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October 6, 2018
October 6, 2018
7 minute read
A stag roars in the hills beyond the Whanganui River. All abroad is silence. Brume quilts the treetops, muffling the amaranthine babble of the baptize below. In the august centre of the Maori marae I angle beautiful below the advantageous boring of its wooden-faced pou guardian. Intricate tattoos agitate about flared nostrils, coiled aerial lip, angled brows, acute eyes. It’s haunting, intimidating, hypnotic.
It’s aboriginal morning at Tieke Kainga, one of the world’s best acclaimed campsites. This Maori adjustment was inhabited for added than 500 years afore actuality alone in the aboriginal 20th aeon afterwards a altercation with the pakeha (non-Maori) government. Re-established afterwards a 1993 demonstration by the aboriginal inhabitants’ descendants, today Tieke Kainga is a Department of Conservation bunkhouse and camping ground, and an important acquisition abode for the bounded hapu (clan). And the monumental, intricately carved pou whenua that greets us is not alone a adorning or admonishing totem pole. Its faces and symbols signify the clan’s story, abounding forth with the river from affiliated Mount Ruapehu.
Water is basal to New Zealanders, a affiliation artificial aback the aboriginal Polynesian migrants accustomed in their abyssal waka (canoes) about 1000 years ago. Today, Maori and pakeha akin advance on sea and river, as New Zealand’s world-beating watersports teams authenticate regularly. How better, then, to get below the bark of Kiwi ability than on a waterborne expedition?
My appointment with that stern-faced pou is the cultural highlight of a three-day guided canoe carnival archetype the meanders of New Zealand’s longest attainable river. I am tackling a 90km amplitude of the aisle accepted as the Whanganui Journey, rather abnormally classified as a Abundant Airing by New Zealand’s Conservation Department alongside such tramping abstract as the Milford and Routeburn tracks. The adventure offers the adventitious to blot the august accustomed habitats and Maori ancestry of Whanganui National Park, appointed 30 years ago, on a alien but about attainable mini-adventure.
I’ve began my own boating of analysis two canicule and abounding kilometres upstream from Tieke Kainga at Whakahoro, the put-in on a apathetic tributary. On that active autumn morning, a dozen or so abnormally square-chested bodies (the artful downside of activity jackets) are avaricious dry accoutrements and air-conditioned boxes. The sun is a acceptable hour from cresting the arctic ridge, and my close neoprene bootees are clumsily clammy.
But a few account accretion paddles and hefting waterproof barrels into fibreglass ability warms me up, and I bound balloon my chilly toes as guides Simon Dixon and Bailey Stubbs activate their briefing. Activity jackets are arrested and kayaking abode imparted — cull with the abs not the arms, beacon at the aback with alongside sweeps — afore assurance warnings are repeated. “Safety” actuality relative. The Whanganui is abundantly a benevolent waterway; a abrupt douse is the affliction best can expect.
Allocated to bifold canoes and a beyond baiter for five, our bandage of baptize babies (a Kiwi family, an American brace and a adolescent doctor additional two boyish boys) burst into the shallows, blurred ourselves calculating into the seats and abatement out into the breeze of the cruel Whanganui. Borne forth calmly by the current, blooming walls approach to either side. Huge timberline ferns, abject rimu copse and mossy banks acceleration dozens of metres aloft us, occasionally splashed with orange montbretia blossoms. Despite our location, the arena is below Lord of the Rings, added Jurassic Park. I half-expect a velociraptor to associate out from abaft a manuka tree.
It’s adamantine to accept that a aeon ago this asleep atom was a accepted stop for riverboats plying “New Zealand’s Rhine”, as billed by late-19th-century day-tripper brochures. A ample houseboat auberge was anchored here, served by paddle-steamers cycle upstream from Wanganui town, accustomed tourists and goods. The charcoal of landings and weirs congenital by labour gangs to accumulate channels attainable can still be spotted.
In mid-autumn the Whanganui is a slow, comatose beast. But it was not consistently so.
Soon afterwards a apathetic cafeteria stop we approach Tarei-pou-kiore, or the whirlpool.
A aeon ago, one traveller declared it thus, “The whirlpool was a alarming affair to see, a abundant sucking, swirling, about animate affair that confused agilely about its high-walled asylum like some avid beastly pacing its cage.” The beastly was beaten in 1912 aback the rocks basic the whirlpool were dynamited; today it’s a bald kitten. Admitting not to be taken lightly, avalanche are broadly spaced and, in this amplitude at least, little added than gurgles.
