Category Archives: Canoeing

The (4-day) Whanganui Journey (26-30 Dec 2019)

In September the NSW National Parks started burning. Tom optimistically thought we might be able to go canyoning in Wollemi after Christmas. As the weeks passed the burning spread I became convinced that was not going to be an option. In fact I didn’t think anywhere in NSW was going to be an option. Finally Tom agreed that it might be more sensible to extend our trip in NZ, since it seemed NZ was unlikely to be on fire. It might be flooded… but at least we wouldn’t be facing hazardous air quality. So a week before we were due to leave we re-booked our flights and found something to do that we could access (relatively) easily from Wellington and didn’t require Tom’s feet to have survived the Wangapeka Track. With limited time and little arm muscle we settled on 4 days of the Whanganui Journey Great “Walk”.

Boxing Day was an early start on the Intercity bus from Wellington to Taumarunui. We then sat round in Taumaranui for longer than planned (our lift forgot us)… fortunately we both had fat books with us! Eventually we made it to the Taumarunui Canoe Hire property where we were promptly processed. It was a very busy day with 60 people going on to the river the following day.


Camp the night before we start

It was an early start, with the safety briefing at 6:45am. So in line with much of the trip we were up at 5:30am to get ready. Fortified by lattes we got through the safety briefing (“the canoe will never tip over, it’s always your fault”) and driven out to Ohinepane.


Beautiful views, with coffee, before the safety briefing

There were 8 others (another couple, and a group of 6) starting with us. We did our test paddle around and got the seal of approval so Tom & I were the first to leave. There was a reasonable rapid almost immediately and everyone else was watching… no pressure!


Ready to launch!

Successfully through the first (and probably most difficult one of the day) rapid we were carried down the river at a fair clip. Groups that had started the day before had been held back till 11am as the river was too high and we were still benefiting from some of that height.


On our way

While there are campsites every couple of hours along the route, which make convenient stops, we decided to have lunch at Ohura Falls. There were waterfalls the whole way down the river, but they were generally of a vertical skinny nature.


Lunch at Ohura Falls on Day 1


Working hard

The campsite at Whakahoro is a 400m walk, with 50m vertical, from the canoe tie-up area. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you have to lug 5 barrels up I assure you it’s not much fun. Not surprising then we were ready for a swim after that!


Swim below Whakahoro campsite at the end of Day 1

It was pretty windy at the campsite and our tent which had been saturated from condensation the night before was soon dry. There were a few Te Araroa walkers who were starting on the river the following day so we heard a bit about their experiences on the trail that evening.


Getting ready to go on Day 2

As we’d left our bookings till fairly late in the piece we hadn’t been able to stay at the ‘recommended’ campsite on night 2. Instead of John Coull we were headed for Ohaurora, two hours earlier. Subsequently we weren’t in any particular hurry on day 2. Unfortunately there was a bit of headwind and we had to work pretty hard rather than just drifting with the river. We had a stop early on to explore one of the many side creeks, which turned out to be a reasonable canyon.


Oh look we found a canyon!


The man in his element


Morning tea stop at Mangapapa Day 2

My willingness to stop for further canyon exploration was muted with the effort with the headwind. I was quite happy just to get to camp – the first there – at 2:30pm and not have to paddle any more. Since we were first we got the choice of the campsites – a lovely spot with river views slightly removed from the main grassy area. The next couple arrived about an hour later, as they were choosing their spot, I realised it was Bruce who I had played Ultimate with back in 2001. Small world indeed! Though I would have been disappointed if we hadn’t bumped into someone we knew on the trip – these sorts of things always seem to happen.


The prime site at Ohaurora Campsite night 2

With our early camp on day 2 we had a long day 3. We got up at 5:30am and were paddling by 7am. When we arrived at John Coull there were groups who hadn’t left yet – that was even with a couple of stops for canyon exploration.


Here we go again Day 3


Pull off for more canyon exploration




What is up here?

Unfortunately we left John Coull just ahead of the group we termed the “flotilla” since there were 16 of them (8 canoes). These arrived at Mangawaiiti just after we did for morning tea. We got away before them but felt compelled to paddle a bit harder than we might of (no wind today) to keep separated from them.


