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Day 5 - Ramanui to Ohakune

Day 5 - Ramanui to Ohakune
Home > Walkabout > NZ Great Walks > Whanganui Journey > 5
 
 

 

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March 2016

 

Whanganui Nat. Park

New Zealand

 

39°20'S
177°10'E

27 - 590m ASL

 

Google Maps Link

 

   

Introduction to today's journey

Ko Uenuku tenei e tu nei. Ko Ruapehu te maunga, ko Manganuioteao te awa, ko Turoa te tangata, ko Uenuku te iwi.

This is Uenuku that stands here. Ruapehu is the mountain, Manganuioteao is the river, Turoa is the ancestral chief and Uenuku is the tribe.

- Uenuku Pepeha (tribal proverb)

THE MOST dramatic part of the Whanganui River is Te Wahi Pari - the place of cliffs. Small villages once lined the tops of the cliffs. Rung ladders of tough supplejack vines hung down the sides of these thirty to sixty metre high cliffs to allow the villagers access to the river, their transport route and fishing grounds. From their vantage points at the top of the cliffs they would watch out for people from other tribes. If there was any suspicion of hostility, they would pull their ladders up the cliff to create an inpenetrable barrier between themselves and the river to ward off attacks.

Today's journey leaves Ramanui and navigates the calm waters through the spectaclar gorge of Te Wahi Pari before passing the mouth of the Manganuioteao River from where the landscape quickly changes to low hills as we pass through a succession of the river's biggest rapids to our final destination in Pipiriki.

 
 

Today's Journey

Distance trekked today: 21.5 kilometres.

Total distance trekked to date: 128.5 kilometres.

 
 
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06:39 - Low cloud lingers over the triangular papa hills of Tieke Kainga as the first light of morning gradually sweeps away the darkness of night. Cameron is already in the kitchen shelter starting to prepare breakfast as I leave the bunk room. None of the others are up yet. The sky above the other side of the river is beginning to lighten, marking the dawn of our final day on the river. The now sizeable river flows through the gorge swift but silent. There is no sign of life on either side of the river.

 

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06:40 - I walk down the road to just above the steep drop to where our canoes are tied up to the washed down trees, along the edge of the Ramanui Rapid. Only the briefest of reprieves lead into the start of the Omaika Rapid where the river turns around the small peninsula of Tieke Kainga. As the sky lightens I see patches of blue sky above the river. Perhaps it is going to clear today, but rain is forecast for tomorrow. Low patches of mist pass in front of the triangular forested hills of delicate papa rock held together by the ancient trees.

 

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06:58 - I return to the camp where the black cat is waiting, perhaps for a meal. As we prepare breakfast thick grey clouds cover the hills for a few moments looking as if the weather is going to close in for rain. The wooden seat on the old stump just sits there with its eternal view over the river. As we eat breakfast the cloud starts clearing and the morning sun breaks through onto the hills around the gorge on the other side of Tieke Kainga. The clouds turn an apricot yellow hue welcoming the dawn.

 

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07:19 - The others are all up, so we pack up and bring our awkward plastic drums down to the middle of the hill to be picked up and taken down to our canoes. We eat breakfast at the picnic table. Derek arrives in his quad bike and trailer and packs the drums as we are finishing breakfast. We quickly pack the food drums as he picks them up. We walk down to the canoes for our final 21.5 kilometres paddle to Pipiriki from where we will be picked up later today. It is a difficult downhill along the very steep track, but I am thankful that all our gear was taken down to the landing in amongst the maze of washed down trees. We stay with the same people in the canoes as we have done over the past few days - we all seem to work well staying together in the group. We don't have much water in the white container in my boat today so hopefully my end of the canoe will be well in the water to give it more control down the rapids later today. With over a hundred kilometres behind us since Ohinepane, the volume of water is substantially greater with the potential for much bigger rapids. This is making me a bit nervous.

 

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08:48 - We cast off paddling quickly to the middle of the river to prevent any snags. Another group leaves at the same time. I recognise them as the group passed coming out of the Bridge to Nowhere and who had arrived at the Mangapapa lunch spot just as we were leaving yesterday. The young lady leading the group in her kayak stays behind the rest of the group and paddles with Cameron talking in their rather booming voices as we head down the small Omaika Rapid around the 90 degree corner around Tieke Kainga.

