lodged on a rock. First thing that comes to mind is don’t turn around to see the gob smacked look of my guide.
The following rapids were the same story. Steered completely in the wrong direction, ending up diagonal in the raging current and staring helplessly as two people in a canoe fly past my head. Although I did not get rushed into hospital, with a bow lodged in my ribcage, I didn’t feel lucky for the close encounter.
Suggestions for all future exploits:
One. Always listen to the instructor no matter how good you think you are at an activity. Ask as many questions as possible no matter HOW obvious you believe them to be.
Two. If this day of the trip means a lot to you, and you believe you’ve gotten all the items you need to take, check again! Last thing you want is your GoPro not turning on because you left the battery at home. Nice one Matt.
Three. If your doing any physical activities, no matter how easy you believe them to be, TRAIN BEFORE YOUR TRIP! I met quite a few people who were struggling on this adventure because they had clearly not prepared. Trust me it’ll make your adventure way more enjoyable if you do.
Four. Take dry bags with you. Thick bin bags or freezer bags will do if you can’t afford these. If it rains and your lovely expensive equipment gets wet you’ll be sorry. Nothing worse than finishing a two day river kayaking trip to find your iPhone will not turn on at the end of it. Strike two Matt!
Continuing on. After the second rapids I dug in and persevered with working out how the vessel of death steered. After that the journey became less treacherous and more spectacular.
The day was filled with tranquil greenery and fast paced rapid riding. My mother and Jeff managed to tip their boat, to their horror, during a bad section of the river. This was easily rectified however.
Toward the end of day one, the heavens opened and drenched us all on the river and in our tents. I feel this would have been unpleasant if it weren’t for the scenery, company and warm temperatures. The first campsite was John Coulls. Room for 20 tents but there is lodge available for those seeking indoor comforts at the end of a long day.
Day two gifted us warmer skies and smoother paddling. The trip would have way less enjoyable if I hadn’t fallen out. But thankfully I did. My cockiness on river resulted in my kayaking flipping in the rapids and sending me down stream. I tried getting back in fell out several more times, much to everyone’s amusement. WARNING: If you fall out in sections of this river there will be NO bank to come to your rescue. I drifted downstream helplessly for sometime before I used a fellow travelers bow to hold on, tread water and flip my galleon hull back over. Cold, wet but so much fun.
The bridge to nowhere ended the day. A small remnant of the pioneering farmers who tried to farm the harsh land http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridge_to_Nowhere_(New_Zealand) Note: If you’re planning on walking to see this in rainy conditions be prepared to take good footwear. The track gets extremely muddy, as I discovered in my slippery flip flops.
The Whanganui River is something else. It carves its way through the heart of the North Island, creating a watery valley impossible to access for the most part without the aid of a boat, kayak or canoe. The surrounding lush forest will confusingly seem like you’re traveling down South America’s Amazon jungle.
There are rapids along the river, but for the less adrenaline seeking out there long sections without these raging beasts can be undertaken. Either way, if you stay the course and head for the V shaped flow of the white water its highly unlikely you’ll experience any difficulty.
If you go with a tour company they’ll normally designate a campsite for your end of day target. Don’t think you can make it that far or reckon you’re Marco Polo and want to paddle onward, then there are campsites every two hours dotted along the river shores.
For those who have extra dosh to spend I would highly recommend going with one of the guided native tours down the river. During our overnight we bumped into Ra, a native Maori guide from Yeti Tours New Zealand. He was amazingly friendly and informative about the area. They also cook for all their guests as well as making sure your safe along the way. They pitch your tents and keep you entertained during the evenings. If I was going to do this journey again I would definitely go with this option http://yetitours.co.nz, although Whanganui River Canoes were very professional and made my first New Zealand adventure one to remember http://whanganuirivercanoes.co.nz