Morning tea at Mangawaiiti campsite Day 4

Fortunately I’d just managed to retrieve lunch from our barrel at Mangapurua before the canoe got bumped out of the way by the arrival of the flotilla. We headed up the hill on the 40 minute walk to the Bridge to Nowhere.


Peak hour at Mangapurua!!

We seemed to have timed things fairly well. Despite seeing hoards of people on the track by the time we got to the Bridge we had it almost to ourselves.


I’m on a bridge to nowhere….

We stopped for more canyon exploration – the wind and jet boats were causing a bit of chop so we decided the boat couldn’t be left by itself. Tom went off exploring. I wasn’t that keen but he insisted it was worth it. I got to a section where I needed both hands and was umming and aahing about pushing on, but Tom was waving at me to keep going. So abandoning the camera I did. Just as well – it was the most impressive canyon of the trip.


Best canyon of the trip… but I had to leave my camera here as I needed my hands

It had been a long day, with the canyon side-trips, the walk to the Bridge to Nowhere and several hours of paddling, we didn’t get to camp till 5pm (from a 7am start). The campsite at Ramanui was busy, and I was very glad to have the owner drive our barrels up to the site on his quad bike. The flotilla arrived not long afterwards and we ended up camped in the midst of them. However, despite the crowds it was a very scenic spot and I enjoyed sitting on the grass eating cheese and biccies and finishing our port.


Very scenic (if packed) campsite at Ramanui night 3

The forecast rain came overnight, but we got up at 5:30am again despite the drizzle. Thinking we’d drag our gear over to the camp kitchen to avoid disturbing others we were somewhat surprised to find bodies on the floor in the kitchen, and sleeping on the covered picnic tables! I felt less bad about disturbing them… Though turned out the people on the floor in the kitchen where there because the tent they’d hired had the wrong fly with it. It was substantially smaller than the tent which was obviously no good when the rain started. I think the company they hired from was going to be getting some frank feedback!


Slightly worse weather early on day 4


About to start off on our last day


Gloomy, wet start to the day

The wet weather burnt off after a couple of hours, in time for us to hit the trickiest rapids of our 4 days. The Autapu rapid is apparently known as “50/50” – the odds of staying in your canoe. We took on a fair bit of water but stayed upright. Of course we don’t have any photos of the rapids since there was no time for waving a camera as we were going down them!


Te Araroa walkers at the end of one of the rapids


Side-creek exploration


Side-creek exploration


Tom off to see some caves

At the end at 12:30 it was time for action. Tent was set to dry, ate our emergency noodles for lunch, and a full re-pack from barrels into packs as we were getting dropped off in Raetihi to get the bus back to Wellington. A great 4 days – though my lazy left shoulder is still complaining about all the work it had to do several days later.

Lower Zambezi – Zambia Part III (5-10 Aug 2018)

After a few days at my school reunion (Part II) we were ready for the next part of our trip. We left Mkushi early on Sunday morning to drive to Kariba. We had a much better trip to Lusaka compared to the way up – a lot less traffic as we were earlier in the day. We had lunch at one of the big malls in Lusaka – they were very impressive – you could have been anywhere in the world!


Lunch stop in one of the several large malls in Lusaka

Then we still had a few hours drive to the border post at Kariba Dam. The border formalities went relatively smoothly. As we were taking our hire car across the border there was a bit more paperwork. Everything I’d read on the internet had led me to believe we were going to be hit with large ‘taxes’ for taking the car into Zimbabwe but only US$20 poorer we were across – I’m not complaining! We finally got to where we were staying about 5pm – so an 11 hour day of travel. We got to enjoy sunset on the edge of Lake Kariba for a bit but then we needed to sort out our gear as we were starting our canoe safari early the next morning.

The canoe safari ended up being just me, Tom and 3 guides; Norman, KK and Thomas! (Thomas was a trainee, normally it’s just 2 guides to a trip with up to 8 clients). We started off with a shopping trip for any additional beverages we wanted and then we had a few hours drive to Chirundu.


About to leave Kariba Town


Looking down the Zambezi escarpment – very hazy due to seasonal burn-off

Just as we were about to start heading down the Zambezi escarpment one of the guides got the driver to pull over. It seemed the bearings on one of the wheels on the trailer had gone. After a bit of chat the driver and guides decided we’d just keep going. We made it to Chirundu safely though the wheel looked a little worse for wear!


