As we left that TA we at least had full bellies, but that combine with full packs meant I was full of not being happy. For some reason as we made our way down to Lake Hauroko I was not doing well mentally. This isn’t uncommon in AR as there are always moments when a person in tired, sleepy, unhappy, in pain, feeling great, no energy, lots of energy…. However I was in a bad place. Thankfully my team mates gave me my space with about 100m separation as we fast walked down the road.
I was really zoning out and taking in the massive trees either side of the road and and beautiful untouched Fiordland bush. The birds, the forrest the density of it all were slowly working their magic on me and bringing me back around. We arrived at the lake after walking for I’m guessing about an hour. There were 3 or 4 other teams there, all inflating their pack rafts to begin the paddle across and down this long lake. I do remember one team there patching their raft that somehow had got a hole in it.
We pushed off and were essentially heading west in the early morning. It was calm, cloudy and very still an amazing Saturday morning to be out on the lake.
Part of my funk was somehow I had got into my head that the 1st cutoff was to be out of TA 3 by Monday @ 5pm. Which wasn’t the case. We knew this section was going to take at least 70-80hrs and by my math Saturday morning to Monday at 5pm was way less than time than what we had estimated for this section and therefore we would get to TA3 after 5pm Monday. And so in my head it made me think that this was all pointless. However Peter put me straight and the reality was to be out of the TA we had just left my Monday @ 5pm. So we were well ahead of the time schedule.
We turned south on the lake and continued paddling to the southern end where the lake emptied into Wairarahiri River, which flowed all the way to the sea. The breeze picked up for a while and we had a few heavy downpours of rain. I recall in the pre race meeting them saying that on some of the lakes we would be on that if the wind got up…. don’t continue or try to paddle. And looking around I figured this was one of those lakes. It was huge and being surrounded by ALL bush made one feel really small. Not to mention Hauroko is the deepest lake in NZ.
Before heading down the Wairaurahiri River we got a checkout at a hiking hut near the river mouth. While the river didn’t sneak up on us, I sorta did too. We exited the lake into the river and paddled around a corner and boom we were all of a sudden into whitewater. And to save words… that was what it was like for the next 3hours. No joke. Just one wave train or rapid after another and while we were told it would be Class II there were definitely 2 or 3 that felt more than a Class II.
Our fun intensified after about the 2nd or 3rd rapid when we were both ejected out of the raft. We managed to get it to the side and we were about to climb in and Pete got swept down stream and was gone. He still had his paddle. So there I was standing on the side of the river, Craig & Lucy go flying by I tell them to look out for Pete. So jump in and position myself at the back of the raft b/c up till them I was at the front and a-way-we-go. Well a-way-me-go. So here I am piloting this pack raft down stream looking out for a swimmer (Peter) and where the hell did Craig and Lucy go. I come around a corner having successfully navigated multiple rapids by now to sell the 3 of them on River Right waiting for me. I pull over. Pete tells me that he’s not sure why he was sitting at the back trying to navigate that thing when I had more history with kayaks/rafts etc. So the switch was permanent and away we went again as a team.
We then were in a white knuckle ride essentially all the way to the ocean. The rain set in at times but we were already wet. And there were several tricky rapids and strainers to avoid or pay attention too.
We finally made it to a hut on River Left, which we almost shot right past. paddling hard to make the take-out. climbing up a bank we then proceeded to get out of wetsuits to strap even more on our packs and trek a bazillion km’s. We got to Waitutu Lodge late afternoon where we were able to ditch the wetsuits for this section and at least travel a little lighter. We left their in pretty good sprits. Buoyed on by the amazing birdlife we were encountering as we trekked through the bush. I got to see a kaka and the amazing reddish color under it wings and at least heard a kakariki, I was loving this.
The trail was super muddy and you were resigned to this being actually the best mode of travel, knowing what was coming up. This was CP17. We travelled west along the trail, parallel to the ocean, CP17 was on a creek that crossed the trail at approximately 45 degree from Southwest to Northeast. The question was do we trek to the creek and trail intersection or save time and just bush whack towards the creek, cut off the corner and then follow the creek upstream to CP17, easy right.
The bush in there was soooooo thick not like anything I had seen before However as we move more up stream we were finding beaten paths or elehpants trails all heading in the right direction towards CP17. This was all going down around pre sunset.
Then things went wrong, bad, ugly.