We camped the night at the Mangaweka camping ground, and then set off at 9am the next morning (early for a VUCC trip) for the Access 10 get in. Luke, Dean, Dave and Anna didn't paddle this section. The river was apparently flowing at twice the level it was when I had last (first) done it, though I can't say I noticed. Mark and Rohan got bored dodging rocks, and raced off ahead to do the lower Tongariro sections with the others. Alice, Jo and I went a little slower, playing at various spots, finishing about an hour behind them. The others were just setting off when we finished, so Jo carried on with them while Alice and I got out and drove the cars to the get out.
We drove to Reed's Farm to camp the night, somehow resisting the impulse to detour via Huka Falls and speculate how we would paddle them. The next morning we went to check out Ngaawapurua, but found the river very low and so didn't bother looking at the wave. The nice(!) man who runs the Jet boat there told us he didn't expect the river to rise all weekend. Rohan later suggested he might have ulterior motives for telling us that! At this point, Anna decided to head off to Napier and visit some friends. The rest of us drove to Lake Anawhenua on the Rangitaiki.
When we got there we found that the Anawhenua Falls were huge. The narrow slot just before the falls was overflowing. The short section between the dam and the falls was also high enough to paddle (unlike last Easter when Timon holed his Dancer and Gareth trashed a club Reflex's nose). Alice had already decided not to paddle that day, and I thought the last rapid before the falls, with it's narrow right hand slot into a buffer wave, and requirement to keep hard right (and upright!) looked a little tricky for me. So it was just Jo, Mark and Rohan that set off. In the end they all made it look pretty easy, though Rohan had a wide-eyed, open mouthed expression on his face as he shot by our viewing spot.
Luke, Dean and Dave decided that Anawhenua Falls could wait for another day. We weren't sure about the possibilities at that flow so I took a throw rope and waited on a ledge near the bottom. Fucked if I know what I'd have done had it been necessary, but it seemed to make people happier...! Mark came first, stayed upright, and did a nice tailstand at the bottom. There was a pause while Jo got ready, before he went over with no problems, requiring a roll at the bottom. Another pause ... I got bored waiting and went to see what was happening. Rohan was wondering whether or not to do it, saying he had been happier about paddling the top section than the falls at this level, but that he would do it if I did. I figured I was unlikely to hear that from Rohan often, so I went next, and he followed shortly after (with both of us having to roll).
On to the rest of the section. Dean had a wet start, forgetting to brace as he seal-launched into the turbulent water below the falls. He held out for an eskimo rescue though. Luke spent most of the section practicing his whoopee turns, occasionally remembering to attempt a roll when they didn't work (not that I'm bitter that he can whoopee-turn and I can't ...). The section passed without incident, and Alice arrived to pick us up only 15 minutes late.
That night we camped at the Anawhenua camp ground. It conveniently waited until we had finished cooking dinner before starting to piss down, with thunder and lightening thrown in for good measure. Luckily Alice had a large fly that we were all able to squeeze under (another advantage of a small trip...!).
The next morning we learnt that the mid-Rangitaiki sections were inaccessible due to fallen trees blocking forestry roads. Mark, Dean, Luke and Dave planned to go and explore a little creek that flowed into lake. Some other paddlers at the camp were heading off to do the Whirinaki. We heard that one group had a spare driver so Rohan arranged for them to drive our car back to the get-out, allowing the four of us to take one car. Unfortunately, when we got there it turned out that there wasn't a spare driver after all, so we ended up with our car stuck at the get-in. We figured we could worry about that at the end of the section.
The usual Whirinaki get-in apparently involves a hour of flat paddling before the interesting stuff, but someone in the other group knew of an alternate get-in down a narrow track that greatly reduced this. We didn't think it would be a good idea to take my car down the track so we piled our boats onto the back of a four-wheel drive truck belonging to some other paddlers and started walking. What they hadn't told us was that the walk took about thirty minutes, so I'm not sure that we gained much by doing it that way.
As to the river itself; the middle part is an interesting grade 2+ to 3 section, but the long flat bit at the start and another at the end spoil it a little. If there was some way of skipping them it would be a fun paddle.
We finished long before any of the other groups, with no car at the get out. We felt that Rohan should make up for his failure to organise the shuttle properly, by hitching back to the get-in. Luckily he had some dry (and very sexy looking) polypro with him, so he got changed and stood by the road. There's just no accounting for some peoples taste -- the first car that passed stopped and took him all the way to the get in (even though it was apparently out of their way!)
Back at the camp ground we found Mark and the others were off paddling the lower section again. It was 4:20, and with the gates across the dam closing at 5:00, Rohan and I decided we just had time to blat down the section above the falls again. We started higher up the section than they had done the previous day, and thanks to Rohan's impeccable guiding (``Hmm, I think I did this one yesterday, ... or maybe not ...'') we got down the five or so rapids without incident in thirty minutes.
The others returned; we cooked tea, packed up camp and headed back to the Ngaawapurua camp ground via the not so ``Secret Spot'' hot pools.
Monday morning, and the Waikato was still lowish, but we decided to do the section anyway. A four metre vertical seal launch was the most exciting bit, although we did spend some time on one particularly friendly surf wave. Further down, I embarrassingly got the nose and tail of my boat wedged between two rocks while playing in pour-over. I was busy railing and bracing trying to stay upright and wondering whether I was going to have to bail out when Alice got out of her boat and came to my rescue. The wave at the end of the section was pretty low, but even so, Jo managed some pretty impressive moves.
It was 3ish when we were finally ready to move on. We figured we just had time to get to the Waihohonu Stream along the Desert Road. The drive took a little longer than expected, and it was nearly 4:30 when we arrived, which meant we had about ninety minutes of daylight left. Ignoring the fact that the portage in the middle has typically taken nearly an hour to do, we figured that was plenty of time! Jo, Mark, Rohan and I set of. As there was no time to stop and play, we just blasted down the succession of excellent rapids.
At one point there was a fallen tree blocking three-quarters of the river. Jo, Rohan and Mark successfully negotiated the gap to the right. I decided it would be more fun going under the tree upside down. I made it OK, but my paddle got wedged so I let go of it. Hmm, upside down without a paddle, and not too sure what was coming up. I should have at least tried a hand roll, or waited for an eskimo rescue, but I didn't ... bugger -- my first swim in a while.
I had planned to paddle the first of the two rapids that I have previously portaged, but after my swim I decided not to. Next time though ... Since I was the only one portaging, it was relatively quick. I hauled my boat up the hill through the bush and lowered it down the five metre drop back into the water in about 10 minutes flat. The other three successfully made it through the first rapid, and then we all portaged the second. We did the whole section in about an hour, with 30 minutes of daylight to spare. We could have spent some time playing after all!
After that, it was back home, via the Chelsea Takeaways in Taihape.
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