Part I: The First Clarence River Expedition
One of the most amusing aspects of the English
language is the expressive little agricultural witticisms that really clever
people coin, gems that become part of our culture and language. Some so
appropriate to the moments, both awful and wonderful, that stud an outdoorsman’s
life. Some so memorable that they rise readily to the lips whenever the
occasions demand. Ever heard that phrase ""Up s#~t creek in a barbed
wire canoe" before? Ever wondered what it meant, desired an analogy? No?
Well, I think it is necessary to enlighten you, to expand your horizons, to give
you examples of plights so dire that your little problems will pale into
insignificance. So that when things get really desperate, you too will have a
story to show that things really could be worse.
Canoeing was fun, as a teenager, on the West
Coast of the South Island. Water was the one thing rarely ever in short supply.
With the annual rainfall being around 150 inches, this meant lots of aqua in all
forms from flat lakes to bumpy rivers. We’d spent large amounts of time
paddling the Crooked River, splashing around Lake Brunner, been from Lake Poerua
to Te Kinga, Lady Lake to Te Kinga, even braved the rocks and rapids of the
Crooked gorge a few times. So we are experienced at kayaking, right? At least in
the sense that we were not novices, if nothing else. At least, in our view. This
was a long time ago, before plastic was invented, and they were just making
canoes from fibreglass. In fact, our first canoes were painted canvas over
wooden frames. This was before white water canoe clubs existed, nearly 30 years
ago. My, how time flies!
Pre-Christmas 1981, hot and sunny, too much beer, and
we decided to mount an EXPEDITION. As you do……
By canoe. Down the mighty Clarence River…….
Me and my brother Gerry, father-in-law Ron, and brothers-in-law Don & Keith.
My brother and I each had fibreglass touring boats, of reasonable volume, and
quite stable. Ron and Don had a 16ft fibreglass Canadian canoe. A lovely green,
truly a thing of beauty, and a joy to behold. Keith, the other brother-in-law,
had gotten wind of the plan and reckoned he should be counted in as well.
Bravery and enthusiasm are wonderful attributes, huh? He picked up his shiny new
green and white fibreglass canoe on Christmas Eve. With our departure set for
early on 26 December, his solo training experience on the Waimakariri River,
Christmas morning, must surely have filled him with foreboding. He arrived home
very late for Christmas dinner, soaked to the skin, cold and worried. His sole
comment a cryptic, "Christ, they’re tippy bastards, aren’t they!"
Boxing Day, 26 December 1981 dawned clear and
bright, the forecast was good, and the team departed early for Hanmer Springs.
The Clarence River rises on the east of the Southern Alps, near Lake Tennyson
flows southward to Jacks Pass at Hanmer Springs, then runs north-east between
the Inland & Seaward Kaikoura ranges, finally reaching the Pacific Ocean
some 50 kms north of Kaikoura. The canoe trip, from the Accommodation House to
State Highway 1, is around 200 kms, or 150 miles. Most groups allow 4-5 days to
enjoy the spectacular scenery in this unspoiled wilderness area. There is no
easy access into the lower sections of the river, just a couple of rugged 4WD
tracks which are not all- weather accessible, that’s it. Any boating problems
must be resolved on the riverbank, or boats abandoned whilst owners walk out,
climbing over the rugged mountain ranges in the process.
So, not unmindful of the consequences, equipped
to deal with all eventualities, the team set forth, waving to the spouses who’d
come to cheer the departure. And go home to soft, comfortable beds,
refrigerators, televisions, and hot baths, bewildered at their husband’s
stupidity, no doubt. The day was hot, the adrenaline pumping, and it was a
happy, exuberant crew of canoeists, setting off in their motley fleet. An
undercurrent of apprehension, heading into the unknown, added to the atmosphere,
as it always does when adventurers go forth.
