Rapids 101

The first Tuesday of the summer camp was wet. It rained all day to a forecast of severe gales over most of the country. The camp was sheltered from the wind but the Whanganui River drains from as high as the Tongariro National Park. It certainly expanded its territory that day. After waiting a day or so for the river to go down a little, we were bursting for action, or at least Peter was. So we took the kayaks to the farmer’s property a little south of Taumaranui where he has a river kayak and jetboat business and launched there to paddle down to the campsite, about 7km. By a fortunate stroke of good organisation I chose to wear a full body wetsuit.

After a few salient pointers, we set off down the first pool. Keep to the left at the end of the long straight with the white house was the first instruction, meaning rapids. Now it turns out that the worst rapids are between Taumaranui and the campsite, and the river was well up with large waves in the rapids. First to go for a swim was Seton. Then as we were swept into the large lefthander I forgot to look down the track for obstructions and was not able to get out of the way of a large boulder. The pressure wave on the side tipped me in, head down under the boat, I cracked the side of my head on the rock as I went past. The current spat me out on the bank a 100 metres further on. There we discovered that in our haste we had no safety gear. No first aid kit, no cellphones, no EPIRBs and of course, no helmets. Luckily Ross had taped something to his belt with duct-tape so Peter ripped a piece off his handkerchief and taped it over the wound with the duct-tape, at the same time calling out the name of our makers’s son. For me, the bleeding meant I could only see out of one eye, but then I have often been accused of being one eyed.

There was no choice but to get going again. Next to go in was Margaret. Once ashore and bailed out she set off again and promptly hit a rock side on and capsized 30 seconds later. Small consolation as I went in again soon after. Embarrassingly, as we swept into the final bend by the top paddock I got caught in another series of pressure waves and washed the wound again. Determined not to be seen walking to the campsite, I lined up the final rapid and made it to the campsite hoping for sympathy and a hot toddy. Thanks to a piece of dirty wet handkerchief and a piece of second hand duct-tape, the wound had closed up and stopped bleeding. But no sympathy and no toddy. I held the record for the number of capsizes.

Peter spent the rest of the afternoon teaching the children how to manage the river properly while I had to accept my position as bunny of the trip.

The sequel to that was a fantastic trip down from the campsite a few days later to Kirikau, about 20km down river. This time we took all the safety gear, the river was well down after days of fine weather and no one capsized in any of the rapids. Many of the camp repeated the river from the farmer’s launching point to the campsite without incident. Owen and Jan even did it in a children’s plastic inflatable dinghy. Boy did that rub it in!


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