The Whanganui River – New Zealand’s longest navigable river.
It was definitely worth the early start. Leaving Taupo at 6am ensured we got to view an epic sunrise over Turangi, at the southern end of Lake Taupo.
On arrival in Ohakune we had the obligatory photo next to the famous Ohakune Carrot before meeting up with Simon, the owner of Canoe Safaris. You can choose from a one day adventure to a five day holiday, all set within the rainforest which is rich in history. Unfortunately, we only had one day to explore the Whanganui River.
Simon introduced us to Steve, a helicopter pilot for Wanganui Aerowork. While Aerowork mainly operates for agricultural purposes, they also transport hunters to remote locations and were keen to help us film the Whanganui National Park from the air. We took off from Raetihi. As we flew we listened to tunes through our headsets. Our flight path saw us follow the Mangapurua Track for about 30km until we reached the Bridge to Nowhere. The flight lasted about 45 minutes, during which Steve pointed out scenic features, hunting clearings, stalked deer, flew over remote farmland and chased canoes and a jet boat down the river.
This was definitely not your normal helicopter ride where the pilot simply transports you to your destination. The helicopter would be on a 45 degree angle then suddenly swoop down into the river gully. At some points I even got that falling feeling. It was so awesome! Steve’s a quintessential kiwi bloke and clearly gained enjoyment from flying. This was Lisa’s first helicopter flight and I was quick to inform her that that was an extraordinary experience.
Steve dropped us off at Tangahoe where we met Simon and Ben, from Bridge to Nowhere Lodge and Tours. We boarded his jet boat and headed upstream to the Mangapurua Landing, from which it is approximately a 40 minute walk to the Bridge to Nowhere. The track is well maintained and the gradient does not require a high level of fitness. There are picnic tables at the Bridge so we stopped for lunch and a cuppa, courtesy of the Lodge.
We learned about its history: After WWI the Government opened the valley as a settlement for returning soldiers. The valley prospered but economic hardship, associated with the remoteness and inaccessibility of the area, resulted in many families abandoning their farms. After a major flood in the 1940s the Government withdrew funding for road maintenance and officially closed the valley. No road was built between the Bridge to Nowhere and Bridge to Somewhere.
Back on the water, upon request, Ben launched us into 360 degree spins – so much fun! We raced down the river to where our canoes awaited us.
The next couple of hours were spent drifting downstream admiring the pristine landscape. The water was calm and paddling effortless, which enhanced the tranquility. Simon guided us up smaller tributary rivers and we stopped to check out waterfalls. There are a few rapids closer to Pipiriki, just to test your steering skills. None of us capsized but a fair amount of water was taken on board, mainly in Sam’s canoe (bad steering).
Our trip ended at Pipiriki. What a day of adventure around and on the Whanganui River! One day just wasn’t enough, I wish we could’ve stayed for longer.