Things went quite well, at first, especially for
the kayak team. Keith had a few control problems, and was observed going into
rapids in sundry unorthodox fashions – left sideways, and right sideways, with
no obvious preference. Backwards even, a few times, which none of the other
members felt any inclination to emulate. His technique quickly evolved – get
it straight, clamp finger to cockpit edges, thumbs to paddles, scrunch down as
low as possible, and hold on tight. Remarkably effective, a bit like a walnut
shell bobbing along! Gerry and I, having so much more experience, were in much
better shape, and the conditions were good for us.
Ron and Don, usually such good friends, were
experiencing co-ordination problems. When the time for evading action was at
hand, each seemed instinctively to apply the same paddle strokes to miss the
obstacle. If they were not one in front, one behind, if they were not paddling
on opposite sides of the canoe, this would have worked well, I believe. In fact,
I don’t think they would have hit the rock, rolled the canoe, and emptied all
our food and equipment into the river. No, that was an accident, I’m positive.
And quite hard to understand why each should blame the other, because both were
doing the "right" thing.
Repairs necessitated an early halt to the day,
at the mouth of the Dillon Stream, picturesque, and sited not far from the first
of the three significant gorges. Home to the Chute, and the Pinnacle, whose
reputation had not escaped our notice. My boat had also sustained some skin
damage, gravel rash, a hole or two, so it was a slightly subdued team who
hunched over the campfire at dinner, as the shadows lengthened. Trout,
remarkably enough. A good one, some 6 lbs, my brother wheedled it from the water
with a tempting red, juicy worm. The river rumbled metres away, the thoughts of
the gorge uppermost in all our minds, I think. Enough drama already, in the easy
waters of the open valley. The Canadian was badly bent and bruised,
tape-covered, its two occupants perturbed and already making contingency plans
should Day Two go badly.
Sleeping on sand is good when it’s hot. By 2
am it is not hot. The ominous rumbling of the river means sleep is
The Gorge, and the First Undoing
Day two dawns crisp and fine, the daylight
bringing sand-flies, little black insects about the size of a flea. Hungry too,
as are the team. Bacon and eggs, toast and coffee, ideal ingredients for that
which lies ahead. The gorge looms, and a more frightening way to commence a
morning is hard to imagine. As the valley narrows, the grass and tussock gives
away to rocky cliffs, jagged and ugly. Huge shattered rocks line the river,
smoothed at water level, sharp above. The river’s noise intensifies as the
first rapids, compressed and irritable, threaten us. Several reconnaissance
stops are made, to evaluate the way ahead. Things progress slowly, cautiously,
everyone mindful of the consequences of another swamping of the Canadian. A
couple of swims for the kayak team, and we arrive, all too soon, at the
"Chute." An ugly spot back then, with a row of big boulders through
which the water rumbled, then narrowed and dropped quite a few feet. Worse, a
single monster rock protruding in mid-flow necessitated immediate avoiding
action in the seething cauldron of white water. At first, a portage seemed like
a good plan. The almost sheer walls of the gorge, coupled with the jumble of
enormous boulders at water level, made this an extremely difficult proposition.
The kayak team elected to run the section, figuring that the worst thing that
could happen would be a swim. The Canadian was manhandled, manoeuvred and
manipulated around the worst of the white-water. After emptying out the water
from a couple of the kayaks, the journey resumed. Everyone is feeling grim,
tense and apprehensive. Now long later, the worst fears are realised as the
Canadian strikes another rock, opening up the bottom again. The problem with
fibreglass is, once it starts to go, its damned hard to prevent the progressive
softening of the area around the break. This was a major structural problem, one
beyond the ability of "Bear" tape to fix.
Conference time, and an evaluation of the
options. Basically, the guys decided that the repair resources available were
not going to guarantee the boats ability to sustain another 2-3 days of this
type of water. The collective view was that it would be better to haul the
Canadian high and dry. Then, to fill it with rocks to stop it blowing away, and
for the two occupants to walk out over the mountains to the Inland Kaikoura
Road. At the point we were at, near the bottom of the first gorge, the mountains
were significant but not technically difficult, and a days walk should put the
boys down at the road near Cloudy Range farm. So, off they went! Luckily, we
were well enough equipped in terms of footwear, packs etc, and aside from the
big climb, the heat, and the matagouri and briar thorns, their journey was but a
minor epic. Mind you, they’ve been talking about it for the past 20 years -
the mountains keep getting higher, the thorns more murderous etc.
