3-5 January: Waterfalls, forest and rapids – three days of adventuring

Author: Mrs A

Location: Tongariro National Park and Pipiriki

Thursday: After paying a visit to the local supermarket and cheese deli in Cambridge, we started to wind our way across country towards Ohakune, on the southern reaches of Tongariro National Park. It was a spectacular drive, travelling through New Zealand’s now familiar lush green farmland, with volcanic looking hills.

Fabulous view over Lake Taupo as we headed south

As we headed through Tongariro National Park the cloud descended and all hope of seeing the snow capped peaks disappeared with it. We arrived in Ohakune around 2.30pm, checking into a motel for the night. As we parked up we recognised the view from six years ago – we’ve stayed at the same place before!

We then drove up into Tongariro National Park, firstly doing a short walk to see a splendid waterfall where the Mangawhero plunges down into the valley.

The water plunging over the cliff – all snow melt, so we weren’t game for a dip!

From here we drove further down the mountain, and did a longer walk to Waitonga Falls. This hike took us through native mountain beech, climbing up high to an alpine bog. Unfortunately there was some wind up there, as on a calm day, there are some fabulous views of Mount Ruapehu reflected in the pools. We then climbed down steeply to the falls, a chance for a little water photography and a cup of tea before we headed back.

We needed all the climbing after our car journey…or so we convinced ourselves!
Walking over the alpine bog
I climb down to capture a different angle
Such a lovely river
Restricted myself to just a couple of photos
A nice cup of tea

After all that activity we headed out to a local eatery for dinner. Strangely named The Blind Finch, the restaurant calls itself a ‘hamburgeria’ selling a variety of interesting burgers (Mark had the Vietnamese – a pork mince burger with crackling and Vietnamese slaw, I had a Japanese version with Teryiaki beef) plus locally brewed beers and New Zealand wines. A great meal, and a fabulous view of the setting sun reflecting on Ruapehu’s snow capped peak as we walked back to the motel.

Mt Ruapehu glowing at sunset
Ohakhune as the sun sets

Friday: We arose early to do one more hike before we checked out, heading back into the national park, and doing a short walk through the Mangawhero Forest. We’re loving the cool lushness of the undergrowth here, every tree dripping in mosses and orchids, the ever present flutter and tweet of birds accompanying the rushing of the Mangawhero River. The track crossed a large volcanic crater on our way through, changing the fauna as we went.

Did you know Mr A is a bit of a tree hugger? Especially with a giant like this…
The river winds peacefully through the forest
More water….
Our last glimpse of the river before we head off

After showering and checking out of the motel, we were away again, heading just a short way down to Pipiriki, a tiny little village on the banks of the Whanganui River. We decided to head off for a walk along the riverside. River ‘side’ in this case, is a relative term, as the cliffs alongside the river are 50-100 metres high, offering great views, but a terrifying death if the ground gives way! We did about 7km return trip, before returning for a late lunch.

Pretty special views up the Whanganui River
Abandoned shed on a farm at the end of the trail
Amazing skies
Mr A strolling along

We had a relaxing afternoon – there was no phone or internet access, so Mark read while I practiced a little drawing on my new iPad. I love how I can pretty much duplicate what I do on paper – still learning to use it and getting used to a smaller medium, but had fun.

Our little camp site
My artists impression of the view from my green chair in the shade…later to become the helicopter landing pad!

We had some neighbours join us for dinner in the evening, given we were camped beside the picnic table. Mother and son from The Netherlands, Claudia and Fabian joined us for a lot of laughter and a glass of wine, and medical student Igor from Berlin, Germany shared our dinner, having earned it with a 40km cycle today after completing the Tongariro Crossing (an 8 hour mountain hike) yesterday.

We were just heading to bed, when the campground owner came over to tell us there was a medical emergency, and a helicopter was on its way to rush another guest to Palmerston North hospital with a suspected heart attack. We moved the car and packed away the tent, and waited in anticipation.

After about 90 minutes of waiting, the helicopter landed in the carpark alongside us, a challenging night landing, and the patient loaded up. We chatted to the pilot, who told us he had night vision goggles to help navigate and as ex-Air Force was used to challenging situations.

The calm before the excitement…the ambulance awaits the helicopter
The helicopter finally arrives…
Ready to load the patient…

Soon the excitement was all over and we put up our tent and went to sleep.

Saturday: Another fine day dawned, with early fog drifting down the river valley clearing to blue skies. Mr A rustled up a fine breakfast while I prepared some lunch to take with us – a river adventure was ahead. By 10.30am we were whizzing up the Whanganui River on a jet boat, along with our Dutch friends and a German couple, two large Canadian canoes and two small white water kayaks loaded on the back.

Heading up the river on the jet boat

It took us about three and a half hours to paddle back down the river, with about six sets of rapids, including two ‘fifty-fifties’. These are so named because one in two paddlers comes down upside down! Fortunately neither of us tipped out – possibly because we had lower centres of gravity being the only people in whitewater kayaks! Nevertheless, we felt pretty proud of ourselves as we climbed out after 15.5km and headed off for showers.

Paddling past one of many waterfalls
Fabian and Claudia attempting to paddle their canoe up a waterfall…it’s no wonder they came acropper on the rapids!
Claudia doing all the work while Fabian relaxes in the front
That little yellow dot is Mr A, dwarfed by the valley sides
Mr A again dwarfed by what is called ‘the dress circle’. The line where the foliage starts up above him is where the river flooded to in 2015
I come on through some smaller gravel races…some canoeists tipped over on here even!
A little rock scrambling took us to a waterfall in a cave at the side of the valley
As we paddle down river we try to imagine the paddle steamers making it up this way in the early 1900s…back then it was known as ‘The Rhine of the South’. The first regular steam boat service started in 1892, and they were the only real way to see this area prior to the river road opening in 1934, winched along the very shallow parts of the river, and cruising on through the deeper parts…
Made it without tipping out once! Yay team Anderson!

Our Dutch friends, Claudia and Fabian were less fortunate, tipping out on at least two occasions on their journey, and we watched several other groups having unplanned dips on their trips back too.

Once clean, Mark and I set off down the 79km Whanganui River Road towards Whanganui. The road wound alongside the river south of Pipiriki, through interesting Maori villages, each with a meeting house – we often heard singing as we travelled through.

Beautiful scenery accompanied us the whole way, culminating in a fabulous lookout from which we could see all the way to the snow capped peaks of Mt Ruapeau.

Looking all the way back up the river valley

We finally arrived at Whanganui feeling tired at about 5pm, and drove down to the windswept coast in the hope of setting up camp. The wind was incredibly strong, and we could imagine the tent canvas flapping all night long. It took us moments to change our minds and decide on alternative accomodation for the night. A quick Google and we ended up at the Riverview Motel – just fabulous. For NZ$100 we had a one bedroom apartment, with fully equipped kitchen, lounge (with lazy boy chairs – how much did we appreciate those?!) and dining area. Just perfect.

We had a relaxing evening, spaghetti bolognaise, a glass of red wine and the new series of Travellers on Netflix. Perfect. What an incredible day.

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