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Pipiriki

Pipiriki
 
 
 
 
 

THE WATER at the Pipiriki boat landing was a placid pool at the bottom of the last rapid we had come through. The calm didn't last long though, entering another rapid from the rock bank we were at the edge of sweeping around to the right to the widening valley. Opposite us was an eroding bluff with a slip face from its end. The scrub covering the rest of the point hadn’t provided enough strength to prevent its erosion.

Slip opposite Pipiriki ramp

Slip opposite Pipiriki ramp

We beached at the bottom of the concrete boat ramp, now at just 29 metres above sea level. There were 197 rapids between here and Taumarunui. now 145.5 kilometres upstream. We had paddled 124 kilometres from Ohinepane just five days ago, having gone down 151 rapids. There was still 88.5 kilometres to go to Wanganui. This was the location of the houseboat for the first night’s accommodation for the steamboats heading up to Taumarunui.

Although the valley was wide, the surrounding hills still stood rather tall. Most of these hills were around 400 metres high, with Whaharangi hill towering behind Pipiriki at 636 metres high, one of the tallest hills we had seen along the river. The simple boat ramp was all that remains of what was once a prosperous town as a base for people travelling up and down the river.

Pipiriki marks the limit of the large paddle steamers. Beyond here the rapids we had gone down made the river too difficult for the large boats to navigate. From here the passengers would be dropped off for their first night of accommodation at the large guest house. The next morning they would travel further up river on a twin screw steamer up to Ohura. At that point the river becomes more difficult again, so they would spend the night on the houseboat before taking the smaller twin screw steamers along the even more difficult section of the river all the way up to Taumarunui, arriving towards the end of third day on the river.

Most people travelling on the river would have been on their way up to Auckland. They would catch the train at Taumarunui to complete their journey to Auckland until it was extended through the Central Plateau, sharply reducing the demand for passenger service along the river.

Pipiriki has a long history. It is named after the rifleman (Acanthisitta chloris), New Zealand's smallest bird which is now quite rare on the main islands now. I saw some several years ago on Stewart Island. They are tiny rounded birds It is one of two surviving species of New Zealand wren. The European name comes from the green plumage on its back closely resembling the uniform of the early New Zealand army rifleman.

Calm waters of Pipiriki

Calm waters of Pipiriki

The Maori had long established themselves here for over six hundred years before the arrival of the Europeans. The village was originally on the other side of the river straddling the bluff that is now crumbling away. In the 1840s the first Europeans reported Pipiriki to be the second largest settlement on the river (next to the settlement on the coast). There were eight pa with around 250 to 300 people living here. It was the home and primary settlement of the Ngati Kura, a group of the Ngati Ruanui tribe of southern Taranaki.

European settlers began to move into Pipiriki, clearing some of the land and producing wheat from around 1848. The water powered Kaukore mill was built in 1854 to process the flour before being freighted downstream. Maori and Pakeha lived together peacefully here until the Maori wars broke out in 1860. Eight forts were built here for the Maori wars, and three of these were besieged for several weeks by Pai Mariri Maori warriors from Taranaki in 1865.

After the war ended, the Whanganui River Trust was formed and they got to work clearing the large boulders and snags from the river. They blasted channels through the major rapids from tiny working punts successfully creating an open channel along the 88 kilometres between Wanganui and Pipiriki by 1892. This opened the way for the steamboat service with larger boats like the Waimarie which ran the service for many years.

During the age of the steam boat, Pipiriki was a booming tourist resort town, being a base for the large boats from downstream and the smaller boats from upstream. Here the larger boat would unload after its eleven hour trip from Wanganui and smaller boats would be loaded for the continuing journey upstream through the notorious rapids we had just passed.

To accommodate the increasing number of travellers on their first overnight stop, Hatrick and Co. the company owning the steam boat service built a hotel. Pipiriki House was built on the hill above what is now the boat ramp between 1899 and 1903. It was a huge two storey colonial style hotel with one hundred rooms accommodating up to three hundred people standing proudly above the river. It would have been a welcome landmark for those travelling along the river, seeing it from either direction meant the end of a long day's travel. It was fitted with the electric light, a rarity at the time. The dining hall seated up to a hundred and twenty, giving guests views of sensational sunsets over the river as they had dinner.

With the hotel built, the river upstream could be cleared to allow the steamboat service to be extended up to the end of the northern railway at Taumarunui, from where travellers could catch the train up to Auckland. At the time the railway across the central plateau was still in the early stages of construction.

Pipiriki Pool

Pipiriki Pool

Although serving the travellers well, it didn't meet with good fortune. It after just six years of service, it burnt down to the ground on 10 March 1909. The fire is believed to have started in the kitchen. The dry timber construction helped the fire to become a massive flaming blaze very quickly. Fortunately there were few tourists staying there that night and they were all safely evacuated.

The hotel was rebuilt in just nine months. In the interim guests stayed on one of the house boats. It remained standing for nearly fifty years when again it burnt down in 1959. By then the steam age had passed and few passengers were being transported on the river, so it was never rebuilt.