Keith, Gerry and I took what equipment we could,
stuffed all the spaces on our three kayaks, and paddled off into the unknown. 20
years on, I still remember the sense of dread, it never left me on the entire
trip. I know it was worse for me, as I was the leader, the architect of the
expedition. The others were ok, nervous, but naïve. I knew clearly that I was
operating in an environment where my skills were barely adequate for my own
safety. Not only that, but I was responsible for the other two as well as
Having cleared the first gorge, the river
mellows and the pace became pleasant, enough white water action to be
interesting but not too scary. Keith was really getting the hang of his boat,
and there are only a couple of swims between us.
Somewhere around Quail Flat, Gerry performed a
most unusual vertical ballet – he is leading, goes over a big flat rock with
an unexpected hole behind it, and the nose of the boat digs in behind a rock!
The boat is vertical, buried to the cockpit. It bobs up a little and clears that
rock, only to catch the next, and the next, and the next. Impressive, but not
something Keith or I ar eager to emulate so we slide carefully through the
inside line. Not long after, we strike one of those horrible places where the
river plunges headlong into a rock wall, with a big eddy and backwash on the
upstream side, and a cauldron of white water downstream. Keith falls out as soon
as he sees it coming, Gerry is too close and falls out trying to miss him. That
leaves me taking evasive action, right into the upstream eddy, and the backwash.
Now that really is a predicament! The fast water is at least foot higher than
the slow, and getting out was every bit as unpleasant as I expected it to be. I
did stay upright, but the river tore the spray skirt off, filing the boat with
water. Boy, is it hard to control then! However, dignity intact, I flounder down
to join the other two, and we empty out together. Evening sees us well beyond
Dillon Cone, and it’s been a long, tough day. Still, sleep does not come easy,
the river noise is hard to ignore and thoughts of the second gorge tomorrow are
hard to repress.
Day Three, Gorge Two
Gorge two is an anticlimax to some degree, not
as bad as the first gorge. Sure, there was some adrenaline flow, but nothing
nasty in it. Mt Tapuae-o-Uenuku eventually slides by on the left, and we enter
the third gorge. This one is long, demanding and peppered with Grade III+ rapids
that scared the living daylights out of us. I can’t believe the river can drop
so much, so quickly, and some of the rapids are beyond belief. We all swim at
some point or another, but we are getting steadily better at meeting the
challenge. Perhaps the worst aspect is the anticipation rather than the reality.
Every flat, quiet section is followed by a dramatic, boulder studded mayhem of
whitewater, to the point where apprehension levels rise every time the water
slows and flattens. The gorge twists and turns, and as the day closes we are
still trapped in its malevolent grip.
I’ve spent most of my life near water,
camping, hiking, hunting, boating. Usually, its steady rumble is soothing,
comforting, and pleasant. Not on this trip. Every time the eyes droop shut, the
river noise synchronises with the relentless vision of turbulent white-water,
holes and haystacks, rocks and bluffs that unfold across the backs of our
eyelids. Sleep is fitful, and all the while the river snarls away in the
background, threatening more punishment the next day.
Day Four, Released
Stumbling around, stiff and cold, lighting the
fire to cook breakfast. The sun is up, but the walls of the gorge prevent its
appearance for hours. Nothing is as dry as any of us would like, and the
ever-present rumble of the river does not allow you to forget what lies ahead.