 

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08:55 - We pass the large landslide to our right which we saw coming down the straight into Ramanui yesterday. It partially blocks the river but creates little turbulence in the rapid. We continue around the bend passing a small cove sheltered by a piece of hard, resistant rock jutting out dramatically upstream as if trying to split the river. At the back of the cove is the start of the Matemateonga Track heading over the range towards Whangamomona. Shortly after the cove we pass Okuranui Stream flowing in to the right we pass through the Puahue Rapid, with a mostly submerged shingle bank to the right and very little turbulence. At this point the valley suddenly narrows with high cliffs on either side towering a good thirty to forty metres high. To the right the cliff is mostly covered in ferns with the occasional slip exposing the pale grey rock.

 

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08:56 - Once around the bend the river sharply turns 80 degrees to the right. The low cliff to the left suddenly towers to around fifty metres high ahead of us. This cliff rises vertically over an exposed rock face with two distinctive horizontal fissures of soft rock. Ferns and mosses grow above and below the face, mostly below where debris has fallen off from the forest high above. Part way along the cliff face I see a three metre high waterfall plunging out of a deep and very narrow ravine to the left.

 

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09:02 - Spectacular cliffs now tower either side of us. A steep fern covered bank occupies the lowest few metres above the water, cutting the vegetation off from the forest above by the vertical cliffs. The forest is framed from the cliff top with a row of sword grass hanging over the edge far overhead. The other group paddles on ahead of us at a faster pace. With a looser schedule (apparently), we stop paddling and relax as the current of the impenetrable gorge gently takes us downstream.

 

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09:05 - The cliffs tower higher, to over a hundred metres towards the end of the reach gradually turning to the left ahead of us. The area appears uninhabited but there were once been many pa on top of the hills, from where the Maori people made ladders from the vines of the forest to lower down the cliffs to climb up. If they saw enemies approaching they would raise the ladders to make access impossible. From here on this area was known as Te Wahi Pari – the place of cliffs.

 

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09:09 - Small villages once lined the tops of the cliffs. The Maori people used to construct rung ladders and put them over the edges of the cliffs to climb down the thirty to sixty metres to the water to fish and to travel. The ladders were constructed from the tough supplejack vines growing in the bush. From the cliff tops they could see a long way up and down the river. If they saw people from other tribes approaching, they would pull up the ladders to create an impenetrable barrier between themselves and the river to ward off hostile attacks. The upper gorge around Mangapapa had been spectacular with its towering cliffs, but even those would have been dwarfed by the spectacular gorge through here. Over the millennia the river has cut deep through these hills. The water is surprisingly calm for such a deep chasm.

 

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09:13 - To our left the cliffs gradually decreases at the start of the long bend with the occasional small ravine under the dense forest. Several wedged rock formations jut out pointing upstream as if to attempt to cut the river. The high cliffs to the right are smooth. The massive floods that have come down here in the past have smoothed out the cliffs.

 

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09:14 - I can hear a fairly deep motorised sound echoing through the gorge. Initially we decide it is a helicopter, but then realise it is a jet boat heading up the river delivering the first of many tourists to the Bridge to Nowhere. We paddle across to the right hand side of the river to let it past, turning towards the middle of the river. The boat zooms past breaking the laminar smooth surface of the water. Large waves roll towards us. They pass under us causing quite a bumpy ride before bouncing off the cliffs on either side confusing the water for several minutes before settling back down to its mirror smoothness.

 

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09:15 - Towards the end of the reach a southerly wind begins to pick up ruffling the previously calm water. The river suddenly shallows but there is no rapid here. Once around the first part of the corner, the river mostly straightens out. We relax in the calm section of water rafting up and having drinks and chocolate.

 

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09:18 - The valley begins to widen as we pass a large grassy landslide to our right. Ahead of us is a small S bend. To our left is a small point of tangled dead trees. As we round the tangle into the S bend we can see a small pine plantation and part of the hill ahead of us cleared. On top of the cliff is the Kahura Station, about five buildings that would have had a spectacular view along the river. If anyone is there at the moment, they will have seen us as four tiny dots drifting towards them.