The wheel with the broken bearings in Chirundu

We had lunch on the riverbank while the canoes and gear got sorted out. KK found us some Baobab fruit to sample. They were quite nice.


Baobab fruit – quite tart but tasty

With the guide to client ratio as it was Tom & I both got to go in a canoe with a guide which made things pretty relaxing as all we needed to do was paddle (sometimes) and they did all the steering. Norman told us he normally tries to split couples up in the canoes otherwise they tend to not enjoy the trip.


Riverside scenery – luxury lodges and elephants!


Photographer, baobab, fish eagle (in the tree) = match made in heaven


Idyllic river paddling

The first day was fairly hard for non-conditioned paddlers like us. We did 4 hours in the canoes without stopping (~25km) so by the time we pulled into our island for the night our bottoms were pretty sore. I was beginning to wonder if I’d got in over my head!


African sunset – camp night 1


KK cooks up pork chops on night 1

I was more relaxed when I realised we’d done almost a third of the distance on the first day. Day 2 was another 25km day – but done over 3 stints so more chances to stretch out. We started the day with hot drinks and biscuits.


Some serious wind shielding for the kettle!


The hippos were always lurking


River-level views were pretty good


Elephant and cattle egret

We had breakfast after a couple of hours of paddling, then lunch a bit later. Hippos were ever present so the guides were always on alert to make sure we took the best route around them. Our lunch spot was down a side channel, and there was a large pod of hippos on the shore next to where we needed to go. Hippos want to be in deep-ish water when feeling threatened so a bit of slapping the paddles on the water got them all moving.


We’re aiming for the tree on the right… just go to get the hippos out of the way first!


And they’re off! including all the birds off their backs

As soon as they were in the water we zipped through the side channel entrance that had been full of hippos only moments before. We had lunch and a long break in the heat of the day before our final stint of paddling for the day to camp.


Sunset – day 2

As we’d done half the paddling in the first two days the third day was fairly relaxed. We followed the pattern of the previous day but drifting more and paddling less.


Morning tea stop day 3


Sunset – day 3

The final day was only 8km so we covered that in about an hour. Then there were trailers to load at Mana Pools, more National Parks paperwork and then a long drive back to Kariba.

(If I was planning this trip again, knowing what I know now, I would have looked at a provider on the Zambia side as it would have saved us both driving time and border crossing time and expense. That is in no way meant to reflect poorly on the company we went with – more that we probably could have saved ourself a day or maybe more of driving.)


And before we know it that’s the end

The drive out of Mana Pools was made unpleasant by the presence of Tsetse Flies which have a fairly painful bite. And similar to the March Flies in Australia they need to be well and truly squished to kill them. We were all pretty glad once we were back on the escarpment without them.


Lunch stop on our way back to Kariba

Once back in Kariba we had border formalities to go back to Zambia (Siavonga). I thought maybe all these ‘taxes’ were going to come on the way out – but other than a K20 (A$2.70) road toll we got through unscathed.

Our original accommodation provider couldn’t take us so other arrangements had been made on the Southern Belle – a moored houseboat on Lake Kariba. Probably an upgrade from what I’d booked!


The Southern Belle

For a while it appeared we might have the entire boat to ourselves, but there was another group of 4 guests. Of which 2 turned out to be the parents of one of my school friends who I hadn’t seen since 1994! Such a small world.


Southern Belle relaxing


Southern Belle lounge room

From Siavonga it was back to Lusaka. And primarily for the location north of the airport we stayed at a small ‘game park’ just out of town. Having done ‘proper’ safaris in Namibia and Botswana this wasn’t particularly exciting though they did have some gorgeous cheetahs.


Tom’s found a friend


Just a yawn right?


Rachel’s found one too

Of course when we got on the plane there was an article in the in-flight magazine about how these sorts of animal interaction experiences should be avoided due the exploitation of the animals, unhealthy breeding industry which it promoted etc. I’d like to think the story we got told was true – that the cheetahs had been found as orphans – they’d been at the property 6 years. I would’ve been happy just to watch them as we haven’t seen any cheetahs in the wild during our African adventuring, but as evidenced below we got quite a lot of interaction.

And thus ended our Zambian adventure.