The next morning the worst of the storm was over, but it still rained and continued to do so during the rest of the day.
The worst thing is that moment when you have the abandon the comfort of your warm dry clothing and hoist yourself into that wet outfit again. Ugh, I really don’t like water.
Eline had a good laugh at my improvised rain skirt though, and after some jesting we got our barrels tied back together to the canoe and took off again.
It’ s a funny thing that, after being completely soaked through, the rain stops bothering you.
We had a more or less pleasant day and it was pretty cool to be on the river in this kind of weather.
Fortunately it wasn’t too cold and for some weird reason the water in the river actually felt really warm.
The water levels were also slowly rising and the humid atmosphere made for a very mystical ambiance.
And there was another really weird thing going on. At some places the lines and ridges on the river bank and rocks went up or down in an slanted manner, creating the optical illusion that you’re actually going up or down with the stream. I tried to take a picture of it but it’s harder to see on a photograph. The weird effect plays tricks on your natural feel for balance and it really made me think the river was going up or downhill without any change in the current.
Oh yeah, and there’s also some sort of lava rock that’s filled with little pockets of air, making that it’s very light and does not sink in water.
So just imagine us rowing in the rain on a misty river that streams upwards surrounded by floating rocks…what a surreal place indeed.
Just when we thought it couldn’t possibly rain any harder, nature proved us otherwise by opening all of heavens sluice gates, and it go so wet we took shelter under a small ridge somewhere in the side of the river bank.
It didn’t blow over like a normal rain shower would though, so we enjoyed the dryness for a couple of minutes before plunging back into the rain. We decided to power paddle the last 11 km to our campsite instead of going ashore to the nearest hut. The river was starting to stream faster and around us small waterfalls started to appear, dumping their contents of fallen rain into the big reservoir of water with our tiny boat floating on top of it.
Whirlpools started to appear at seemingly random places, tugging on our canoe and making it very hard to keep the boat going straight, while we were still power paddling just to keep up with the stream and by now also to stay warm, because the constant rain was cooling us down rather quickly now.
When logs the size of our boat started floating by I knew we had to get out of the water fast now, because it was getting really dangerous. Fortunately for us we reached the campground right after and some guys were already standing on the mud bank waving us over. We got out of the canoe and they helped us dragging the boat up the path to the campsite to secure it there with the other canoes.
At first I was a bit sceptical about dragging them all the way up there, but as I found out later this was a smart precaution and we eventually had to drag them up even higher to make sure they wouldn’t get swept away by the river streams.
We changed into our last dry clothes and warmed up under the shelter, which we now had to share with 8 other people, which was a little uncomfortable and cramped.
After diner and a good swig of baileys (Eline was smart enough to bring a small bottle just in case) we headed down to check how the canoes were holding up.
By now the river had risen at least 2-3 meters and entire trees were floating past in what was now a churning and roaring stream of mud, water and debris.
To be told flash floods like this can happen is one thing, but to actually experience one is another story entirely. This was in no way safe to go into anymore and we hoped everybody got out in time.
See that last stick? Down below is a picture I took the day after the flooding, so you can see the difference.
Look for the same stick in the upper left corner of the photograph.
The next day the river had risen even higher, if only a little, but at least it had finally stopped raining.
It was still not safe to go back in though, so we all stayed on the campground, carving walking sticks and shooting cans with makeshift bamboo bows and whatnot.
In the afternoon the sun broke through the clouds and blissfully warmed our damp camp and the 11 stranded people hanging around in there. Everybody immediately started to dry their stuff and in less than 5 minutes there was a lot more colour and happiness to be found on that small piece of land.
At around 5 in the afternoon a jetboat showed up at our campsite, the owners of the canoe company checking if everybody was alright. I wondered why they didn’t show up earlier, but I guess there was still too much debris and logs floating around in the river for the boat to get around safely.
The people informed us that everybody was accounted for and alright, although one group two campgrounds back had last their canoe because they didn’t secure it properly.
The official pick up time was to be in Pikiriki the next day and they changed it from 12 to 16.
This meant we had to do 8 hours of floating/rowing the next day and skip the last campsite, as we were forced to stay an extra day on the on the one we were at that time.
Sunshine after the rain.
So the next day we got back in the boat and the river treated us to a beautiful day of sun and sights, all the while hardly having to paddle because the current was still very strong.
We basked in the warm sun and tried to soak up as much of the heat as we could, determined to vaporise every drop of moist that had fallen on us in the last couple of days.
I made the stupid mistake of waiting to long with applying sunscreen, once again underestimating the power of the sun and the fact that there’s a big hole in the ozone layer right above New Zealand.
Note to self: the sun is a deadly laser and will effectively turn your skin into the equivalent of English toast.
The Whanganui river road
At the end of the day we got to the drop off point, exchanged the canoe for our backpacks and got walking again, this time following the river by the road that swirls along next to it.
During the hike we saw some damage the recent rain had done. Obviously it didn’t only cause trouble on the river and the road was still full of rubble that had come down with the landslides the massive rainfall had caused.
Along the road we came through a small serene place called Jerusalem, called so because of Suzanne Ambert, who founded the Sisters of Compassion there. Here story is truly inspiring and has taken away some of the prejudice I held against organised religion and how it effects humankind.
What I also found really cool is that, in the church, there was a not-so-subtle-but-cool mixing of the Maori culture and Christian tradition. It’s amazing that, in this country, these cultures have mixed and learned to co-exist as best as possible, instead of one slowly eradicating the other.
Sympathy and an open mind is what we need, and this place proved to me different views of how the world turns can mix together in harmony.
Also, the Maori painting of Jesus is just hilarious.
The next days we walked/hitched to Whanganui, where we did all the usual things we do when coming back into civilisation: internet, update, resupply and plunder a fastfood restaurant.
Now were on our way back to Tongariro national park to do an extensive touristic tour through the land of Mordor, going by Mt Doom and play a prank on Saurons front door.
‘One ring to fool them all’