 

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09:20 - The buildings seem to be on a hanging valley, almost as if this valley was carved out by glaciers. The reality though is this is a very young river carving out rocks laid only within the past million years from lahar deposits from Ruapehu and Tongariro to the east and Taranaki to the west.

 

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09:23 - We pass another large landslide to the right which has stripped off all the vegetation, but the water was too deep to leave a sloping bank apart from a huge house-sized boulder wedged into the bottom of the cliff. At the end of the S bend the cliff to the left decreases substantially. Here we can see a large rock marking the Kahura Landing, providing access to the station above on the cliffs. This marks the start of our return of civilisation that will gradually increase from here down to Wanganui. The Kahura landing is one of the locations of the filming of the 2005 movie “River Queen”, a film covering the Maori wars along the river in 1868.

 

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09:24 - The sun is now starting to shine on the triangular hills now the cloud is beginning to break up. We have seen patches of blue sky along the gorge, but we have not seen any sun since shortly before leaving Ramanui. A huge rectangular block rises out of the water on the right bank, perhaps having slid down during a large earthquake. The water is broken up ahead, but it is from the gentle southerly wind blowing, rather than any rapid. I know the flat water isn’t going to last much longer. A small stream flows out to our left onto a silt bank where the banks are now fairly low. The river turns a little to the right towards a large forest covered triangular hill, forcing the river around a gradual left hand bend.

 

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09:25 - As we start rounding the bend in front of the hill, large white patches of cliff mark the areas of the cliff too steep to support vegetation. The wind starts blowing, ruffling the water around us. The cliff gradually lowers as the valley begins opening out. The sun is brightly shining on the right hand side whilst the left hand side remains quite dark. The river here is wide, so the steep banks are stripped of all but grasses and ferns to only about seven metres above the water. Thick scrub continues to about twenty metres above the water before the dense forest takes over, marking the level of past floods roaring down the valley.

 

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09:46 - We stop paddling and relax under the sun. Cameron obviously knows the action that lies ahead, and wants us as rested as possible. The bases of the cliffs begin to change with deep carved cuts appearing in the rock. These may have been large slumps from where the ground underneath was undermined, leaving oval shaped gaping holes in the otherwise almost smooth cave surface.

 

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10:09 - A thin layer of high cloud once more covers the sky as the river narrows passing between more hills. I see another two canoes about half a kilometre behind us. The sun once more comes out bright over the brown water.

 

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10:12 - Having reached the end of the long corner, the river turns fairly sharply to the right going over the Arawhata Rapid and around the 320 metre Pukeatua Hill to the right. Pukeatua means Hill of God. For the Maori living in the local villages this was regarded as the sacred home of their ancestors who dwell invisibly watching over them. There are rocks on either side with a submerged boulder in the middle creating a lot of turbulence. Fortunately the channel along either side is calm.

 

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10:13 - As we continue around the right hand turn a large ravine suddenly opens out of nowhere to our left. What initially appears to be an unbroken cliff line suddenly parts and Cameron leads us into the massive ravine.

 

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10:18 - This is the mouth of the Manganuioteao River, the river we had crossed the large viaduct coming out of Ohakune whilst skirting the bottom of Mount Ruapehu on our way to Taumaranui. The viaduct is about twenty kilometres upstream from here. Its rather convoluted name means “the great stream of the land”. This river remains pristine river being the only sizeable waterflow coming off the central volcanic plateau that hasn't been diverted into the Tongariro Power Scheme.

 

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10:19 - Upon entering the the ravine it stretches out with almost vertical sides towering very high on either side as it passes under the 550 metre high Ranganui hill. It is as if the entire hill has split apart allowing the waters of the Whanganui River to flood in. There is no outgoing current in the perfectly still water. Tree ferns cling precariously to the ferny walls overhanging across the Manganuioteao River. From here it is hard to believe anybody would settle here, but a little further upstream is the first site of many past Maori settlements. The water coming out of the Manganuioteao River is clearer than the waters of the Whanganui and the fishing up is rated very highly by anglers who travel from far and wide to catch the trout here. A rich insect population along the remote river provides food for the rainbow and brown trout populations.

