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A lost world

A lost world
 
 
 
 
 

I AWOKE at first light to a cool, damp morning with the drips of a heavy dew starting to run down the outside of my tent fly. Everyone else was sound asleep in the still soundless camping ground. Only a few decades ago the chorus of birdsong would have been almost deafening. Today there was not a single bird despite the remoteness of this part of the river. I headed down to the gorge where the brown almost mirror smooth water mournfully slid by with its eternal broken trail of bubbles from the Log Jam further upstream.

Dawn over the river

Dawn over the river

The cushion of the thin layer of cloud subtly captured the first rays of the morning sunrise as it encased the still breathless air of the gorge. The big slip across the river and the obvious line under which the vegetation had been stripped away remained a silent reminder of the raging torrents that can flood through here when the water level rises by up to twenty metres.

We have been fortunate in only having a couple of hours moderate rain so far on this trip. Occurring the day before yesterday it was all but a forgotten memory. Although the cloud completely covered the sky, the weather forecast for today and tomorrow was for fine weather, with rain arriving sometime over the next day after we have left the river. Any massive storm would render the river unsafe and we would be stuck here sometimes for days waiting for the river to drop.

The big slip looking downstream

The big slip looking downstream

Our canoes sat silently at the bottom of the muddy bank where the layers of mudstone dipped towards the water once more creating the weird illusion that the water was sloping quite steeply upwards against the flow. The track down to the river followed the top of one of these narrow shelves.

Although the water was a little murky, I could see on this side, the shallow side, the floor of the river was covered in the waterlogged trunks of trees washed down the three rivers. The occasional large boulder stuck up out of the surface as a reminder of the hazards beneath.

Canoes still on the bank

Canoes still on the bank

I returned to the camp ground where Cameron was starting to prepare breakfast. The others all joined all mentioning that the ground had been rather lumpy last night due to the roots and slope of the sites. Cameron quite happily announced that last night was our last night in tents, We will be staying in huts tonight. Tomorrow we will be back at the lodge at Ohakune.

Off from the far end of the table were the stacked red and white drums of the other couple, who weren’t up yet. Their drums were about half the volume of ours, as had the drums of the other couples we had stayed with in the past two nights. They would have been a lot easier to carry up and down the steep banks than our large drums.

My tent

My tent

Looking over the camping ground there definitely was room for quite a few more tents, as I imagined it would be during the peak holiday season. It would have been chaos though so thankfully we were doing the trip a few weeks after the end of the school holidays.

With breakfast prepared we ate cereal and relaxed. We only had nineteen kilometres to paddle this morning, but there was going to be a hike to the Bridge to Nowhere later this morning, making it a longer day than yesterday.

Breakfast

Breakfast

Once breakfast was finished, we started packing up just as the other couple were getting up. Thankfully our tents were dry as they will remain packed up until we return to Ohakune tomorrow afternoon. I gave Roger back his mattress and took the one I had loaned as we will be sleeping in huts tonight.

The sandy path was easy to walk down up to the start of the little slip where the ground was very muddy. It was a bit of an acrobatic act getting everything into the canoes, but after a couple of trips we were loaded up ready to go. Bruce and I cast off first into the mirror flat calm water. Once more we had the water in our canoe to balance out our differences in weight.

Packing up to set off downstream

Packing up to set off downstream

From here we had 19 kilometres to tonight’s accommodation at Ramanui and 40.5 kilometres to Pipiriki. With 83.5 kilometres of river behind us, we were more than two thirds of the way downstream.

Cameron led the way with Mum and Roger following, then Bruce and I, then the two ladies taking the rear as we had maintained over the past two days.

Heading downstream

Heading downstream

The water remained mirror flat as we paddled to the end of the short reach where we turned a sharp bend almost 180 degrees to head in the opposite direction. At the end of the bend the river funnelled into the Matawhero Rapid passing a small shingle bank to the right and a longer shingle bank to the left. The water became moderately turbulent in the vee but gradually eased as the river sharply turned to the left and avoided several large boulders poking up in the middle of the river. The name Matawhero means red faced, perhaps indicating some lichen or mineral growth that had once been on the exposed papa cliffs.

The winding dark river

The winding dark river

As soon as we completed the 180 degree bend, the river started a gradual bend to the right around thirty degrees. About half way around this gradual bend we entered the first part of the Whatakaka Rapid at a landslide to the right which had deposited huge boulders narrowing the channel. There was almost no turbulence though. As the river straightened out we passed through the rest of the Whatakaka Rapid which had almost no turbulence at all. Whatakaka most likely refers to a large native forest parrot Nestor meridinalis, or commonly known as the kaka with its olive brown and dull green plumage to camouflage well into the forest. These are still fairly common throughout New Zealand’s forests.

Ferny bluff and small waterfall

Ferny bluff and small waterfall

We continued along the short reach where we saw the Otumangu Landing at the end of the reach to the left at the mouth of a stream with the same name. It consisted of a small level rock platform about a metre above the water with an iron stanchion. From here a track heads follows the river upstream across the moss covered cliff before doubling back in a hairpin bend where the track has slipped away. It heads to the Otumangu stream through a deep ravine under a hanging valley under a pointed hill.

Otumangu Landing

Otumangu Landing

From there the calm brown river turned sharply to the right passing an old block of land where a World War I returned soldier attempted to farm with access to the river at Otumangu Landing. Almost no evidence was left of this block apart from a few pine trees on the hill and a clump of agapanthus blooming blue flowers around the outside and white flowers in the middle. It was strange seeing an exotic flowering plant after having travelled through native forest for several days.

