Day 1. I had to go on to the river with a guided group of five people because getting to the river required carting the canoes and the kayak down an unsealed road. They were a family of for from Auckland (German mum, English Dad, 10 year old boy Christophe and 12 year old girl Yasmine) and a middle aged woman called Pip, also from Auckland. Their guide was a Welsh lad called Dave. Once on the water I was free to paddle off and explore the river and some side streams but I had chosen to stay the first night in the same campsite as the rest of the group. On the river the scenery was once again beautiful, steep cliffs on either bank coated in thick vegetation and rainforest, see pics, I won't drivel on, and it was unbroken for the whole of the 5 hours of paddling it took to get me to the first campsite.
Each of the campsites along the river have a small shelter over a picnic bench, rainwater tap and a long drop toilet. I pitched Frank, my tent, whilst the rain just about held off and soon after the rest of the group arrived. We had the campsite to ourselves as most people choose to stay at the DOC huts that are along the river. The others in the group had paid a fair bit more than me to have a guide who cooked their meals and also they were spending one night in the only hotel down the river, giving them a night with a shower and electricity.
The kids built a fire unsupervised (I like this attitude to growing up that is common to all Kiwis - Let them get on with it - if they set fire to themselves, well they'll only do it once), I ate my dinner of crackers and peanut butter then we swapped places and the others ate a proper meal of pasta with chicken and vegetables whilst I tended to the fire, not an easy task in the rain.
After the family, Pip and Dave had had their fill there were leftovers and they insisted on me having some, I felt a bit guilty as they'd paid for it but later on I earnt it by entertaining the kids in good humour. Christophe was a big fan of the 'copying everything Glyn says and does' game as well as the 'how long can you hold on to Glyn's leg' game. Two of my personal favourites, obviously, but they did get slightly annoying. After about 30 seconds. To distract from the fun I produced marshmallows from my bag and we went down to the fire to melt and drop most of them in the fire.
Day 2. Paddled further than the others to Mangaparua campsite and I was the only one there. Because of this it seemed appropriate to get naked and build a fire because it had been raining it took me 2 hours to get a fire burning properly. I was dressed again by this point and started pounding my chest shouting fire like Tom Hanks does in Castaway. I managed to heat soup and a packet of noodles over the fire which was enough to make me feel like Ray Mears. Then it got dark. I saw a rat. I heard strange noises. I was scared, only a bit, but I realised I'd never been alone in the wild before. I got more scared when inside my tent I heard an animal run past, it was definitely bigger than a rat and it took me a few minutes to reason that it was probably a goat as I'd seen a few along the riverbank earlier. I didn't go and check I just put my headphones in and tried to ignore the noises of rats and goats.
Day 3. Crossed the river to the bridge to nowhere walk - the bridge is strong enough for large vehicles and it connects two patches of rainforest that have no roads. It really is a bridge to nowhere. I then paddled to Tieke Kainga, arriving at 1:30.
It was just me and a Maori woman called Leslie with tattoos from her bottom lip down to her chin. Leslie looks after the place which has a beautiful Marae (Maori meeting place) and a large carved totem pole along with a hut for sleeping in and a hut for cooking. Leslie explained that the land had belonged to her family but the Department of Conservation illegally built a hut on the site. The Maori didn't like this much so they threw the hut in the river. This happened three times before the DoC came to an arrangement with the Maori that they would build and maintain huts on the site but they would belong to the Maori people who would welcome visitors. More people arrived, one of whom was a river guide with a passion for the great kiwi sport of possum bashing. I saw two and showed them to the guy but I missed the one that he did get. In hindsight I'm quite glad I didn't see it because although they are a pest they still look deceptively cute.
Day 4. I didn't have far to paddle so I spent the morning waiting for the rain to clear, reading and chatting to Leslie. For all Leslie's pride about her Maori heritage it turns out she used to be a pole dancer with a pet yellow python called Willy.
I cruised down to the next campsite at 2pm and a few hours later was joined by the others that had entered the water with me. Christophe greeted me by shooting me 3 times with a stick then hugging me. We built a campfire and everyone insisted I have a portion of their dinner - beef curry - for happily putting up with Christophe constantly talking and shooting me. The truth is I quite like kids really and I also like curry so it was happy days, especially as I had run out of my own food earlier that afternoon. Marshmallows were toasted for pudding, chatting and drinking in the last night of the trip over-looking the river and so to bed.
Day 5. This was the most fun day of paddling and I did most of it with the group. There were some decent rapids that I went through twice as well as a mud cave that we wallowed in up to our knees follwed by a cave housing a waterfall to clean off the mud.
The whole trip was probably the best thing I have done in New Zealand and thoroughly recommended to anyone that visits. Perfect end to a perfect country. Just on to Auckland for a few hours before my flight to Australia. Too easy.
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