As Wellington anniversary weekend approached it looked like the New Year Buller trip had taken its toll, with many normally keen VUCCers wimping out on the opportunity of another trip away so soon. But seven of us weren't going to hang around Wellington over the long weekend and so a central North Island trip was called for. Then on the Wednesday before Libby decided that paddling in her kitchen (thanks to a burst water pipe) might be a better way to spend the weekend than paddling up North and so decided to stay at home.
So then we were six. Nicholas, Kim, Alison, Luke, Eaon and myself met at the gear shed at the normal time, had the normal problems packing everything into cars, stopped at the normal takeaways in Levin, and got to Turangi at a normal 11:30ish. All-in-all a pretty normal start to a VUCC trip.
Since we still had a couple of hours of driving to get to the Rangitaiki we decided we should be up by 8am the next morning, which we surprisingly managed to do. Luke decided he wanted a quick swim in the lake before we left, afterwards insisting that it was refreshing, clearly demonstrating the dangerous effect of cold water on brain cells. In spite of these delaying tactics we still managed to get away by 9am.
When we arrived in Taupo the passengers in my car decided it was time to stop doing things so normally. Spurred on by Eaon's confidence ("I think I can find the way!") they wanted to take a short-cut along the forestry roads to the Rangitaiki. Alison and Eaon had done this a year ago and only got slightly lost, but I still had memories of an earlier attempt when I'd ended up 20km from the get-in and on the wrong side of the river! I didn't say anything though, figuring I could keep quiet if it worked out and claim to have been out-voted if it didn't. We reached the turn off into the forest and headed into the unknown. If anyone asked we planned to deny seeing the sign saying we needed a permit to use the road.
After we had driven a while and had to make decisions on which road to take at several intersections along the way, Eaon announced that we were nearly there. I had no idea why he was so confident - to me one bit of clear-felled forest wasteland looks much like any other. Then we saw a logging truck heading towards us. Good - we could ask the driver. Bad - what if he asked to see our permit? As he got closer he slowed down. He definitely wanted to talk to us so we pulled over. As he towered over us in his cab it occurred to me that claiming not to have seen the sign didn't sound so convincing anymore. Then he asked the question ... "Have you guys got a ... cell-phone?" Phew! It turned out he'd been on the road for several hours and wanted to call his wife to sort out some lunch. We did have a phone but unfortunately there was no signal. Despite this, he confirmed that we were close to the river and gave us directions, apparently not blaming us for the lack of coverage. Then again … his directions did turn out to be wrong. Despite this we made it to the get-in well before Kim's car, which had gone the normal way.
The river was lowish, so it was a good chance for Alison to have her first go at the rock-garden a few minutes into the section. Even at low flows this can be a bit intimidating and she managed a pretty good run.
Next up comes Jeff's Joy which Alison had already decided to walk. And since Rohan wasn't with us there was no one to tell Eaon he didn't need to scout it, so we all got out to take a look. After the normal amount of um-ing and ah-ing everyone else decided to give it a go. It was Kim's first attempt so she was happy when she made it to the bottom unscathed. Eaons previous attempt had resulted in a swim but this one was more successful. And both Nicholas and I managed not to go down the final drop backwards.
A cool pop-up spot provided some entertainment for a while, with everyone who had a go managing some nice vertical nose-stands. It was a pity about our lack of ability - they could so easily have been cartwheels!
There was a nice little surf wave that we stayed at for a short while and then a few grade II rapids before we were at the end of the Jeff's Joy section. Following this comes the appropriately named "flat section", which marks the start of an easier grade 2+/3- run. As you drift slowly downstream some entertainment helps to pass the time. And although I don't consider popping Kim's spraydeck and sinking her boat to be entertainment, the deep-water rescue practice that followed was useful. Less wetting for Kim were the attempts to pile boats (and paddlers) on top of each other while floating down river. And then the 3-4 metre high bank that Eaon, Alison (somehow convinced by Luke that she didn't need her paddle) and Nick and Luke (a double act, hugging each other on the way down) all launched themselves off. Photos available on request.
Following the "flat section" the river has a long section of reasonably continuous 2+/3- rapids. All good fun, passing without incident and without much playing. We got off the river by about 5pm, packed up, and headed to Rotorua (not stopping at the "Secret Spot" as normal). We set up our tents by the lake, cooked dinner and went to sleep.
The plan for the next morning was to be heading to the Wairoa (a hydro controlled river, released 26 times each year) by 8:30. Fortunately for us (if not the citizens of Rotorua) notices by the lake threatening various nasty diseases discouraged even Luke from having a swim that morning and so we were able to get away pretty much on time.
We got to the MacLarens Falls get-in shortly after 9:30 and were surprised to find we were the only kayakers there and that there was no water in the river. A moments panic followed as I thought that perhaps I'd screwed up the dates and that this wasn't a release day. Fortunately it turned out that the only screw up was that we were early (a mistake that VUCC tries not to make too often). The water started running slightly before the scheduled time of 10am.
Eaon and Alison had decided to get in at the middle of the run for a relatively short paddle of about an hour. But it still has four or five good rapids and is worth doing if you're up that way and don't feel like tackling the harder upper section.
For some reason Nicholas wasn't convinced by my "Well, I can remember most of the rapids ... sort of ... I think ...", so when a group from Kupe Canoe Club arrived we arranged to tag along with them. Rumours you might have heard that we were intending to run the Wairoa without knowing the right lines on the rapids and were saved by Kupe's arrival are vicious lies; we were always planning on freeloading off someone and they just happened along at the right time!
