River Frolickin' at 42 Below
So it was Friday 2pm… I had just canned the River Rescue course due to instructor-family-circumstances and was desperate to get out of this great metropolis, or crap-hole, that’s debatable.
Having not paddled since a long time (I think it goes back to the second to last Wairoa release) it was time to sink my blades into something wet but frosty (we’ll leave that just right there I think). The good thing about organising a set course is that you know people are available regardless so they can’t give you lame excuses. Although some people definitely tried. One hour and $20 credit later we sorted out a ‘solid’ plan - which was to drive to Vegas and construct a plan from there. I guess I should have mentioned that we were camping.
Anyway, we had a great New-Age Family wagon (thanks to Keri’s dad who thinks his daughter runs enough risks on the river with dodgy people without a dodgy car) in which we managed to stuff; Alana, Keri, Alison, Myself and Quentin on our way to Aniwhenua campground. I won’t elaborate on the exciting drive, we have all been there. After a joyful night of camping at minus degrees (there was a thick layer of frost on the tents) we found ourselves alone on site. It was a beautiful morning to wake to; the birds were chirping, the sun was rising over distant hilltops, the skies were vacant of clouds and the serenity and solitude of the place was breathtaking. Truly a unique place that will be treasured as one of those magical parts of our beautiful country.
I got up early to scout the section between the dam and falls. As the dam had been releasing overnite I was very keen to check things out, more so to explore a new run. Two hours and a great many bloody scratches later we returned to camp to tell of our experiences and hope to get everyone enthused. The scouting wasn’t all bad as most concealed rapids were revealed by plumes of fog arising from the pool below. One gate was releasing so the run was marginal but good to go. Several good drops are actually hidden in this gorge, not sure about numbers but I’d say maybe 4 nice 3 with one grade 3+ rapid, only marred by first time portaging. The water itself was filthy as, the dam was releasing the sediment of the lake which I do admit gave it a nice blue glacial colour (it smelled like something rotten tho). Us intrepid adventurers set off, carrying our boats to the dam (well, actually we drove the 200m) and got in to show this river a lesson. The first rapid proved to be too boney and incredibly tight – after making it down the rapid I had to peel everybody off the rocks.
Once again we set off for the unknown, trying not to sniff up too much river odour. Soon the river picked up gradient and confined itself to several narrow chutes before forking off with two feasible channels to choose from. My memory, shady as it may be, recalled a description of this section from years ago which mentioned this exact decision one had to make…One good, the other not so. It was an easy decision, seeing the right chute sported a narrow chute which was too tight too handle so we opted for the left channel. Our decision was acknowledged by the availability of a nice ledge weir drop. Apart from me, everybody opted for the art of ‘portage’. Matter of factly it was such a sweet rapid I decided to get out of my boat to do it again. We soon realised why the left channel was not a feasible option, the end of which culminated in a nasty 3m rock-congested fall which had the potential to tear another @sshole.
Although, with (wisdom?) in hindsight, it had a marginal line that I will definitely be keen to run next time. Following this there is one chunky rapid left before the falls and boy does it go off when it has some water. Its quite strange really, halfway through the drop all the water coolects into a massive fantail you can ride, into the hole at the bottom. By this time most of the girls (who were bootie-less (to throw in some paddle lingo) decided that they had had enough blackberry bush encounters for the day (true, the bush-bashing experience was very average). Having done enough portaging for the day, Quentin and I ran it and paddled off to the falls only to realise that we were only two hours late for our appointment with James (who came in after to do the top of Rangitaikie). We knew even this was pushing the vague boundaries of canoe club time so executive decisions were made and us, the boys, set off to meet with James to do top mission, and a quick shuttle while the girls enjoyed a leisurely pace down Ani (I think?). In the end, there was no need for timeliness as James appeared to be over-hung, and sleeping in his car we suspect.
Being pressed for time (it was after 3’ish) we raced through the forestry. We put on at four (with only about one hour of daylight to spare and the previous twilight epic fresh in mind) when we noticed that the Taikie was running slightly high and had its fair share of frost on the banks, which is impressive by any standards at this time of day. Did it need mentioning that it was darn cold? What were we doing here again? Anyway, star jumps and negative feelings were quickly left behind as off we went in the boat. It was high all right, Rock A had vanished under a white pillow of aerated water and the rest of the river didn’t look that much better (I could hardly discern rock B, then again I’ve never quite known what rock people are talking about anyway). Hell or high water, it was all sweet particularly with the water level we ended up blasting the top (not entirely voluntarily) in a mere 15 minutes. Being in a puny playboat, the whole section appeared to be cranking. As far as I could tell, all landmarks and features like fantail were replaced by a rollercoaster ride. Once in Fantail falls I experienced a complete white-out with heaps of big buffer waves and holes that loved my pointy low-volume Chronic. After tail standing a fair bit of the rapids I rolled up on the lip of Jeff when I suffered an epiphany. This was surely the highest I had paddled it at and Jeff appeared like a big violent mauling entity. It is interesting paddling high waters. Unfortunately I could not stick around to watch the others come down being subject to heavy currents which spun me a round the corner. Less than fifteen minutes later we stood at the get-out…
Driven by our insatiable thirst for whitewater we set off for the Kaituna, at 450 cumecs, the next day. The get-in was pretty crowded by jolly paddlers, some of which still Kaituna virgins. As slow as were getting on, we never saw any of them on the river, or after. All the girls decidedly wanted to paddle from the top down despite being a bit shaky and having a ‘fair’ bit of nervousness. After a fair bit of playing it was time to head down for some fun. Everybody did exceptionally well at Okere Falls, a place easy to fall prey to intimidation by the sheer volume of water rushing down around you. An unfortunate Keri slipped on the eddy-boil line and couldn’t roll up before going over the weir at which point swimming was the only feasible option. Once at the waterfall, some people’s pupils widened. Yet, there were no mere’s apart from James who went last and spent a long few seconds at the boil-line with the falls piling on top of him (He refused to go first, convinced he was bound to suffer carnage).
Heck, some people even had a dry hair run on it!! this relatively uneventful run was soon to change. Alana soon swam on Pinball (it was actually another rapid but I like the sound of it) followed by mass exodus at the Abyss. Both Alison and Alana were now swimming down to the get-out while James, Quentn and I were frantically trying to push Alana’s and Alison’s boat to the side, picking up bits and pieces on the way. Alison’s boat was completely swamped and even sank briefly below kaituna hole. I almost got it pushed out to the eddy when another swift current swept it out to Troutpool, at which point I decided it had been fun enough. Scrambling onto the banks through, once again thorn bushes, I went off to check out Troutpool Falls. Surely enough, the boat was just floating around, with a big dent in the nose.
There you have it, my first trip report since years. I just wanted to prevent this trip from slipping into obscurity, merely to be retold by our fading memories. Hope it’s an entertaining introduction to your ‘Wintertrip’ weekend.