After Whakahoro came our river trip- a highly anticipated section of our travels. Although, to be entirely honest, after such a welcome reception t Blue Duck we were rather loath to leave. We met the canoe mNan at the river and received an hour long lecture on river safety and how to handle rapids. I suppose it was a good idea on his part, but the river ended up being quite tame and we didn't exactly follow his instructions to keep our life jackets on at all times.
We had beautiful weather the first three days, saw lots of wild life and even more wandering farm animals, and the scenery was spectacular. I loved watching the changing patterns of reflections on the water and i especially loved the hidden waterfalls. Somehow the mineral composition of the rocks or the way in which the water trickled down to the water from the heights had caused a multitude of small caves in which waterfalls could be heard, but only briefly glimpsed from the proper angle. A split second view of gushing water.
It always took us longer than the predicted times to make landmarks. I find it incredibly annoying that in New Zealand, it is customary on trail signs to put a rough estimate of the time it will take to get to the next destination. People walk at different paces; 10 km will always be 10km. I'm not sure if our consistently late arrivals were due to the river being low and slow, our monster of a canoe (we compared it to the weight of other canoes on the river and were not pleased by the result) or our tendency to dawdle and enjoy the views.
The first night, we made it to the John Coule campsite, which we had failed to book because of a confusion with the canoe company (they thought I was taking care of it and I thought the opposite). We had to pay double, which was annoying. On the upside, we met a friendly bunch of Kiwis and Americans about our age to hang out with. The Americans had a Kiwi dad, like me, and were visiting relatives and traveling around with friends. When Jordan met Dad and learned that he was a New Zealander living in America, he immediately asked, "Oh, did a girl catch you?" To which the response was "...yes." Apparently, Jordan's Dad was in the same boat.
We met them again at our second campsite, then parted ways after a fun night of shared drinks, shared smokes, and shared songs.
On the third day, Dad got off the river at Pipiriki around two. I had hoped that Pipiriki would be a small town but alas, it really was nothing more than a boat ramp.This is the typical disembarkment point and there were several fellow river travelers from various outfits congregating around the ramp. One was a group of families and there was a little girl who wanted to go swimming but was supposed to help tidy everything. After she'd helped for a while, she asked again if she could go swimming before they had to leave, but her mother wasn't paying attention. So I told her conspiratorially that she should just go for it. She looked at me for a moment and i could almost see the cogs spinning in her head, then she got a big, cheeky smile on her face and jumped right in. Gotta say, I am in full support of rebellion, especially after having done your piece in helping and when said rebellion involves wilderness adventuring.
When our outfitter finally arrived, rather late, he failed to bring the whachamahoosit-thingamajigger for Bethany and I to check in every night, which we had been waiting for but were rather reticent to actually use. So thank you, annoying 5 year old with impulse control issues.
We planned on getting to Jerusalem, a small town, within an hour or two and stopping for coffee. Unfortunately, judging time on the river when you're into the rhythm of paddling, is rather difficult. I think that by the time we started really looking for Jerusalem, we'd probably already passed it. Or maybe it is tiny and terribly marked. Or perhaps, is just a figment of the river people's imagination.
We pulled off the river at one point to follow a little trail up the hill and try to get the lat of the land, but rather than Jerusalem, Bethany found a grave yard and a hedgehog. The hedgehog was soo cut, and pricklier than I expected.
As it was getting dark, we decided to paddle away from the grave yard before setting up camp. It ended up being our least favorite camping spot. My tent was a little too in view of the river for our comfort, but we couldn't be bothered scaling the very steep hill with all of our stuff. Then, I discovered that the barrel with the broken seal had gotten rather wet when our canoe capsized. Silver lining: the tent ended up being dry on the inside due to excellent folding practices. Then it started drizzling. We went to bed, only to start hearing creepy sounds. Do you know how sound seems to carry further when you're settling in to sleep and your world quietens? There was a sound from the river like an animal (or person) splashing around, which it took some time to figure our was the canoe swishing between the sand bar and the shore where we had tied it. This realization and insistent self reassurances were shattered by a creepy lalmost laugibg noise. I think it was a sheep, but it did sound quite odd, not to mention scary to my frazzled nerves.
When we awoke, it was still raining but we packed everywetthing up and took off, partly to get away from that site and partly to make it to Jerusalem, which we were still somehow convinced was probably just around the next bend, for breakfast and coffee .
Bethany started singing a song about Rowing to Jerusalem which sounded like an old spiritual song about finding salvation but was in fact more about the joys of coffee in warm, dry cafes. Obviously, having probably passed the hoped for town the afternoon before, we did not find our coveted cafe, but we did find the motivation to push hard to get off the river.
That motivation was called rain.
