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Te Araroa – Taumarunui to Wanganui

or switching the shoes for a paddle, and the track for a river …

The Whanganui River…. during the few months of preparation for this trail, while looking at the map of the route the TA will take, my eyes would follow with excitement the red line through beaches, farmland, mountains and forests all along the North Island… and there would be one part where they would invariably linger a bit more… that part where the line turned blue… The Whanganui River…

My head would be full of questions… How long will this take? how hard will it be? with whom will I share this part? Will I even be able to make it all the way there in the first place?…

And now there it is… in front of me… As I stand on the deck of the Taumarunui Canoe Hire place, my eyes are not looking at a blue line on a piece of paper anymore… but at a large and peaceful river winding its way though the green hills…. I have made it all the way there. And I am very much looking forward to paddling down the length of the Mighty Whanganui…

The Te Araroa official route normally goes like this: from National Park, we walk all the way to the Mangapurua Landing on the Kaiwhakauka track, where we get some canoes to paddle down from there to Wanganui township. The Kaiwhakauka track has been closed because a bridge collapsed recently. So the other option is to go from Whakahoro. But I thought, if I walk the length of the country, I want to paddle the length of its longest navigable river (the country’s third longest river after the Waikato and the Clutha rivers).

We start on the 28th of December. After packing our stuff in dry bags and barrels, and listening to a thorough briefing from the Canoe Hire place, here we are, floating away, to the unknown and beyond…. My paddling companions are Eef and P-J in one canoe, Serina and Jörg in another. I get a nice sea kayak with skirt and helmet. We take 7 days to paddle down the 227km. The Whanganui Journey from Taumarunui to Pipiriki is one of the “Great Walks” of New Zealand. so in full season we need to book and pay for campsites. We stay in these following campsites : Poukaria, Mangapapa, Mangawaiiti and Ngaporo. After Pipiriki, it is up to us to find a place to camp. We stay at the Kauika Campsite (near Ranana) and the last night in the backyard of some nice people who run the “WickedJet” jet boats.

It is quite hard to sum up the experience in a short blog post… all I can say is that it was much more than I ever expected.

Let me pick the best parts for you…

The whole way, even being close to town or going through farmland, you get the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere… being on the water is being in another world… between the river banks, you can’t see much signs of civilisation around, and it is pretty peaceful the whole way… We take a couple of side trips. One to the Mud Cave (mud up to our knees! so much fun!!) and one to the famous Bridge to Nowhere. (here’s a link if you want to know more about it). The river is not too cold and the weather is beautiful for most of our week, so we get a few good swimming opportunities that I certainly don’t miss… (I guess I am being just a little bit more Kiwi than my trail buddies on that part… ) The Whanganui River is not as peaceful as I make it sound…. there are numerous rapids along the way… and some of them quite big… being in a sea kayak probably make it easier for me, and I don’t tip over at all… unlike Eef and P-J who end up having an involuntary swim on the first day…. but the rapids add a bit of spice to the experience and (tipping over or not) everybody enjoys them a lot!! My best experience on the river comes right after Whakahoro. There the river calms down and enters into a large canyon. It is stunning. Steep walls on each side covered of moss and ferns, with some beautiful waterfalls, the dense bush on top, and the reflection of the rock in the mirror-like water… With no one else around, it is quiet and magical, with just the sound of the water and the birds songs… it’s green and wild… the sky is dark… I let myself drift with the current… I feel like time has stopped … … and then, to make the scene even more dramatically perfect, the thunder rolls in and resonates in the canyon… wow… there’s no words to describe where I am and how I feel… and this is how I want to remember the Whanganui River… the Mighty Whanganui River …

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