Sunday 03 January 2021 – Day 50
Returning to the trail has been bittersweet. I miss the family and friends of my holiday over Christmas and New Year, yet am keen to get back on the trail again otherwise complacency can easily set in. My trail angel Chrissy dropped me off in Taumarunui yesterday evening and I spent the night at the Forgotten World Adventures motel with a bunch of people who would be taking to the rails on Sunday. It was fully booked, me included, which is pleasing for their business during these times of domestic only tourism. It is a rail journey that is on my bucket list for another day. Having driven the Forgotten Highway in November I’d particularly like to do the trip through to Whangamomona for its bridges tunnels and rugged landscape.
My first order of business is to find out when I can get on the Whanganui River. There are multiple options for where to start and finish plus to find out what dates are available. For instance you can start from Taumarunui or Whakahoro and exit the river from Pipiriki or Whanganui. As a single person I can only paddle with others for safety reasons – there is a $300 fine if I venture off by myself… I don’t want to leave immediately as there is still the walk to Owhango followed by the 42nd Traverse, Cokers Waione and the famous Tongariro Crossing to complete. After that the trail leads to Nattie Park then down remote back roads to Whakahoro to join the river. In the morning I had a sneaky brekkie at the Maccas across the road from the motel then donned pack for the 3km walk out to Whanganui Canoe Hire. The forecast is for showers later in the day however the morning is overcast and dry for the walk. It passes by the railway village of Sunshine just out of Taumarunui which was built to accommodate railway workers. Some of the cute railway cottages still survive to this day and are heritage listed. Karen at Whanganui Canoe Hire is a whirlwind of energy and knowledge. In the space of a few minutes she has made me a ham sandwich, organised a coffee, checked river dates, answered multiple telephone calls, replied to emails, bought diesel miles, spoken to staff over the radio or those passing through the reception area. It turns out that there are a number of available dates I can join. The first are in two or three days going the whole distance from Taumarunui to Whanganui. Too soon for me as I still need five days to get to National Park. The next is on the 10th January from Whakahoro to Whanganui. There is a big group of 11 hikers who are just ahead of me currently and I can join their journey, including the same camping locations down the river. I know Rob Kaz Jojo Hone and Jason are in the group so there’ll be people I have met before although I’ve not walked with them. If there is another single we could also share a canoe rather than me being in a single kayak. Karen books me into the DOC John Coull campsite and one other for the following night. The other two nights will be paid direct. Also we discuss the final leg to Whanganui which will be tide dependent (11:39am high tide) to ease the paddle on the wide river estuary to the end point at the holiday park. Hopefully the weather gods will give a tail wind too! Now that I know my dates and duration on the river I can plan the days in between. Today I will resupply in Taumarunui, then head out tomorrow to Owhango. There are not enough days for me to walk all the way to Whakahoro so I will return here the day prior and take their transfer to the river.
Whanganui Canoe hire provide complimentary camping for clients plus there is a container shed with bunks for TA hikers. I find Jeff there who I haven’t seen since Ahipara so we have a good catch up. He has done the Crossing etc already and will be hitting the river on the 6th all the way down over 7 days arriving in Whanganui two days before me. It’s time to head back into town to shop for provisions for my river trip. Three kms back into town goes quickly despite a few little rain showers and a few minutes to admire the layers of rock and earth deposited over millennia in the roadside cliffs. In Taumarunui I happened to walk most of the way down the main street and entered a cafe to bump into Jonathan who I last saw in Te Kuiti prior to Christmas. We have a snack together (coffee and toasted sandwich) then along to the New World for resupply. Now the dilemma – what to eat for five days on the river plus another day just incase of bad weather. Fortunately for this stretch, travelling by canoe means we can oversupply with weightier items and even alcohol so hikers tend to stock up well. $189 later I have food galore, a case of beer and join Jonathan for the lift back to camp c/o one of Karen’s sons. They have given me a watertight barrel into which goes the dry food and this will be stored here until the river trip. The fresh stuff goes into their fridge again until needed for the river. This all done and dusted I return to the container accommodation to join Jonathan and Jeff lazing away the afternoon. At 7pm Elena (Tip Tap) arrived, with her seriously small pack. She has the done the PCT in the US and has a large social media following. It is nice to meet another TA hiker for the first time.
Tomorrow – an early start for 6:30am canoe briefing then walk through to Owhango.