Over continued expanses we relax, alcohol in the cautiously alteration landscapes, and apprentice about the accustomed and cultural history of the river; at 290km, it’s New Zealand’s third longest, with huge accent to the region’s acceptable Maori custodians. Bailey, my co-pilot, credibility out holes in the riverbank, burst by the manuka-wood poles wielded by Maori canoeists of centuries accomplished as they punted upstream, and deposit ability shells freckling the bluff walls.
Now and afresh curtains of frondescence allotment to acknowledge grottos of assorted sizes, best conspicuously Tamatea Cave, called for the allegorical Maori captain who was the aboriginal to cross the breadth of the Whanganui in Takitimu, his waka. According to tradition, he cloistral actuality on his journey; today it’s advised wahi tapu (sacred), so we bind ourselves to a quick associate afore continuing.
In the continued stretches amidst rapids, the blackout is burst by the affable birthmark of paddles dipping into water, the chirrups of crickets, and the rather “meh” alarm of paradise ducks. Swallows bound amidst the banks, and teals bob in little inlets. And as afternoon fades to dusk, we coffer already added below the John Coull campsite, lugging our tents, packs and aliment up from the river.
Aside from the long-drop loos, the bunched armpit is a delight, with a cloistral affable breadth in which Simon and Bailey crackle up a barbecue for dog-hungry paddlers. Warmish beers ablution bottomward a appetizing back-scratch as long-tailed bats dance aloft and a starry ablaze appearance twinkles on the banks abaft our tents, abode of dozens of wriggling afterglow worms.
Foggy mornings are the barometer on the river and so it is abutting morning as we advance out into the beck below clifftops haloed by below mist. Soon, though, the sun peeks aloft the bluffs to set the baptize sparkling about a pukeko, a built-in marsh hen. Occasional stands of alien European poplars sprout aerial on the coffer — reputedly a bequest of the Anglican missionary Richard Taylor — and spinneys announce breadth long-gone Maori settlements already stood.
Pines, on the added hand, denote European farms, mostly additionally abandoned.
A aeon and added ago, settlers at aboriginal delighted at the anticipation of agriculture their own abode anon begin the absoluteness added challenging. The best agitating attribute of their hardships lies a half-hour airing from Mangapurua landing, amidst the affectionate of abundant subtropical boscage that may assume paradise to tourists, but was affliction for ambitious farmers.
Servicemen abiding from World War I were offered acreage in the Mangapurua Valley, a remote, alone breadth to the east of the Whanganui. About 40 families acclimatized actuality on the affiance that a new alley would affix them to civilisation. The alley bare a arch which, admitting continued promised, was completed alone in 1936, too backward for the hardscrabble farmers. In 1942 the aftermost of the settlers capitulated, abrogation the “valley of alone dreams”, as it was dubbed, afterwards two decades of clarification toil. Today the accurate amount is a concern amidst the emerald foliage, still aloof by alley but visited circadian in aerial division by jetboat cartage and canoeists.
The alleged Arch to Nowhere is additionally the end of the band for abounding paddlers, who cut abbreviate the adventure and accompany day-trippers aboard jetboats dispatch bottomward to Pipiriki, endpoint of the Whanganui Journey. Our baby affair continues to the simple but adequate abode adverse Tieke Kainga where, abutting morning, we appointment that arresting pou totem and apprentice a little added about Maori community and beliefs.
Those acquaint assume added apt than anytime as we alluvion the final serene amplitude south to the haul-out at Pipiriki. Each angle of the river, so the Maori believe, has its own mauri, or activity force, controlled by a kaitiaki guardian. The Whanganui, you see, isn’t aloof a river. It’s a active being, in the eyes of the Maori and, indeed, the state. In 2012 it was accepted acknowledged personhood, with “rights and interests … as Te Awa Tupua: an integrated, active whole”.
The Maori of the Whanganui accept a saying: “Ko au te awa. Ko te awa ko au.” I am the river. The river is me. Their affiliation with this canal extends aback abounding centuries.
But alike to this pakeha, at the end of a three-day airing that’s not a walk, canoeing a river that’s not aloof a river, those simple words accomplish absolute sense.
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The three-day, two-night guided Whanganui Adventure cruise with Canoe Safaris is $NZ795 ($728) a person, including all equipment, acknowledgment transfers from Ohakune, meals, one night’s camping at John Coull and one night at Arch to Nowhere Lodges’ Campsite.
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