We decided to really go strong and try to out-paddle the rain, and finish the river trip in one day instead of two. By this point, too, we had run out of meat. Well, we had a chunk of salami for lunch and then it was gone. To rectify this situation, Bethany set her heart on catching, killing, and eating some river creatures. She tried luring eels into the shallows to no avail and then we started chasing geese. It seems like a useless endeavor, trying to catch flying animals in a water bound vehicle. But after a few silly, half-hearted attempts, we found a goose that couldn't fly. It's 2 companions took off as we approached, but Frank, as we named him (or her), couldn't quite get out of the water. Now our half-hearted attempts became whole- hearted and we began paddling all out, chasing this fat, injured, perfect goose down the river. We were about five feet away and Bethany was poised in the prow of the boat to hit it with her paddle, when... It dove. I'd forgotten geese did that. We stuck around for a little while hoping it would resurface, which it did momentarily before diving again as we approached.
Poor hungry Bethany was reduced to staring at cows in a dreamy way and referring to them as walking hamburgers, but I was not about to let her kill someone's cow for a solitary steak.
We saw a dead sheep by the river. On a side note, did you know that sheep actually have long tails, but that they have a tendency to get infected with maggots so farmers always cut them of to protect the sheep? Because of this, you can always tell if a sheep is wild. Anyway, near the sheep was a small herd of cows and, to amuse myself, I began interrogating them. 'What do you know about this dead sheep, huh? Did you see the terrible murder?' The cows, probably rather unused to human voices, began to get a little skittish. 'Oh, why so nervous?' I asked. 'Did you do this deed yourself? Was this a racially motivated murder?' Bethany was in stitches by this point and the cows had had enough. They began to run off. 'This is very suspicious behavior!' she shouted after them. 'Stand and face the charges!' I added for good measure. I'm sure many of you are relieved we have not lost our ridiculously weird and goofy sense of humor.
By late afternoon, we were pretty done in. There were several long, strait parts of the river that were quite disheartening. I like to make short-term goals for myself when hiking or paddling, such as 'make it to the next bend of the river.' This is quite difficult when it takes over a half hour of monotonous paddling to reach the next bend. Also, the clouds which we had managed to stay just ahead of for most of the day finally caught us with us. Now we were paddling for dry clothes and warm beds and to make our Mama's proud, as well as for coffee and cigarettes. When some guys swimming by the shore told us we still had ten km to paddle, and with dusk quickly darkening the sky, we didn't quite know what to do.
Then Bethany saw some lights illuminating the writing on the walls of a building. People don't generally write on their houses, so we pulled over, hoping for a gas station or a cafe. It ended up being a bar. We quickly tied our canoe to the jetty, tossed all our belongings up the bank, grabbed our wallets, and took off, literally sprinting for the warmth.
We arrived, stinky, soaking wet, and grinning wider than the Cheshire Cat, ordered a potato wedges covered in cheese, bacon and sour cream, and a couple of gin and tonics. The folks were curious and very welcoming. We even got invited to stay in one woman's spare room, but declined. I know that little bar in the middle of pretty much nowhere is a far cry from heaven, but that night it came pretty close. I named it 'folks-take-care-of-each-other-ville.
There were no cigarettes to be bought anywhere, and with our bellies full and our minds jolly and our feet finally drying out, that was our one lack. However, it was rectified by an old bloke named Russell, who lived in the Bush and grew and rolled his own tobacco and was happy to share while we listened to his tales. He told us that going to Stewart Island, below the South Island, was and 'Absolute!' And described to us how the Maori caught and cured a fatty bird called the Titi.
When the bar closed, we returned to the river and camped right where we had landed. By the light of headlamps, we could see the green grass and picnic tables indicating it was a tiny park. I felt very safe there, partly because of the people we had met. But the following morning, as we left, I discovered a moss-covered Maori statue of a man with a beatific, peaceful look on his face standing about 6 feet from our tent. I think he was looking out for us.
The following morning, the rain had really set in, so we went to a cafe for breakfast in the hopes that it would taper off. By 11, it still had not, so we gave up and decided to just go for it.
When Dad and Ginny, my cousin in Whanganui, arrived to pick us up, we were once again soaked through. And honestly, by that point we, and all our belongings, were pretty filthy. Ginny took it right in stride, helped is pack ip the car, immediately provided us with laundry baskets and showed us the shower when we got to her house. When she saw us after the shower, though, she did a little double-take and acted like she hadn't recognized us for a second. I think it was a joke.
We spent the following day gallivanting around town, shopping for food, in thrift stores, and eating frivolous foods like ice cream. We were all set to take off for the next part of our journey when I got sick. It hit me like a freight train that night, my temperature rocketed up, and I was barely able to stumble as far as the bathroom. I couldn't even watch tv, it was too exhausting. Luckily, it did not last 3 weeks like last time.
So our trip has been rearranged yet again. Dad drove us to Wellington where I could take it easy for a couple days before our friend Lily arrived from Australia. We'll do that bit after the South Island.