As a great alternative, or addition to a traditional great walk such as the Milford, Routeburn or Kepler, Laura and I set off one long weekend to try out the only one of New Zealand's 9 "Great Walks" that is done in canoes or kayaks; the Whanganui River Journey.
We set off from Raetihi, a small village near the Tongariro National Park where we stayed the night before our safety briefing the next morning. We were a little nervous as all the various instructions were repeated to us twice for safety but we would later realise we were very well prepared and equipped for any eventuality out on the water. We packed our gear into the airtight barrels and set off to Whakahoro where we would start our river journey. Two person canoes are ideal for accommodating all the gear but a single person can also do the trip in a kayak.
The canoe trip takes you through the beautiful Whanganui National Park and its native forest complete with endangered blue ducks, wild goats grazing along the banks and the New Zealand bird song that is ever-present. The river is a succession of flatter stretches and more exciting rapids as the river winds its way downhill and we were pleased to be able to navigate it all without any problems, the river is by nature calm which means it is accessible for all abilities depending on the trip duration.
We stayed in a DOC hut on the first night and at the Tieke Kainga Marae on the second night which lends this trip an extra cultural dimension. In between the two we tied up our canoes to walk up to the Bridge to Nowhere, a poignant reminder of the families that tried and failed to settle in this remote area. On the third day we quickly reached the end point at Pipiriki from where we were transferred back to Raetihi to pick up our car and the gear we had left behind.
We highly recommend the river journey but found that the 3 day trip is ideal for more adventurous souls as it is quite challenging as your arm muscles tire, so we’ve developed a less intense 2 day trip with less canoeing and a jet boat transfer for one stretch, it’s ideal for those who are more limited time-wise or who want to see this stunning river without tackling 3 days of paddling.
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