A Travellerspoint blog

April 2012

Blazing paddles

A three-day canoe journey down the Whanganui River

View Just a big holiday on ClareAndTom's travel map.

Even though it is undertaken by canoe, the journey down the Whanganui River is counted as one of New Zealand’s nine ‘Great Walks’ and had captured our imaginations long before we arrived in the country.

Packing our camping supplies into the Canadian canoe at Whakahoro, the start of our trip

In case we got lost while following the river downstream, we were given a map

Our laden boat, ready for the off

It was exciting to be on the river. While it was mostly calm, there were sections of faster water when we had to pilot the canoe through the right places to avoid capsizing. The banks of the river frequently towered above us, the dense forest untouched. This, combined with the remote location, made it feel like we were floating through a prehistoric world.


We saw many waterfalls cascading into the river

We reached the John Coull campsite after 37.5km of paddling and secured our canoe so that it wouldn’t float away if the river rose overnight

Cooking dinner at the campsite. We spent the evening relaxing with a mug of wine, and went to bed when the sun went down

Off bright and early on day two – our stuff was all in waterproof barrels and tied to the boat


Giant tree ferns along the banks contributed to the prehistoric atmosphere



Just before lunch on the second day we stopped for a short walk to the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’. People had been encouraged to settle in this area, but the land was too remote and too hard to farm. All that now remains of the settlement is a large concrete bridge, which doesn’t go anywhere.

Canoes tied up at the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ landing

The famous bridge

On the second day we encountered one of our fears on the river – jet boats. These fly along creating quite a wake, which could capsize a canoe if you weren’t careful. We had been advised to move out of the way when we heard them coming!


Our second overnight stop, at Tieke Marae campsite

We went for a chilly dip in the river before drying off in the late afternoon sun

On the third day the river was very calm, almost eerily so, and the walls of the gorge were even higher than we’d seen before.



Near the end of our journey we had been warned that we’d have to navigate three big sets of rapids. We’d been a bit apprehensive about them, particularly as the advice for one set was not to attempt it in a canoe!

Two other canoeists tackle one set of rapids

We were pleased to have made it through without capsizing, so pulled over to watch some other people going down. While the rapids were quite scary and we got soaked, it was exciting to paddle through the big waves.


One couple capsized here while we watched

The rapids dumped a lot of water in the boat, so Tom was on baling duty

We made it through the rough water to finish in Pipiriki before midday. After packing up the boats we headed back to the base where we’d left the car.

On our way back we had a great view of Ruapehu, one of the volcanoes in Tongariro National Park and our next destination

Posted by ClareAndTom 01:09 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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