© NZPocketGuide.com
© NZPocketGuide.com

Canoe-dling with Locals on the Waioeka River

© NZPocketGuide.com

280 Days on the Road

When backpacking in New Zealand, it’s not uncommon to meet some locals to take you on some epic little adventures. Just look at when we took a crazy trip in a trailer to Fossil Canyon, pretended we were dairy farmers for the day, and went spear fishing in Timaru. Well, it’s happening again perhaps on our biggest expedition with locals yet! Today, we are going on a canoe trip down the Waioeka River!

So a friend of a friend put us in touch with another friend, Grant, who recently got a-hold of a bunch of ex-rental Canadian canoes once used for the Whangaui Journey – one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. With heaps of river experience and always keen to get a team together to hit said river, Grant puts together a trip for this morning.

River team assemble!

We meet up at a prearranged meeting spot bringing snacks for a pot-luck sort of scenario that would occur halfway through our journey, then we hit the road to our landing spot.

Following a 4×4 pulling a trailer full of canoes, we head into the majestic Waioeka Gorge. Only a couple of days ago, we travelled right through the gorge on our way to Gisborne concluding that it is the most underrated scenic route in New Zealand. As you can imagine, we are not complaining about getting to be among this towering mountainous scenery carpeted in native bush once again.

After leaving one car at from our team of eight at the ending point, we head further upstream to the beginning of our journey.

Paddle games turn into a spooning session

Canoes on the riverbank, life jackets on, helmets offered but refused by all, we are ready for our canoe adventure, or as Grant and his partner, Dido, like to call it “Canoe-dling”. We do some pretty hilarious warm-up exercises with our paddles that for some reason has us all sitting on each others’ laps in one massive spooning session and bashing our paddles up in the air. If anything, we are a little bit closer now. Grant also goes through some of the hazards we need to be aware of when canoeing over rapids, as this river goes over some grades one to two rapids.

Bring on the rapids!

Our first test of the rapids is literally seen from where we stand on the bank. We all hop into our canoes with our partners and follow Grant and Dido’s lead. We all make it straight through the rapids without fault, paddling in and up an eddy to practice turning into the end of a rapid. We wish we could say we were this awesome on all the rapids today…

The Waioeka Gorge makes us feel so small

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The majestic Waioeka Gorge

Before all that nonsense occurs, we do get some smoother sections of the river to concentrate more on the stunning scenery around us. The gorge appears almost vertical from river to the peaks of the mountains in the clouds, all of which is dense with ferns and palms. It definitely has that Jurassic Park feel.

The river makes us its b*tch

Our attention is quickly drawn back to the task at hand when we have another set of rapids to negotiate. Instead of going straight through the wavey rapids, we find ourselves mingling with to rocks on the side of the river while everyone else passes us. We then have to get ourselves back into the crazy-ass rapids and do the paddle of shame to catch up with the rest of the group. We find there are a couple of more times when the river makes us its b*tch, so we are just grateful that the rapids are just grade one/two.

A riverside feast

With canoes filled up a little too much from all the rapids, now seems like a good time to stop alongside the river for tea and snacks. The team makes a fire, gets some water boiling, and share an onslaught of sausage rolls, sandwiches, pies, cake and chips. Ok, so it’s more of a feast than a snack. Grant also uses the time to take close-up photos of a dead possum. Unfortunately, these photos do not make the cut for our blog post…

Banter to boulders

After lunch, everyone is feeling a lot more confident and banterful in their canoes which results in splashing fights and races, both of which we do not win… But the river is always throwing curve calls at us to cut the races short, this time we have a rapid with a whole bunch of boulders to avoid. Grant has given us a central point to aim for between boulders, that we completely miss and others narrowly skim the boulders! It’s enough to keep the adrenaline pumping, that’s for sure!

Cliff jumps, waterfalls and back to base

Between rapids, scenery and more rapids, we stop a couple of times for a cliff jump to which we watch the 60-something-year-old Grant gracefully swan-dive into river, as well as getting all up in a waterfall’s grill by trying to stand underneath the power of it. Only the mightiest can withstand its power!

After about four hours of canoe-dling on the Waioeka River, we finally get to our end point. While Robin and Grant drive to pick up the other vehicles, we get the gear out of the canoes and enjoy one last moment on the side of the river.

From there, it’s goodbye to our river team and back to our accommodation at The Royal Opotiki Backpackers for our final night in Opotiki. Tomorrow, we’ll be hitting one of the famous Motu Bike Trails and making our way to Whakatane. Join us then!

Not a bad place for a picnic!

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See you tomorrow!