How can baby boomers with failing hips and knees get the wilderness experience of tramping without the tedious business of putting one foot in front of the other for days on end? An email from ex Auckland University Tramping Club mate Alan had the answer: a five day rafting trip down the Clarence River. A few months and many emails later, Alan had organised a party of ten and a rafting company to take us on the adventure.
The Clarence River is the eighth longest in Aotearoa, 230 km from its source at Lake Tennyson, making its way north east between the Inland and Seaward Kaikoura ranges, before turning to reach the Pacific Ocean just north of Kaikoura. It's true wilderness country, with only a few four wheel drive tracks offering access to the outside world. Part of it lies in the Ka Whata Tū o Rakihouia Conservation Park.
We gathered at Hanmer Forest Camp - in itself a trip down memory lane, staying in two bed forestry workers huts. Next morning the Ultimate Descents bus arrived with three rafts in tow, and we were on our way to the Acheron confluence, to start the rafting journey. Dressed up in life jackets and helmets, we set off in our two passenger rafts, accompanied by Whio Nui, the Big Blue gear raft carrying our overnight gear in large drybags.
|Tim and Alex take raft Karearea down to the river at Acheron|
|Alex gives us a crash course in basic rafting skills|
Although our guides Alex and Ariel handled the general direction and speed of the rafts, we were the reserve power for the raft, tweaking the accelerator with the commands "back" "forward" and "relax". The latter, which meant to stop paddling, often because were heading for rock, was sometimes emitted in the same tone that actors in medical dramas use for "Clear!" as a patient gets a life saving defibrillation.
|Team Karearea: Bernard, David, Ariel, Sheryl, Jocelyn.|
|Whio Nui aground|
|Big Eddy campsite|
|Team Kereru paddle hard for the camera|
|Solana demonstrates chocolate stuffed banana|
|Interior of Quail Flat homestead|
|Solana doles out mid stream treats from Whio Nui|
|David downs paddle to photograph the Clarence side of Tapuenuku|
A glance at the Snowgrass Flat hutbook showed that packrafting in individual lightweight rafts has become a popular way to navigate the river - following the lead of John Mackay and Piers Maclaren who went down the river in the 1970s on "chariots of tyre", an adventure recounted in John's 1978 book Wild Rivers.
Next morning marked the end of the fine weather. We breakfasted in the rain, and broke out the wetsuits for the first time on the trip. A small hole in the meticulous planning appeared - we'd run out of toilet paper. However this helped us to remember our youthful adventures - I recalled the AUTC trip leader who only took one roll for a ten day trip, doling out two sheets at a time on application.
|Red Peak rendered in rock|
As we descended the valley, cabbage trees and Kowhai started to appear, along with seagulls signalling the approach of the coast. At Boundary Stream, where the valley opens up, we made our final camp, dining on camp oven corn bread and chili, followed by pear topped cheesecake. Solid rain during the night made us glad we were no longer in AUTC 6'x8' japara tents, but turned the river brown with mud, and pushed the tethered rafts in towards the shore.
|Ruth, Alan and Juliet supervise the chili, Boundary Stream camp|
So is rafting the new golf? Maybe not, but in the hands of an expert guiding team it provided a unique wilderness experience where we could relive our youthful wilderness adventures without challenging our failing bodies too much.
More photos of the trip on Flicker