Of course no kayaking plan is finally settled until it actually gets underway (and sometimes not even then). Paul and company duly showed up on New Years Eve but obviously partying took precedence, so it wasn't until the next day that we ended up discussing whether the Taipo was a better bet than the Karamea. After arguing around in circles for an hour or so it was eventually put to a vote and the Karamea won. So the (by now firming) plan was for Joe, Phil, Esther (not paddling) and myself to head for Karamea that evening after we had paddled the O'Sullivans to Ariki Falls section on the Buller. Timon's car was going to head off a little earlier and we would meet them there. We had also met a German paddler, Reiner who was keen, and who would make his own way there. Eight was a good number, since the helicopter could carry two paddlers at a time, and we had to pay $200 for each flight regardless of whether there were one or two passengers.
But there's always a spanner waiting to be thrown in the works, and when we were finally about to leave, we couldn't find Phil anywhere. When he eventually turned up he said that he had decided not to come since the trip would be too expensive. A few well chosen expletives later, and the three of us set off without him. We got to Karamea about midnight, amazingly managed to find where the others were camping, pitched our tents and got to sleep.
The next morning the others also had something to say about Phil's change of heart (F%&king w$%&!r - sorry Phil, just reporting it like it was!) since he'd just added $100 onto the cost of the trip for the rest of us. At that point it was suggested that Esther could go for a helicopter ride and pay some of that extra. We arrived at the helicopter pick up point before 9am (it's never a good idea to keep helicopter operators waiting - it's expensive for them to just have the machine waiting on the ground) and commenced the two-at-a-time shuttle. Three hours, four round trips and $800 later we were all at the get-in and ready to go.
From where you put-in you get to the first rapid (Roaring Lion) after about one minute - and it's no gentle introduction either, being the hardest on the section. It consists of six or so drops spread out over about one kilometre, sufficiently close to each other that it is considered one rapid, but luckily (at least at the low flow on that day) with big enough eddys between them that it is possible to take out after each one to scout the next. At that flow it was probably a pretty solid grade 4(+?), mainly due to there being quite a few places where you could get a good beating, and a reasonable chance of getting one if you screwed up. Without the option of scouting each drop I'd say it would easily be a grade 5.
I was the last to shuttle up, and by the time I got there, Bernie had already decided to walk the first drop - I figured if Bernie wasn't going to paddle it, there wasn't much point in me even looking at it! The remainder of the group all ran it with varying degrees of success. Most ended up doing tailstands or being backlooped and had to make quick recovery moves, so I think I made the right decision!
I portaged two more of the drops that I didn't like the look of. The last drop was one of those and it looked particularly ugly. In fact everyone got through pretty much OK with only minor drama - except for Bernie. He was paddling a demo boat that had the curious feature of almost no thigh braces in the cockpit. He got backlooped and fell out of his boat while he was upside down. Unfortunately failing to obey the golden rule of swiming (hang on to your gear!) he lost his paddle. So out came my split paddle and on we went. Luckily a short while later, I spotted his paddle in an eddy, so I guess he owes me one (eh Bernie?!!).
We ended up taking about two hours to paddle Roaring Lion. Since this was only about 1/20th of the distance we had to paddle it looked like it was going to be a long day. Fortunately we made much faster progress after that. The next 18km's or so consisted of longish sections of flat water interspersed with a good number of grade 3+ -ish rock gardens. These were fun and challenging (for me at least) without being too intimidating, and none required us to get out of our boats to scout.
Eventually we arrived at the second of the two "significant" rapids - "Holy Shit". This is rated as grade 4ish, mainly due to its length (a couple of hundred metres) and the large hydraulics and holes waiting to munch anyone not careful enough about the line they took. We did scout this one, noting the location of the nastiest looking holes and how to avoid them.
I had decided to mostly head down the left-hand side, which I thought should see me OK. Then I made a big mistake - I followed Paul across to an eddy right of centre at the top. From there I started heading left and failed to avoid one of those munchy holes. I spent what seemed like an age (actually only a few seconds) side surfing, staying upright but not able to get out of the hole. The decision as to what to do next was taken out of my hands when my spray deck popped off and my boat started filling with water. I got flipped over which had the fortunate side effect of flushing me out of the hole, but when I rolled up my boat was making like a submarine, and with almost no control over it I naturally ended up in the next hole. Though I swear I didn't bail out (people just don't believe me when I tell them my boat got sucked off me!) the result was the same. I ended up swimming through the next couple of holes, getting a bit of a beating on some rocks and being sucked further underwater than any other time I can remember, before finally reaching the bottom of the rapid. Bugger! The trip had been going so well up until then!
With all my gear recovered and back in my boat, we paddled the remaining couple of grade three-ish rapids uneventfully. After six or so hours on the river we arrived at the get-out to find that Esther had been shopping and had lots of delicious food waiting for us. As we scoffed that, we reflected on a excellent trip, and even though my pride had taken a beating, it was one that I was glad to have done.
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