Waking up was with complaining sheep and the thwap-thwap of techno pop meaning only one thing – sheep sheering. It’s weird to have so much time before I have to move. The canoes will be here in an hour or so. My tent dries on a fence post.
My friends from Taumaranui canoe hire arrive and have us unpack out carefully packed gear and repack it in barrels. It’s all a bit of a drama as we hurriedly reorganize then get another briefing and small canoe lesson in the thick mud at the launch.
The Whaganui River is considered one of New Zealand’s ‘great walks.’ It is protected and filled with tourists, so a different feel for us long distance walkers used to isolated trails, not to mention how odd it is sitting rather than walking.
It’s also a river with rapids and I’m lucky to have Andrew as our canoe captain. He turned 24 yesterday and is delightful – and a reasonably skilled paddler. Apparently one in three flip and we leave it to the Croatians, with Bojan a competitive white water rafter, to be the first to tip. They are taking the rapids square on, but we did too, bumping and splashing into the V and only spinning sideways once but managing to correct.
The river is magical. Muddy, but still cool and refreshing shooting through a gorge of bush, steep walls plastered with ferns followed by deep crevices worked over time by water and now filled with noisy, but often hidden, waterfalls.
Andrew and I talk about everything from family to movies to work. He also felt a bad vibe with the other group of hikers and yet is so filled with equanimity even as a young man – “People are going to be jerks and I just don’t let them ruin my experience.” So glad to paddle with a guy like me who asked for time off from a job he loves and wants to walk it all.
I reserved a bunk, but the hut feels like a scene from Oliver, so I set my tent with the others, eat too much and catch a breeze by the river looking for pekapeka – the only native mammal, a bat – before turning in early. We get a flurry of cackling swallows dive bombing our perch before the last of the twilight and three bats flutter in and out of our view, stuttering as they catch a meal mid-flight.
Now the last of the paddlers begin to turn in and the bush night volume turns up. I am so warm, I leave the door open for maybe a peak at the stars. Til tomorrow back on the river.