Great day on the wnaganui river with Yeti ToursI am the River – the river is me”- part 2

Now into our third day on the river we only had 19 km to cover however this was to be a pretty special day. First stop was to visit the iconic ‘Bridge to Nowhere”. This entailed a 1.5 hour return walk to view the concrete road bridge that was completed in 1936 and spans the Mangapurua Stream. It was built to provide access to an area where the government of the day was opening up land for pioneering families, mainly soldiers who had returned from WW1. However the area proved to be too remote and unsuitable for farming. Consequently the venture failed and the area was abandoned.

Interestingly such were the times that no Maori were offered a chance to win a ballot for this land! We had all welcomed the opportunity to stretch our legs but now it was back in our wakas and onwards to our destination Tieke Kainga. This is the home of the four Iwi on the Whanganui River where we were very privileged to experience a traditional Maori welcome (Powhiri). This started with a Karanga (welcome call) by Tanea followed by a Whaikorero (formal speech) by Neihana. Peter did an excellent job of replying on our behalf, and the five ladies of our group sang a Waiata beautifully. (Te Aroha, Te Whakapono, Me te rangi marie, Tautau Tautae e). Translated this means Love, Faith and Peace for us all. After this we all stood in line to hongi with Tanea and Neihana. We were now part of their Whanau and could have the option of sleeping on mattresses in the Whare with them. Hanna and Alan and Neil and Marg did this while the rest of us set up tents in this very picturesque setting (we had heard of Alan’s snoring ability). Although Tanea had explained the protocol to us we were eager not to get it wrong or offend our hosts who we had come to respect very much. Tanea was very firm in telling us this was not about her or them it was about us, “have respect for yourself that is all you need to worry about!” As one who has never believed in bowing and scraping to someone just because they have a title I was much relieved. Respect has to be earned and in my book these people had earned mine.

Someone who had not earned our respect this day was the clown piloting a DoC jet boat on the river. A commercial operator had passed us with due care but the Doc boat following showed none with the end result Twizel 1 crew being unceremoniously parted from their waka. Certainly no way to treat the kaumatua (Peter) and the mokopuna of our group (Brucie is so much younger than the rest of us she could be a grandchild)

This Marae has a quite a history of conflict attached to it. While Maori remain the Kaitiaki (guardians) of this area, DOC has built a large building here as well and there is still quite a sense of rivalry for ownership and occupation. Neihana asked how I liked the blue roof on the whare. Well I didn’t particularly but he told me it represented the tarpaulins on the temporary builds they used during their land claims. It was a reminder to DoC they were quite prepared to use them again! Lively discussion followed and we talked more with Tanea about the intimate connection Maori have with their river (awa). She told us more about times gone by when the traditional waka and steam driven boats plied the river. The more one learned of the old Maori values and traditions you couldn’t help but feel sad that these have been lost to some of their people, and of how much the rest of us could learn from them.

Day three had been special and we toasted it with one of Neil’s Jameson’s to bring it to an end. During the evening discussions I became aware that although there was some sense of closure on the land settlement claims with the crown sadly there were some simmering within maoridom itself over land ownership issues.

Thurs 21 Nov: Our trip today was 21.5 km to Pipiriki and then a further 13 km to Jerusalem. We continued to paddle down the scenic gorge to where the Manganui o te au river enters the Whanganui (it comes down from the slopes of Mount Ruapehu). Now it was time to face the serious stuff – we had a pep talk from Tanea about negotiating the standing waves of the large rapids ahead (Ngaporo and Autapu). We were given the option of portaging these waters but all agreed this was not for us; we had to have a go. In the event they certainly did provide plenty of excitement for our crews – three canoes were swamped by the backwash and overturned as we negotiated the first rapid. A pressure wave hit our starboard bow part filling our waka with water. My continued calls for Glenys to keep paddling fell on deaf ears.

The mere fact that she had lost one leg over the side of the boat and was hanging on for dare life with both hands was a minor detail. By now we looked like a torpedoed U-Boat with the bow pointing skywards and the skipper going down with the ship with water up to his arm pits. I spotted Peter bobbing past like a duck decoy full of lead shot looking like he would rather be somewhere else. Brian and Lois had also come to grief but there was no sign of her until she decided the big air pocket of the world outside was preferable to the little one under her up turned waka.

Equilibrium was soon restored with no harm done and we stopped for lunch after that to recover, and then carried on more successfully through the fast flowing water. We were all feeling quite good when we got to Pipiriki but the final 13 km to Jerusalem was a real challenge. The water seemed to be like treacle and we were so tired we thought we would never get there. This was not helped by our guides telling us we were nearly there but we always had 20 minutes more to go!! Yes! That Maori time is very flexible, Neihana reasoning was “you didn’t paddle fast enough!” 6 ¼ hours on the river today and we hardly had the energy left to help with loading the canoes back onto the trailer for our trip up to the convent.

However we got our energy back quickly once we got to the convent at Jerusalem (Hiruharama). This was once the largest village on the Whanganui River. The Catholic Mission was first established in the area in 1854 but the Sisters have been present at Jerusalem since 1883 when Suzanne Aubert established a convent school there. The sisters are the Kaitiaki of the church, old convent and grounds, and have always worked in partnership with the local tangata whenua.

DSCN3296In the 1970s the New Zealand poet James K Baxter lived in Jerusalem as well. Many of his followers joined him, also forming a community. Baxter (Hemi) is buried at Jerusalem. He may be revered in some literary circles but not so by the river people. They believe he brought undesirables to the area along with drugs. Sadly this influence remains in the area today. In contrast to the beautifully restored church buildings and grounds the track to his grave a short distance away was over grown and the grave site was not well tended . Today Jerusalem is a small settlement in a beautiful and tranquil setting. We stayed in the convent dormitory at a cost of $25 per night. Hot showers were a real treat and Yeti Tours provided a delicious dinner as they had done all trip – venison pies, potato bake, fresh salad followed by homemade apple pie.

Was the trip worthwhile? I think the title “I am the River – the river is me” is so apt. All of us agreed this was a trip we are very pleased to have done and what a great bunch to do it with. I think it was a lot harder than we had bargained for but we had a ball but and it was with a great deal of personal satisfaction to reach our destination. It was perhaps best that Yeti Tours under sold how much effort it would take for a group such as ours with the age factor and aliments taken into account.

Maybe we would have thought twice but I am pleased we didn’t. Our guides made this trip, to do it without the input of the Maori perspective just wouldn’t be the same and we are indebted to Tanea and Neihana for their efforts. A couple of memorable quotes to finish: From Bruice on the way home “I wish Dene had been here, he can do somethings so much better than me!”

Last word muttered by Neil who started all of this as he exited his waka “I never want to put my sorry wet ass in one of those things ever again!” Many thanks to Margreet Simpson for her help in putting this story together, hope you have enjoyed it Kevin