 

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10:20 - Despite the abundant supplies of fish the waters of this river are often poisoned when Ruapehu erupts. Toxic lahar water rushes down the river into the Whanganui poisoning it, killing all the fish from here downstream. The Manganuioteao was the main route taken by the Maori and early missionaries travelling to the plateaus and volcanoes of the central North Island. Although the river isn't as navigable as the Whanganui, it is still the easiest way of climbing to the plateau. It is much easier than negotiating the dense jungle of the Paraparas and apparently easier than going up the Rangitikei River which flow along the other side of the plateau on the other side of the volcanoes. Those travelling northward further into the King Country towards the Waikato would continue along the Whanganui River following the route we had taken in recent days. This point of the river was therefore a significant junction for people travelling through the North Island.

 

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10:28 - From the calm mouth of the Manganuioteao River we set out following the river downstream for around a hundred metres before beaching on a shady silt bank to our left. Here we need to get everything secure for the big rapids ahead of us. I put my main camera away and give the watertight box to Cameron to put onto his already loaded canoe, so I am left with just the little TG-4. We tightly secure all the drums as another canoe passes us. With everything secure we climb back on board continuing downstream as the cliff banks on either side grow higher. Thick pale lines of exposed mudstone layers point gradually down into the water at a sharp 120 degree bend at the end of the short reach.

 

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10:44 - Eventually we reach the bend to pass over the Marariwa Rapid where the river funnels passing two large boulders to our right into a moderately bumpy ride. The rapid leads to a large flat shingle bank with small boulders poking out of the soft silt in the sunshine, so we stop there for a few minutes whilst Cameron explains the rapids ahead and checks our gear is secure. Across the river is a large patch of very pale rock from a recent landslide. Downstream the shingle bank has a lot of tree remains from the junction of the two rivers.

 

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11:04 - A kilometre or two down the river we will be reaching the Ngaporo Rapid where we will need to go through one boat at a time. Once he finishes explaining we head off and continue downstream. The river flows swift and clear, with some ripples on the surface as the gorge gradually narrows. The surrounding hills are substantially lower than they were behind us, showing signs we are approaching the lower part of the river. These hills are small and triangular, a miniature of what we have previously seen throughout the trip. We pass a ravine to the right but continue heading downstream as the forest covering the hills becomes more scanty lacking in the big trees due to past European settlement. The bush is regenerating but the scars of erosion are still clearly evident.

 

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11:50 - The river widens with gravel and rock beaches appearing occasionally on either side. The remains of large trees are partially buried in the shingle brought downstream from past floods.

 

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11:55 - The river narrows into a tight gorge but the water still flows very gradual in between increasingly high pale cliffs. The valley to the right hand side is a smoothly cut block perfect apart from an overhang about three quarters of the way up along the length of the cliff. The cliffs increase suddenly to the right as well, rising in the stark darkness of the shady side of the river. A large perfectly smooth face we pass has a small waterfall trickling down it.

 

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11:56 - Ahead of us in the shade is a hollow in the rock, very large occupying most of the cliff, but cut quite deep enough to qualify as a cave. It would have provided shelter from rain though. We follow the river right up against the vertical bank leading up to the hollow.

 

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11:57 - The rock from the hollow looks like it has fallen out, leaving a rising overhang of about forty five degrees. The rubble consists of huge boulders with grass growing on the silt occupying the spacing between them. Scrubby fernery covers the top of the overhang, and grew along parts of the overhanging rock over the dark hollow.

 

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11:58 - There didn’t seem to be much room in the cave, but in the early days of European settlement, the local Maori living here would assemble in the hollow and perform a haka to the people in the boats going past. Perhaps it was a congratulatory welcome to those heading upstream having successfully negotiated the rapids. Otherwise it would have been a good luck to those heading downstream about to enter the rapids. We are heading downstream, so this would have been good luck to us. The story goes that after some years the Europeans wanted to return the favour, so they assembled an entire orchestra and set themselves up there waiting for the Maori boats to pass. Unfortunately the Maori have never seen classical musical instruments before and assumed they were weapons. They began to attack the players before realising the instruments were for music and not for war.

 

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11:59 - The cave is on the outside corner, going from a narrow gorge to where the hills suddenly lowers and the valley widened. The bush is still here, but clumps of windswept pine trees cover the outcrop points and scrubby forest under the blue sky where cirrus clouds are sweeping high above from the north west leading up to the rains coming from the Tasman Sea. The weather is going to turn tomorrow with a north westerly expected to come through bringing rain.