So, its kind of hard to smile and look happy, knowing that its more than likely
that one or all of us will be swimming in it before long. We are further through
than we’d dared hope, and before long the first signs of civilisation appear
– oh joyous sight, a 4WD track high above the river, a fence. Cattle. Then, a
turn to the right and we are clear, the mountains turn to hills. Limestone
hills. The valley flares out, wide and gravelled, braided streams that split and
rejoin. The relief is enormous, as we know that there are only a few short hours
of paddling left to go. There are blisters, sore muscles, sunburn and lack of
sleep, but the smiles are more frequent with the knowledge that we are on the
home stretch. Still, it’s a long paddle down to the Glen Alton bridge, the
entry to the last section. This last section is impressive! Only 30-40 minutes,
but some of the biggest rapids on the whole river live here! In fact, some guys
drive all the way from Christchurch, some 3 hours, just to do this bit! The
gravel disappears, replaced by a bed lined with huge grey boulders. The
haystacks on these rapids are enormous, and so close together that you barely
have time to draw breath as you emerge before plunging in over your head through
The State Highway One bridge is a relief. We
have completed the journey, physically unscathed. Mentally, I certainly carried
some scars. Ever since then, I have understood very clearly the enormous weight
of responsibility that lies on your shoulders when you take others into the
wilderness. I consider myself lucky to have learned those lessons, on that trip,
without serious consequences. Never again have I lead a trip without ensuring
that the requisite skill levels and safety margins exist. It built character,
improved skills, proved our determination and courage. As adventures do, in the
Overall, I did not enjoy the trip, in retrospect
it was more like a survival course. This was due to the leadership
responsibility, the worry and uncertainly, and the overwhelming sense of not
being in full control of the situation. Every descending twist in the river
brought dread, every rapid, every time the river plunged over the short horizon
and I could not see the bottom until the brink was reached. For 20 years, I have
always said that "I have never been so scared, so many times, in such a
short space of time, in all my life!" Which is quite something really,
because I’ve been shot, thrown off horses, survived an aircraft wreck, plus
sundry jet-boat, car and motorcycle crashes. And I’ve firmly declined all
invitations to do it again. In fact, that was the last time I kayaked for nearly
20 years. It did not interfere with my other boating, or enjoyment of water
sports, but I just knew that whitewater kayaking was not my particular forte. I’d
survived that particular baptism of fire, and I was not recklessly going to
tempt fate quite so hastily again. There was, however, always a sense of
accomplishment, and a great deal of satisfaction from only swimming 4 times in
those 200 kilometres.
Part II: The Last Clarence River Expedition.
Nowadays, we are outdoor guides. We take people
fishing, hunting and canoeing. Odd, because we didn’t really set out to do the
kayaking & canoeing guiding, it just "happened." We wanted to
provide some family activities, so that when a fishing or hunting client brought
along the wife and kids, there would be something fun for them to do. Ron has
been a NZ Canoe Association Instructor since not long after that very first
Clarence River trip. Disappointed at not completing the river first time down,
he has made many descents since, leading diverse groups. He already owned
several kayaks, and bought some more by tender. Somehow, a bunch of Aussies
found our www.fishing-hunting-canoeing-new-zealand.com
Web site, saw the canoeing photos, and wanted to know if we could set up a tour
for them. "No problem" said Ron! Its funny where life takes you, huh?
So, we eventually end up with some clients from
Australia, with the itinerary being a trip down all the great rivers on the West
Coast in the Lake Brunner region, followed by a trip down the Clarence to top
off their holiday. I talked my son-in-law, Jon, to join us for the Clarence
trip. As he is a novice, Ron takes us all to the pools at QE II park, on Monday
& Thursday evenings, for weeks for kayak lessons. The little stunt boats at
the pools are lethal, rotating at the blink of an eye! I’d already decided
that we really needed to hire or steal a raft to act as a supply ship for this
expedition. Not so much because I personally did not want to kayak the river,
but in order to provide some comforts for the paying customers. Well, that’s
my story, and I’m sticking to it!
We acquired a Southern Pacific 3 man raft in
plenty of time for the Clarence trip. In fact we gave it a few outings on West
Coast rivers, to get the feel of controlling and managing it, and were real
happy with the way it performed. Except perhaps with the amount of resistance a
head wind could apply to it! Construction of a decent upper frame for support,
and to mount a seat, was an obvious requirement. This was built from heavy
walled plastic tubing, and worked well. Powered by kayak paddles, the raft is
about a metre wide, and 5 metres long, surprising stable, and sits nice and high
in the water. I like it a lot! Especially when compared to a kayak! The loading
is carefully planned, with chilly-bins, (or eskies, if you are an Aussie) tarps,
dry bags, cargo bags etc picked and fitted.