The famous skipper Andy Anderson (same captain of the notorious Ngaporo Rapid accident) lived here for much of his career on the river. His father migrated here from Dunedin to deliver mail along the river by canoe from the 1880s. After a few years he accepted a role working as a deck hand on one of the A Hatrick and Co steamers between Wanganui and Pipiriki. He eventually became a skipper running the boats up and down the river until his sudden death in a canoeing accident in one of the rapids downstream in 1897 just before Andy's second birthday.

Andy went to school in Pipiriki, travelling a couple of kilometres downstream by canoe from his home passing through the last couple of rapids we had passed. Being part Maori he became fluent in both languages. He started working for Hatrick as a deck hand in 1910, and quickly became a skipper. He worked the river for the rest of his life apart from a few years when he had been drafted into World War I. His wife became the cook at Pipiriki House some years after it was rebuilt. He continued working through to 1958 when the boat he piloted was the only one left in regular service along the river.

Paparoa Rapid upstream

Paparoa Rapid upstream

He died on 16 August 1958 when he fell down a steep bank into the water on his way down to clearing a fishing weir. He hit his head on the rocks knocking him unconscious. His body was found a month later under a log, taken by the river that had been his life.

Within a few months of his death Pipiriki House burnt down and the steam boat service along the river was stopped, leaving the river very quiet until the jet boat tours began decades later. Now the river was busier than ever with tourism now being New Zealand's biggest industry.

There is still a strong Maori influence in Pipiriki, with the Paraweka Marae located here, belonging to the Tama Upoko peoples of the middle Whanganui River. The lower part of the river is claimed by the Tupoho iwi.

Guy was at the boat ramp with his van and trailer, as was a larger bus packing up a group that had been paddling ahead of us arriving a few minutes before.

Bringing up the canoes

Bringing up the canoes

Over a few trips between the canoes and the van, we unbuckled our gear, took the drums and bins up to the trailer packing them in. Then we brought the canoes up putting them upside down in the trailer.

Once packed up we headed inside the luxurious comfort of the van, still a bit damp from falling out at Ngaporo. Dinie was celebrating having completed the entire trip without falling out.

Heading through Pipiriki

Heading through Pipiriki

With everything packed up and secured we headed along the moderately steep winding road through the Pipiriki village passing a couple of houses. A junction had two roads, one following the river downstream for 79 kilometres to Wanganui and the other following a narrow valley passing scrub and farmland above a steep gorge to Raetihi. 27 kilometres away.

Although rugged, the road downstream to Wanganui follows above the river bank. The terrain along the lower part of the river is a lot less rugged than what we had been passing through over the past five days. Early settlers reported small numbers of native Maori living upstream of Pipiriki in tiny villages on whatever terraces they could find. From Pipiriki downstream they saw village after village growing on the numerous fertile terraces where they grew many fruit trees, potatoes, kumara and other crops. With so much more breathing space, the pre-European groups downstream from Pipiriki naturally expanded into quite a sizeable populations, whereas the villages upstream from Pipiriki were constrained with confined terraces and limited resources. There were many more Maori canoes along the lower stretch of river making for a magnificent sight.

Heading towards the saddle

Heading towards the saddle

We took the winding road up the gully towards Raetihi, passing dense scrub with the occasional clearing where one of the local farms was eking out an existence.

View of Ruapehu

View of Ruapehu

We eventually reached a saddle after which we stopped by the side of the road for a view of the spectacular Mount Ruapehu capped with glacial snow. Behind Ruapehu to the left was the more distant Ngauruhoe and Tongariro looking barren being completely free of ice. It was amazing to be able to see the river’s source along the side of Mount Tongariro from two hundred kilometres downstream.

Group shot at the saddle

Group shot at the saddle

I quickly noticed the air up here was a lot drier than in the valley. It had been very humid in the valley throughout the trip. The sky to the north and east was almost completely free of clouds. Looking to the west though, the high cirrus cloud was thickening to the south. This was bringing on a new north westerly with coming rain. We had timed the trip very well.

Guy collected our cameras and took our shots as we posed in front of Ruapehu before we climbed back on board. After a brief drop we continued gaining altitude with the roughness of the terrain easing and the scrub clearing to more consistent farmland.

Guy taking our picture

Guy taking our picture

Once on top of the plateau we entered Raetihi, where we reached the junction of Highway 4 through the Paraparas to Wanganui. From there we continued across the plateau towards the mountain eventually reaching our base in Ohakune.

Passing through Raetihi

Passing through Raetihi

Pulling into the circular driveway a rather mangy dog greeted us climbing into the van and slobbering all over us when we opened the door. After the initial excitement it let us. We pulled the drums out of the trailer and settled at one of the picnic tables under a shade sail tent for lunch prepared by the young ladies in the office. A little exhausted we were relieved to be back on land.

Lunch back in Ohakune

Lunch back in Ohakune

Cameron did some final packing up before clocking off for a well-earned rest following his five day shift taking us down the river. The two couples packed up and headed home in the four wheel drives to Rotorua and Fielding respectively, to head back to work on Monday.

Mum and I were staying here for the night before heading off to the other side of the island to do the Waikaremoana Track, but two days of rest in between the treks was well needed.

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26 February 2016

 

Whanganui Nat Park

New Zealand

 

39°30'S
175°10'E

27 - 590m ASL

 

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