The section starts off with a couple of friendly surf waves and the relatively easy "Humpty Dumpty" as warm ups before the first of the hard rapids - "Mother's Nightmare". This rapid is uncharacteristic of most of the others because of its length and that it requires several moves to negotiate successfully. A mistake here could spoil the rest of the trip so Nicholas and Kim elected to walk. I messed up the entry a bit but got into the eddy I needed to above a last drop on river right. Then I scraped a rock landing at the bottom of the drop. Not a great start, but both my boat and I were undamaged.
"Double Trouble" and "Mushroom Rock" are more typical - short and sharp drops where all you can see is a horizon line, and not what lies after it. And since scouting is not always convenient you have to take on faith the instructions of someone who knows the line. It's nerve racking approaching these drops but when you do get the right line they aren't too bad. I'd rather not talk about when you don't. A rapid called "Devils Elbow" is next and also consists of two blind drops close together - you run one heading left to right, then ferry across to line up the second, which you run centre heading left. No major dramas here.
Then you get to the "Waterfall" - another blind drop, but with a more complicated lead in and with some serious consequences of getting it wrong. So we got out and looked at it and Kim decided to walk. I paddled it, not quite where I wanted, but far enough away from the nasty bits. Nicholas managed a very cool looking rock spin on the edge of the drop. He could have been be more convincing when claiming that it had been deliberate though.
The next are the crux rapids - "The Cauldron" followed closely by "Rollercoaster", neither of which I've paddled. The Cauldron can be avoided by a chicken chute, but that still leaves Rollercoaster which requires a good boof move to reduce the possibility of a trashing. Once again, I decided that this was not the time to find that I can't boof properly under pressure so I joined Nick and Kim on foot. Luke took the chicken chute to avoid the "Cauldron" and then ran "Rollercoaster" with style.
That was the last of the "serious" rapids. It was a short paddle through a few grade II-III rapids to a cool surf wave that many who get in at the middle walk back to with their boats so they can pass the time waiting for people running the top part. By the time we got there Alison and Eaon had been playing for an hour or so. We stayed a little while longer. Alison had a go in my Stealth but decided that she preferred the Turbo (no accounting for taste). Then we moved on.
Next are a couple of narrow, steepish channels, fifty or so metres long - not hard, but fun to eddy hop down, with the bonus of a couple of good surf waves if you can catch them.
After a short flat paddle you come to a dogleg corner which forms into a strong whirlpool. It's actually pretty easy to paddle through with enough speed. A much better game is to see how many boats you can raft up and have spinning around in circles. I got in first and was quickly joined by Eaon and Luke. But Nick, Alison and Kim didn't seem to want to play, all passing on the opportunity to join us for a few circuits. It was actually harder to get out than I remembered though - you had to let go of the boat you were rafted up to, grab your paddle and make a couple of strong paddle strokes, all the time spinning around in swirly, sucky water. The alternative would be to keep going around in circles until they turned the water off at 4pm…
If you scout the next rapid you see a two metre vertical drop, but on my first run down the Wairoa a few years ago I wasn't given that option. So I just told the others it was a waterfall and that the best line was to paddle hard a little to the right of a small rock sticking up at the edge of the horizon line. I went first, getting the line I wanted and waited at the bottom to watch out for potential carnage. Nicholas came next without problems but didn't seem too impressed by the decision not to scout, saying he hadn't expected that high a drop. I reminded him I had told him it was a waterfall and he responded saying he thought that was just the name of the rapid. I had no answer to that. Alison gave a typical Alison-shriek as she paddled over but also had no problems. Eaon got a much better line than on his attempt last year when he ran aground by heading too far right. Kim got stuck in the recirculation at the bottom for a few seconds but pulled herself out.
The water from the waterfall runs directly into a vertical, smooth, flat wall which must be one of the best rock splat spots in the universe. An easy reverse sweep gets the tail of your boat under water and as you go vertical you get shunted into the wall. With a bit of control you can slide your boat along the rock face and drop off the end. Or you can do what I did and fall over sideways getting pinned upside down. Luckily I managed to push myself clear and roll up before anyone saw (I hope). Luke managed the best move - he got his boat vertical and then managed a 180 degree pirouette, pulling off what was most likely the first ever head-splat of the wall.
A final rock garden rapid which should have been inconsequential resulted in some boat pins before we were at the get out.
We were off the water around 3ish and decided to head to Mt Maunganui to see what the surf was like. It looked good but only Nick, Luke and I could be bothered. The others sat in the sun on the beach. The only problems were the large number of swimmers and surfers to avoid and Nicholas' habit of steering directly towards you when you were both on the same wave.
We cooked and ate dinner on the beach and then headed to Ngaawaparua to camp for the night. It was a longer drive than expected and we arrived around midnight, tired after a long day and definitely ready for some sleep.
Monday morning and I was up at 7:30 to check on "the wave". Thanks to the rest of the country turning on office air conditioners, computers, coffee machines and other electricity hungry appliances (Auckland is useful for something after all) the flow was perfect. So it was down with a quick breakfast and onto the water. Luke showed us how to flat spin and back surf and Nick managed some slick moves as well. I just concentrated on plain ordinary front surfing and was more than happy with the rides I had. Unfortunately without many other paddlers there, we were getting too many turns on the wave without enough time to rest between each one (hey - I've got to have something to complain about!). As the morning wore on the combination of an increasing flow level and exhaustion made it harder to get on to the wave and we eventually gave up around 11am.
We packed up, headed into Taupo and had a picnic lunch on the lake front. Then it was back to Wellington, arriving with spare daylight. Now that's definitely not normal.
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