Day One: The First Gorge and Beyond
Ron drops us off at the Accommodation House, at
the mouth of the Acheron River behind Hanmer Springs. With all the gear stowed,
lashed, and shipshape, the team of 4 set off down the mighty Clarence, into the
unknown. The Aussies are good! Kevin is very smooth, making it all look
effortless as he relentlessly seeks out the tricky bits to play in as we go.
Laura is a very cool lady, poised and calm, great at picking the best (safest)
line, and revelling in the landscapes. Jon is going well, practising the strokes
Ron had taught him, coping well with the occasional rapid. The first few hours
are easy, the valley is wide and flat, but in the distance, creeping closer, the
mountains close slowly together.
The Dillon River, our first campsite on the
journey of 20 years before, comes and goes. As we enter the mouth of the gorge,
I marvel at the contrast of that first trip. On the raft, it is so much less
frightening. I know that I’m in control, that we are well equipped, and the
majority of the team are very experienced. Jon, although a novice, is a powerful
swimmer, very strong and capable, level headed and enjoying himself. The first
few ugly bits are fun, just one swim for Jon. He forgot to keep paddling! Then
comes the chute, and the pinnacle – completely different to 20 years before,
the angle of approach is different, as is the river bank, and the water volume.
It seems like the whole river bed has lowered itself deeper into the gorge,
there is more rock exposed than submerged, and no obvious line through the
Kevin slides through without incident, I run it
with the raft, and get tucked into an eddy in front of some boulders, waiting
for the rest of the team. Laura makes it look easy, but Jon forgets everything
he’d been taught at the sight of this seething mass of rolling water – he
takes a swim before he hits the worst of it, and gets some wicked shin bruises
for his trouble. Gasping for breathe, he struggles to the rocks beside me, chest
heaving with exertion, looking pale and apprehensive. An empty out and back into
the boat, and he makes another pool or two before his third swim of the trip.
Yes, I’m keeping count! Kevin and Laura give Jon some coaching as we go, and
his confidence returns as his skills improve. No more swims that day.
The raft is proving to be as good as we’d
hoped. It is heavily laden with the camping equipment, food, clothing and
bedding. Aside from one disturbing incident, when I misjudged how much momentum
it attained, it has gone well. The river plunged headlong into a rocky bluff,
and I expected the hydraulic cushion effect to help me around the corner.
However, the sheer momentum of the raft saw me bang into a boulder, nearly
throwing me off! That caused a major rethink on technique, and from that point
on the setting up for corners was a real focus for me. Perfecting that early
made the trip very pleasant! The only other time I got into trouble was an
unnoticed white rock tip which snagged the front in a rapid, spinning the raft
and tipping me off. Aside from a couple of good bruises, and loss of dignity, I
was unscathed. The others did not see exactly what happened, which made me feel
Camping the first night, down around the Palmer
Stream in a grove of willows, the talk is exuberant, the mood relaxed and happy.
A wine or two, and an excellent dinner, washed down by coffee for kiwi’s and
tea for Aussies. The double airbeds are wonderful. Well, its no use getting old
if you don’t get cunning, right? When I was young I’d sleep on the stones,
not anymore! The river murmurs pleasantly in the background, promising fun and
adventure tomorrow. The night is warm, the stars are brilliant, and the only
interruption to sleep is the two possums that have a play with the crockery
during the night!
Day Two: Gorge Two
Morning dawns clear, calm and warm. Breakfast is
good, the smell of bacon and eggs accentuated as always by the freshness of the
mountain air. A 9am start on the water, the early sun and absence of cloud
promising a scorching summer’s day ahead. This long upper section of the river
is easy going. The raft is a pleasure to manage, having established the
technique for picking the correct line through the corners. The really good
thing about it is it slows the pace down, giving us to time to appreciate the
splendour of the landscapes that unfold.
|The second gorge is again a
non-event, easy water with no drama. A spectacular rock cliff is a major
feature, rising vertically some 500 feet out of the river. You could break
your neck trying to look straight up to the top of it from the river! It
proves impossible to get a full height shot of it with my Olympus camera,
to my disappointment.