 

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12:01 - Just past the cave we pass through the turbulence free Parakiwai Rapid entering a straight. It is non-eventful but Cameron quickly directs us to the rocky bank to the left. The terrace above the rock is only two metres above the water.

 

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12:02 - From where we cling onto the rock we could see the Ngaporo Rapid ahead of us. The river funnels into a narrow channel heading across a low rock face with several sections collapsed into the water. I can see the water leaping in a series of high flows as it rushed past and swept across to where a group of people were settling. Most of them had successfully made it down, but the last canoe was entering the rapid and it flipped about half way down having suddenly veered off course. The name “Ngaporo” means substantially cut off, indicating the face of hard mudstone cutting off across the river creating the big rapid. Cameron tells us he will head down the rapid first and land at the beach, then he will get his trustee rope ready to catch us should we fall out and float downstream. We line up with my boat at the back. We haven’t tipped out at all, or even felt unstable since swapping over on the second day. Will we make this one though?

 

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12:09 - We watch Cameron head down Ngaporo Rapid, no doubt knowing exactly where to go having been down here several times. His boat bounces a lot, with the little box containing my main camera on top somehow staying in place. He makes it down, then we watch as we can only just see him cross to the bottom of the shingle bank. Finally he waves his paddle, so the next boat cast off heading downstream following Cameron’s path as best they could. It was very hard to see where they were going from here. They seem to be going very well when they suddenly tip over on a particularly large bounce. It is too far to see them below the rapid now, but several minutes pass before Cameron finally waves his paddle again. Now it is time for the two ladies to give the rapid a go. They go down smoothly bouncing on the big waves, but manage to stay on board. Once they reach the end it was our turn. Being at the front of the boat, I will just have to paddle hard. The fellow behind me will do all the steering.

 

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12:34 - We set off towards the vee into the rapid, turning towards it just before it starts. We bounce along over waves bigger than any we have encountered so far on the river. All seems to be going well until we hit the biggest wave and bump the large submerged boulder creating it causing us to flip over into the cool clear water. I grab onto the upended boat floating on the surface to prevent getting snagged up on any more submerged rocks. The front of the boat I am holding onto starts turning, swinging me out from the main current to an eddy along the shingle bank. Upon entering the eddy I lose the boat as it continues with my partner heading downstream towards Cameron about twenty metres downstream. My cap has come down against my glasses, so I pulled it back up and head to the nearby shore where shallow water runs over rather slippery moss covered stones just poking above the surface. We are all down the rapid, with four of us in the drink. We empty water out of the boats and check nothing is missing. Even my unsecured drink bottle wedged between a drum and the side of the boat is still there.

 

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13:07 - Many fall out in this rapid, and even the old steam boats of early last century were not immune to this notorious rapid. The skilled navigator Andy Anderson from Pipiriki who was reputed to know every rock and snag on the river, able to navigate even in the darkness of night with only the outline of the hills against the skyline to go by. Despite his experience he had several accidents along the river. The most notable accident was here at Ngaporo when he was taking the steamer Ohura downstream from Ramanui to Pipiriki loaded with 214 head of cattle and sheep. Heading down the rapid the boat suddenly listed to the right (as we had done – perhaps he hit the same rock). He ordered his crew to quickly move the stock towards the other side of the boat to even the load but they continued heading to the right following the line of gravity. Heading out of the rapid the boat completely capsized. Andy and his nephew were strong swimmers and made it to shore at about this location with most of the animals, but the boat's engineer and its two deck hands drowned, their bodies washed downstream through the succession of rapids towards Pipiriki.

 

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13:10 - Thankfully Ngaporo is the biggest rapid along the entire river. That being said there are some more large ones to come over the remaining 9.5 kilometres down to Pipiriki. Behind us is the Ngaporo Camping ground with 32 camp sites, a shelter and toilets. It is probably a good camping ground as people staying here can beach their canoes just above the rapid, and the next morning drag them down to start just below it. Cameron briefs us on the last few rapids of the river. We set off into the eddy and enters the Opihaka Rapid almost immediately as the river sweeps towards the cliffs to the right. The water is shallow but it is only a brief rapid with little turbulence going into a deep channel with no turbulence. Almost immediately though we enter the mildly turbulent Oakura Rapid funnelling between two shingle banks with a rock bank to our right. The rapid leads straight into the cliff so we stayed a couple of metres off it. Once past the rapid we see an old crowbar sticking out of the cliff used by the river steamers to help work their way upstream.

