Last weekend was Labor Day weekend here in NZ. And while many got to take Monday off. I had to work.
And when describe work you might just roll your eyes.
I got to help plan & particulate in a 5 day rafting trip down the Clarence River, essentially from source to sea. A river that starts high up in the mountains and ends in the Pacific Ocean. One of the truly great wilderness & remote adventures in NZ.
After gathering with 16 other friends, colleagues & Board Members from Scripture Union, Arocha & Adventure Specialities we drove the 2.5hrs to the put in.
Logistically this trip was massive with 17 people on 3 rafts for 5 full days with enough food, personal gear, cooking gear, tents & safety stuff. A lot of thought was given to it all. Not to mention the transportation challenges of getting us to the put in. Then arranging how we were going to get home. That part was an 11 hour bus ride. Double what it should have taken us. But due to the kaikoura earthquakes almost a year ago & 100s of road slips meant frustratingly that we were really close to the now reopened section of road but far enough away that we had to effectively drive north before we could drive south.
Meanwhile we got on the water around 330pm Friday afternoon & paddled until we ran out of daylight around 8pm settling for a less than ideal campsite on the side of the river.
We all slept well after a good dinner of beef stir fry that was conveniently “thawing” on the top of one of our rafts as we floated down stream. That first afternoon had its fair share of decent rapids.
Saturday morning came after a really good nights sleep (in a tent of course) Which after 4 nights one gets really good at putting a tent up, especially one thats not personally yours.
Each morning we aimed to be up around 700am. It was quickly established that I was the designated coffee person. In part because I like it strong, and my argument for strong coffee is that you can always add hot water to weaken it, but when it comes to weak coffee and making it stronger… insert the crickets chirping here. We have a lot of big coffee drinker or coffee snobs and 3 big plunger pots therefore each morning around 700am there was a flurry to get the date on the gas rings or the recently lit fire and “get the coffee on”.
Packing up camp each morning is quite a task. Pulling down tents, packing our big blue waterproof barrels (2 people/barrel). They are the barrels in the picture above. Eating breakfast, cleaning up, loading all that gear on 3 rafts for 17 people. We were on the water by 930am each day. which didn’t leave for much idle time. A big pot of porridge/oatmeal was made each morning and dutifully consumed.
Saturday was our first all day paddle and the chance to enter the first of 3 big canyons on the Clarence. This trip has so many highlights however one would have to be a amazing and dynamic geology and demonstration of tectonic forces (nerd alert!)on show. The rocks had some incredible faulting and folding lines that often ran parallel to one another creating a plowed field look yet no where near straight in their appearance.This often found us looking up as much ad enjoying the rapids of the day.
Our 2nd day ended with a sweet campsite of river right, a little up from Muzzle Station where as we were paddling into camp a farm worker from the station was heading cattle with ….
Tells you a little about the terrain and its inaccessibility. See video below and look hard and listen.
This camp site provided good shelter from the forecast gales that were predicted and we were kept up to date on each day with our daily Sat phone check in. On this night we also sat and had a facilitated discussion about Faith Formation and what that looks like in our context. And you can imagine with 3 very intentional faith-based non-profits and a faith based funding group there was lively conversation.
Day 3 saw continue continue our float to the ocean as we began to float through the middle of the Seaward Kaikoura’s to our left and the Inland Kaikoura’s to our right. The later have peaks that are much higher including one of my favorite mountains in NZ. Tapuae-o-Uenuku, or known as Tapi. Having climbed to its summit and been denied its summit more times than I care to remember it was good to see “an old friend”. Click here for more info. This mountain is the first real mountain Sir Edmond Hillary Climbed and from there got the bug.
This brought us to our 3rd campsite but not before some drama. On November 14th last year a violent 7.8 earthquake shook this region. Creating all sorts of destruction and damage. Including State Highway 1, which to this day is STILL closed from 100’s of slips and the. Click here to read more stories about the quake. One of the lesser known effects were on this mighty river. A series of huge slips blocked the river and created a lake for some time until the power of the river punched through the rock wall to continue its path to the ocean. It would have been impressive to see the rock fall and blocking of the river (from a safe distance of course) and then even more so when the river punched its way through. Well anyways we saw the effects of the landslide and the river reasserting itself. As we paddle this section there were house-sized boulders all around and still little slides and slip going on. Couldn’t help but feel very small at that point and put in our place in the universe. A good reminder of the sovereignty of God too. This video shows us rafting through this new section that none of us had paddled before. Rafting this section was optional for us, of course I said yes, and we “lined” the heaviest raft through the rapids for fear or it flipping with people and all our heavy gear aboard.
Just below this piece of God’s handiwork we found our next campsite and set up for the evening. This time to enjoy a pasta dish and peach cobbler for dessert. Yes we ate well. Before dinner that night I got to take a wee run up towards Tapi and stretch my legs after effectively have them sit in a raft for 3 days. It was good to be running and even running uphill.
Day 4 or Monday (Labor Day) had us in the raft and off again around 930am. Into more rapids and another gorge/canyon. This is the only day we lost 2 people over board as we entered a rock-garden like section of rapids that saw us ping pong off a few rocks, some seen some unseen which caused 2 members of my raft to get thrown across the boat and into 2 other people and over he side into the river. Soon after getting them back on board, one with a throw bag we parked up to lick our wounds and stretch our legs.
One thing about this trip was a the amazing weather we had. Forecast rain never came and gale force winds never really blew. We were in a weather no-mans land though as far as reading forecasts which had us drawing from 3 different areas to try and syphon what part of that 1 forecast from each of the 3 might mean for us. With good weather on our side we were even more excited to be on the river.
If the weather was good, something had to give and that was the geological weather. Apparently we had an earthquake centered not far from where we were. The same faults that gave way here almost a year ago. This sent some family and friends into enquiry and wonder. Only to be responded with “What earthquake?” from us.
Day 4 ended as the most amazing campsite. A place called Matai Flat and oasis of old podocarp forrest on river left at a sharp left had turn in the river. Matai flat provided great comforts, the opportunity to swim, rest some and be awoke to the most amazing dawn chorus of birds. Not before landing in some strong wind gusts in the mid afternoon sun.
As we set out on our last day, we were up early to get done so we could get into that 11hr bus ride home. After the brilliance of the bird song start we were expecting to wind down for the morning to our take-out late morning.
This was not the case as we witnessed more quake devastation, mostly in the form of impacts to humans activity. Including a destroyed bridge and a major re-challening of the river. In the quake some major uplift occurred. This caused the river to find a new low point. Remember gravity and rivers a best mates. This caused the Clarence to move approximately 200m to the north and away from the old river bed as it would now we required to go uphill. The new path was cut without care or feeling across a sheep farm and multiple paddocks. To witness this and see what had occurred was again a “we are really small moment”. After seeing this new section of river we continued down stream passing where the river use to go and seeing its now dry river bed behind us joining the new channel sitting about 4-5m above us from the uplift. This old channel forever changed in a matter of moments after flowing that way for who knows, 1000’s of years.
From here we made the short rest of the way, still enjoying some big raids and long wave trains. So much for staying dry that day.
Upon arrival at the take out, a mere several hundred meters from the Pacific Ocean we took photos, high-5’d, and begun the packing up, this time for the last time.