This time around, I am amazed at the topography,
geology, and flora. Here we are, in a virtual alpine desert. Stunted scrub
bushes cling to life on raw grey rock thin soils, and sparse grasses burn dry in
the relentless summer sun. Towering mountain ranges, bleak and beautiful,
stretch from horizon to horizon. What a hell of a place it would be in winter,
is the collective view! Today, in mid-summer, it is stark and beautiful. And not
a cloud to obscure a mountain or mar the day. Late afternoon sees us slip past
the Muzzle Station, the only inhabited portion of the valley. A lonely sheep and
cattle run, so isolated it is hard to believe that people would choose to live
here! In fact, there can be few places so far from civilisation in the entire
The geology is very interesting. Hours before
the Muzzle Station, occasional limestone stones and rocks appear in the river
bottom. Then, miles after I first noticed these, there are low rolling limestone
hills and outcrops along the valley floor. At some point, the river must have
been an ancient fjord, prehistoric oceans filling the valley. Centuries of
erosion, a massive upheaval, and the valley is now a thousand feet above
sea-level. Amazing! The other neat thing I notice along the river bank is a wall
of papa mud-stone, soft and eroded. It spawns big rock eggs, like the Moeraki
Boulders, a famous tourist landmark on the South Canterbury coast. Rocks in the
mud-stone create a chemical reaction, and over thousands of years a
"shell" grows around them. Some are huge, 2 metres through! Others
smaller, like footballs. In some cases the big ones have fallen out of the cliff
and rolled done into the river, leaving an egg-cup impression in the cliff.
There is just one place like this on the river that I saw, most unusual!
|The evening halt is a hour or
two below the Muzzle Station, with Mt Tapuae-O-Uenuku majestic and
dominant behind our tents. What a place! Some people come all this way by
kayak, then climb the mountain before completing the river trip. Insane!
Well hell, this is a serious mountain! It is near 9000 feet and ominously
vertical in the upper sections. I mean, I like climbing mountains as much
as the next man, but there are limits! On a kayak trip? Yeah, right!
We are lucky with the weather, a bit of a
north-west wind blowing but nothing dramatic. Laura decides to dry out the tent,
and is vastly amused at the way the wind inflates it like a kite. She put a peg
in on the two front corners, and it stayed tethered and inflated for ages! The
fly rod proves superfluous, as there appear to be no fish at all in this section
of the river. As a fishing guide, I’m expected to produce the goods, but
cannot even see one, let alone catch one. I tried hard, but we are in for steak,
spuds and veges for dinner. Still, its quite acceptable, and the steamed pudding
and custard surprised the team a little! Took their minds off the lack of trout,
if nothing else!
Day Three: Gorge Three
A couple of hours underway through relatively
easy waters sees the onset of the third gorge. This is a serious piece of water,
and twists and winds some 70 kms! I have no trouble understanding why it was I
was so scared the first time down it, 20 years odd ago. Some of these rapids are
just wicked, a real blast! Jon has one swim today, which is really great as he
has now equalled my record. He is really determined not to exceed four, although
I try hard to persuade him to demonstrate eddy turns, wave surfing etc. He just
grins, keeps paddling the easy lines. A couple of times, I sneak up behind him
on the raft and try to ram him, but the kayak’s acceleration easily leaves the
Overall the river is graded as Grade II+, with
Grade III rapids. Certainly, most of the river is easy, Grade II+, and no
problem at all. However, some of the Grade III rapids are very serious prospects
indeed. They drop at an alarming rate, are boulder studded, albeit with
sufficient gaps to make passage possible. River flow influences the degree of
difficulty a lot. Some will become easier, with more options in terms of inside
lines etc. Others will become even more frightening, I suspect! The names are
ominous – Jawbreaker, for example!
I read somewhere that "The Clarence is an
excellent open canoe journey." Yeah, right! Well, if you like bailing, it
would be great….. Even on the raft, the water went over my head several times!