 

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13:20 - Again there is little time to rest as the Mangaio Rapid is quickly approaching. This is the one Cameron had called “The Rock” due to the outcrop in the middle of the river. This is a rather tricky rapid so we follow him closely. Approaching the rapid we pass a spectacular ravine cut into the cliff where the Mangaio Stream flows out. The other side of the river is quite flat with a large shingle bank crossing the river diagonally with a shallow reef coming very close to us, forcing us near the bank. The reef suddenly ends in an enormous eddy pool. We had to avoid that, but also avoid the large flat topped rock suddenly approaching us so upon passing the reef we quickly turn our boats to the left and paddle hard to miss the rock. We all successfully make it through Mangaio Rapid. The river has by now swept around about eighty degrees to the start of a peninsula under Motai Hill. The river has entered a straight heading towards relatively flat land, but almost immediately goes into the Ruahinetoro Rapid passing a huge shingle bank to the right stretching out over most of the width of the river. This is followed by a reef in the middle of the river which we avoid by going down the left channel. At the end of the reef there were huge rocks on either bank of the river.

 

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13:22 - The water deepens from bank to bank again, but ahead is another shingle bank stretching to about half way across the river. The cliffs have ended but landslides appear to the right. We pass another hook cove where yet another outcrop points upstream. Half way along the straight a jet boat booms past heading downstream. We hear it coming so we veer off to the right and let the yellow boat zoom past on its way back to Pipiriki. At the end of the short straight the river turns 110 degrees to the left, before turning 80 degrees the other way into the Aratira Rapid. It is rocky to the left and we avoid a large boulder in the middle of the river. Fortunately the channel on either side is deep with minimal turbulence.

 

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13:36 - Looking back past the rapid we can see the famous drop scene. This was world famous in that the river seemed to disappear into the earth. Recent erosion has spoiled the scene somewhat. About half way around the bend we pass the Puraroto Stream which enters the Whanganui through a spectacular cave system. There is a ravine which under some conditions can be entered and explored by canoe. It is a cave system that winds deep into the cliff with blind caves and very muddy banks. One of the caves has a beautiful waterfall dropping from a vaulted inner chamber.

 

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13:37 - Once past the ravine, the forest suddenly ends to be replaced with pastureland on either side. The valley widens quickly and the dark water is deep and calm for a few minutes before we reach the rather turbulent Autapu Rapid with pressure waves reaching up to a metre high over a diagonal shingle bank. We pass over it okay though passing a long eddy to the right. Although uneventful for us, a lot of people fall out here, perhaps even more so than at Ngaporo. The waves here have a slight angle to the flow giving canoes the tendency to roll over to the right. This rapid was never an issue with the old steamboats which would travel along the deep slow moving eddy then back into the main channel once past the turbulent water.

 

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13:38 - Upon leaving the bank the river swings around passing another shingle bank on the other side of the river. Upon passing the Ongangana Stream to our left we enter the Te Autemutu Rapid. Cameron leads us to the left of the main flow to avoid a snag at the bottom of the swift and turbulent rapid passing over submerged boulders. Once past the rapid the river quickly deepens again and a large rock and shingle bank covers about half of the river to the left. Cameron signals us to head across to the bank and stop there for a while so he can explain the next set of rapids. After a bit of rearranging in the canoes, we cast off again. Once clear of the shingle banks the river widens and deepens in between the bright green rolling pastures. The river turns 80 degrees to the right to a short straight. Ahead of us is a forested hill where the river turns 90 degrees back to the left.

