Day 52: Downes Hut to Wanganui

Distance today: 45.6km

Distance total: 1550.1km 

Time hiked: 7h 39min

Time total: 437h 20min

The last stretch of our river journey is mostly tidal. Obviously it's much easier to paddle with the outgoing tide than fighting against the incoming tide.

High tide will be around 10 in Wanganui (3 hours later further upstream, silly me didn't realize that yesterday so we had to replan everything...). 

We define Upokongaro as our new overnight spot - no idea if it will be suitable for camping though. From there it will only be a short 5 kilometers-hop into Wanganui which should be easily doable. Even when fighting the incoming tide.

We say goodbye to Rose and Dylan, carry all our gear back down the steep slope to the canoe and take-off shortly to 9 (no need to start earlier. Otherwise we would just fight against the incoming tide when the river gets tidal further down).

Paddling in the slow moving Whanganui River is hard work and the constantly changing wind makes steering the canoe tricky. One strong gust that hits our canoe from the side nearly flips it over. Only leaning courageously into the wind prevents a capsizing. The wind eventually eases but numerous jetboats passing by lead to a hell of bumpy ride. While I enjoy the action, Hannah isn't pleased at all ;)

Hipango Park would be a super nice spot to camp with a shelter, water and toilets. For us it's only a short lunch break on our way to Upokongaro though. As Upokongaro has a small shop, we decide to treat ourselves with some sweets before looking for a spot to camp. It's hard to land during low though and there's no way to climb up the bank without getting muddy feet. Even though I try to clean my feet as thoroughly as possible in the grass, I don't get them all clean, and ask at the lady at the cafe if she had a place to clean my feet before stepping in. The unbelievably unfriendly lady takes me to the back to a hose, lets me use it only to tell me in a harsh tone that I'm now wasting her precious rain water... (I guess she hasn't looked out of the window a lot the last few days). Just for decency's sake I buy an ice cream.

But it's clear that we want to get the hell out of this village and paddle all the way to Wanganui. It's only past 3 so more than enough time to do it. On the way back to the canoe I text my host George and Rob that I'm gonna arrive one day ahead. He texts me back instantly and lets me know that he will pick me up at the landing. So nice!

The last 5 kilometers are paddling against the tide. Still, with the finish line so close, we mobilize our last resources and it hardly takes us half an hour.

Unloading and returning the canoe is a breeze and by 5 I'm sitting in George's car.

The rest of the day is absolutely amazing and touching. 

In order not to overload my post here I will write about it in the next post.

Paddling is certainly different to hiking. And to be honest, I'm happy to change back to Terra Firma. Not that I disliked living on an beside the river - the views where amazing, the paddling through narrow gorges and rapid was fun, visiting the Marae an impressive experience and working as a team for four days with someone I barely knew a worthwhile experience - yet, especially towards the end it got monotonous. I really missed the simplicity of (solo-)hiking. Only my backpack, no heavy barrels to carry around and canoes to tie down, leaving whenever I feel like, resting whenever I need a rest and call it a day, whenever I think I've done enough. 

That said, if did it again, I'd reduce the time on the river. Paddling from Whakahoro or Mangapura to Pipiriki would probably be enough to get an okay insight in the canoeing or kayaking. Still, I wouldn't say I made the wrong decision (well, not that I had many options at the time I was in National Park and had to decide what to do, anyway) but shorten the river journey might have been the better option.

Having a rest
Having a rest

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