With an open canoe, common sense would dictate a portage or two as being
appropriate on quite a few rapids. With two people padding, co-ordination and
skills would need to be finely tuned to escape swamping disasters, or worse. We
all agree that only the most skilled of open canoeists could hope to negotiate
the river unscathed.
The river twists and zigs, zags and winds.
Tussocks give way to manuka trees, and goats are everywhere! Hundreds of goats,
stinking things that they are. I don’t like to see them here, knowing full
well the enormous damage they do to fragile eco-systems. Introduced by the early
whalers and settlers as a potential source of food, they and other such animals
have penetrated far and wide into the alpine countryside.
Evening finds us in the lower reaches of the
gorge, and a comfortable campsite is constructed on a bank under the manuka,
sheltered and warm. The only damage to date is Jon, who is suffering badly from
chafing. The Dura touring boat is a little small for him and his lower back has
rubbed raw, even with the padding of heavy neoprene wetsuit. His feet are also
sore, as he has to sit with toes point like a ballet dancer. The boat is not
deep enough at the point his feet reach, that’s the biggest problem with being
6ft 4in tall in a boat made for Mr Average, I guess.
Day Four – The Arrival
An 8am start to another fine morning, and it’s
a cheerful troop of paddlers who set out into the river. About 9am, a turn in
the river reveals 3 deer having a drink mid-stream, highlighted in the sun as we
approach silently from the shadows. Kevin and Laura get within 50 metres before
the deer decide that is close enough, and gallop off. The spray flying, bounding
deer, what a glorious sight! We all get a buzz from that, and the only regret is
it all happened so quickly, no one though to grab for a camera.
As on the first trip, we discover signs on
civilisation not long after commencing the final section. A 4WD track, a fence.
Cattle. And as before, the exit from the gorge is sudden, an abrupt change of
landscape to rolling limestone hills. We’d promised Ron we’d meet at lunch
time at the Glen Alton bridge, his role was to bring a picnic lunch. The river
from the gorge to the bridge is wide and flat, gravelled and braided, and takes
forever to cover. Still, 12:45 pm sees the crew dragging bodies and boats into
the shade of the bridge. Ron had only arrived minutes before, had not even had
time to doze off in the sun! Lunch is superb, fancy sandwiches, little savoury
pies, assorted fruit, hot coffees. Bloody marvellous! We stack all the gear in
the truck, but everyone wants to boat the last few kilometres down to the State
Highway bridge. Jon decides to join me in the raft.
With renewed energy, we power off, a drag race
between the 2 guys on the raft and the two kayaks. This last portion of the
river is very, very enjoyable. All the more so, knowing the victory that
fellow-canoeists have had in protecting it from exploitation. TranzRail wanted
to extract thousands of tons of the very rocks that form these rapids, to build
a breakwater for the new ferry terminal up the coast. They lost, the good guys
won! Co-ordination was a challenge in the raft, but we soon decided I’d steer,
while Jon would just paddle like hell! Some of the rapids are amazing. Kevin and
Laura stayed some 100 metres ahead of us, and would completely disappear over
the brink into the maelstrom of whitewater and boulders. Eventually, the sight
of helmets bobbing in the distance downstream would indicate both success, and
the dimensions of the drop that awaited. Awesome! We had to stop and empty the
raft numerous times, but boy, was it fun!
All too soon the State Highway 1 bridge was upon
us, and the trip was over. Completed. Finished. Mission Accomplished. Jon gave
us all a laugh, instinctively leaning his body into the first corner as we drove
off homewards. This was a trip we had all unanimously enjoyed! The weather could
not have been better, the company was great, and we all gained a lot from the
experience. So much so, the Aussies are already planning a return visit for next
summer. After showing the videos and photos around their canoe club, there is a
full crew wanting to come over and check it all out. As for me, there is much
personal satisfaction and pleasure in showing others the wonders of your own
country, a renewed appreciation of the austere beauty of those remote mountains
that protect the mighty Clarence. Can’t wait for the next trip…..