 

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13:49 - Cameron stands up in his boat to negotiate the Upper Paparoa Rapid. Once around this corner we will be in sight of our destination at Pipiriki and in full view of whoever is picking us up. I recall him mentioning earlier that he had taken another group down here a few weeks ago and led them down the wrong way hitting submerged boulders and tipping out, with everyone else following tipping out as well all in full view of the pick-up at the end. He is determined not to repeat that today, so he directs us to go over the shallower left channel. The main channel runs hard up against the cliff face with bounces not quite as big as those at Ngaporo, but lasting a lot longer as the river makes its 90 degree turn. We head to the left a big shingle bank as the water quickly shallows to knee deep over rounded boulders. The shallow water continues for quite some time as we bypass the rapid. It is smooth going but we have to steer carefully to prevent dramatically beaching at high speed. I see the boat ramp at Pipiriki coming into view. The shallow water suddenly deepens and calms. The interlude is very brief before we head into the Lower Paparoa Rapid at the end of the bend where the river started a 45 degree turn to the right. The main channel is now to the left of the river passing a shingle bank to our left and a rock bank to the right. The turbulence increases before suddenly ending as we pass a submerged rock to our left. We are now past all hazards of the rapid with just a few tens of metres to go before landing at our destination at the boat ramp.

 

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13:53 - Pipiriki boat landing is at a placid pool at the bottom of the last rapid we had come through. Opposite us is an eroding bluff with a slip face from its end. The scrub covering the rest of the point is not strong enough to stop the erosion. We beach at the bottom of the concrete boat ramp, now at just 29 metres above sea level. We have successfully negotiated our way down 151 rapids over 124 kilometres since leaving Ohinepane just five days ago. We are still 88.5 kilometres upstream from the river's mouth at Wanganui. This was the location of the houseboat for the first night’s accommodation for the steamboats heading upstream from Whanganui to Taumarunui. Although the valley is wide, the surrounding hills stand 400 to 600 metres tall. The simple boat ramp is all that remains of what was once a prosperous town as a base for people travelling up and down the river.

 

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13:54 - Pipiriki marks the limit of the large paddle steamers. Upstream from here the rapids are too difficult and parts of the river too shallow 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. Most people on the river would have been travelling towards Auckland, catching a train at Taumarunui. Pipiriki was the largest Maori settlement upstream of Wanganui. It is named after the rifleman (Acanthisitta chloris), New Zealand's smallest bird which is now quite rare on the main islands now.

 

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13:55 - 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. People travelling upstream by steam boat would stay here at Pipiriki House which 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.

 

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14:01 - Although serving the travellers well, the hotel 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.

 

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14:02 - Guy is at the boat ramp with his van and trailer, as is a larger bus packing up the group who had been paddling ahead of us and arrived a few minutes before. Over a few trips between the canoes and the van, we unbuckle our gear, take the drums and bins up to the trailer and pack them in. We then bring the canoes up putting them upside down in the trailer. Once packed up we head inside the luxurious comfort of the van, still a little damp from falling out at Ngaporo.

 

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14:11 - With everything packed up and secured we follow the moderately steep winding road through the Pipiriki village passing a couple of houses. We reach a junction with one road following the river downstream for 79 kilometres to Wanganui and the other following a narrow valley through 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 have been passing through over the past five days.

 

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14:15 - 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 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 population, whereas the villages upstream from Pipiriki were constrained with confined terraces and limited resources. There would have been many more Maori canoes along the lower stretch of river. We take the winding road up the gully towards Raetihi.

 

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14:34 - We eventually reach a saddle after which we stop by the side of the road for a view of the spectacular Mount Ruapehu capped with glacial snow. Behind Ruapehu to the left is the more distant Ngauruhoe and Tongariro looking barren being completely free of ice. It is amazing to be able to just see the river’s source along the side of Mount Tongariro from two hundred kilometres downstream. I quickly notice the air up here is a lot drier than in the valley. It had been very humid in the confined valley throughout the trip. The sky to the north and east is almost completely free of clouds. The high cirrus cloud is thickening to the south bringing on a new north westerly with coming rain. We have timed the trip very well.

 

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14:35 - Guy collects our cameras and takes our shots as we pose in front of Ruapehu before we climb back on board. After a brief drop we continue gaining altitude with the roughness of the terrain easing and the scrub clearing to more consistent farmland.

 

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14:45 - Once on top of the plateau we enter Raetihi, where we reach the junction of Highway 4 through the Paraparas to Wanganui. From there we continue across the plateau towards the mountain eventually reaching our base in Ohakune.

 

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15:26 - Pulling into the circular driveway a rather mangy dog greets us climbing into the van and slobbering all over us as soon as we open the door. After the initial excitement it let us out. We pull the drums out of the trailer and settled at one of the picnic tables under a shade sail tent for lunch before parting ways.

 
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