Around the back of the bend huge cracks cut away dark gullies leaving wedges of the harder rock exposed to the erosion of the river. The cliff on the inside of the bend moderated into a grassy slope with the remains of old trees lying on the shore and in the shallows. We kept to the left side of the river to avoid being snagged.

Flood line clearly visible

Flood line clearly visible

The water became swifter with the surface slightly ruffled as we passed the Okateroa Rapid as the river straightened into a short reach. The hills closed in very tight with the occasional pale brown scar of a landslide in between the pristine green forest above the erosion line and beautiful ferns and mosses covering the lower cliff faces.

The valley widened a little turning the cliff faces into grass covered banks as we went through the almost non-existent Otaraiti Rapid through shallow waters from an old landslide. Just after this Cameron stopped and brought us together to share some of the chocolate that had been saved from the menu from the other day. Despite the summer warmth, the chocolate had remained intact throughout the journey without melting at all. We brought the boats together and relaxed on the river floating down as we ate chocolate.

Getting out the chocolate

Getting out the chocolate

The water became mirror smooth as we started paddling again passing the steepening cliffs and narrowing valley towards the next bend turning 12 degrees. We were about half way around the bend when we passed a small waterfall plunging about three metres down the cliff into the now murky water as we entered the Oapehu Rapid in the last part of the bend. There was a little gravel bank to the right from a small landslide as the flat water shallowed towards a shingle bank to the left.

At the end of the bend the river turned 60 degrees to the right entering the Otaipohata Rapid – the name meaning place of a goblin or ghost. There was almost no turbulence but it was very rocky on either side.

Paddling past cliffs

Paddling past cliffs

We turned into another bend turning 60 degrees to the left. At the start of the bend was the end of a prominent ridge with an eight metre small waterfall tumbling out of the forest over the vertical mossy cliff into the water. The cliffs around the bend became more dramatic with exposed sections from landslides.

In the middle of the bend was the Hautaua Rapid with almost no turbulence but a long shingle bank formed to the left.

Another eroded outcrop

Another eroded outcrop

There was a short straight where the river widened the the cliffs lowered in response. This ended in a 30 degree turn to the left at the start of which we entered the Papakino Rapid. There were thick shingle banks to the right and rocks poking out of the water to the left. The water was swift breaking over the rocks but the middle of the channel where we went through was fairly flat. The name probably means harmful ground perhaps indicating where an old Maori canoe once ran aground and was damaged by the rocks.

The river turned into a short reach with another rapid visible at the end. The cliffs on the right hand bank were grassy with vertical columns of rock rising to the forest above.

Rounding a small peninsula

Rounding a small peninsula

About half way along the reach Cameron directed us into a small ravine where an old tree had come down roots first blocking the entrance beyond about four metres. The roots were still mostly intact creating what would be a very difficult maze to get through. The brownish turquoise water quickly shallowed towards the base of the tree under which a small stream bubbled out of the forest. We paddled into the ravine and rafted up.

Cameron explained the Mangapurua Landing was a short distance downstream. This was the start of the track heading to the Bridge to Nowhere. He explained there were two landing points on the rock. The better landing by far is reserved for the jet boats heading up from Pipiriki. Our landing point is going to be quite a difficult spot at the edge of the rock where we will need to climb out of our canoes and edge across the side of the mudstone.

Spectacular layers in the rock

Spectacular layers in the rock

Cameron will have to go there first, climb out and secure his boat using his trusty rope. Then we will need to paddle there one at a time so he can secure our boats and get us safely to land.

Bruce and I remained in the tiny cove for quite some time whilst the other boats made their way to the landing. We occasionally poked out of the cove to see where the others were up to. Finally it was our turn.

Small waterfall

Small waterfall

We paddled out of the ravine and headed towards a light coloured exposed wedge of mudstone standing about four metres out of the water. The other canoes were tied up to it. We reached them and tied our canoe up to the side of the others before I climbed over the other boats to the face off the rock whilst Bruce held the boats together from behind and Cameron on the rope from above.

The rock had worn hand and foot holds which I needed to sidle across heading up towards the top of the wedge. The holds were rather worn down as expected in soft mudstone but it wasn’t too difficult despite having my camera swinging around my neck. It didn’t take long at all to reach the ledge where everyone else was waiting. Bruce took a couple of minutes to clamber up the rock.

Approaching Mangapurura

Approaching Mangapurura

Looking down the rock ledge, the access from its bottom was very easy. There weren’t any jet boats hooked up to it. From there the river swing around a tight turn to the right, the water up against the cliff face of ferns and mosses. On the other side of the river large boulders and snags rose up into a large plateau of long green grass.

Cameron tied the rope to a post. As he was doing so the couple who had stayed at our camping ground overnight paddled past. We asked them if they were coming up to the Bridge to Nowhere, but they wanted to continue paddling towards civilisation.

Mangapurura Landing

Mangapurura Landing

A small green jet boat suddenly came up the rapid at the corner and headed into the landing. We hadn’t seen any for the past two days as they are normally not allowed between here and Whakahoro. I realised we will be encountering them quite a bit over the rest of today and tomorrow as they all come up from Pipiriki.

We set off towards the start of the ledge at the top of the bluff before the approaching jet boat reached the landing.

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25 February 2016

 

Whanganui Nat Park

New Zealand

 

39°17'S
174°56'E

45 - 75m ASL

 

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