Waingawa River trip
Saturday 31st January 2009
A 5.30 a.m. alarm call heralded an epic day. Getting up in the dark made us think ahead to winter days, but the air temperature was mild and the weather promised well. I looked at the extraordinary pile of sandwiches I had made the night before, (even allowing for Alanís hearty appetite, there was at least 4 times my usual lunch rations), and felt a surge of apprehension. This was going to be rather more than a ramble and I wondered whether my ankle, which was suffering from a summer of tramping overuse, was going to last the distance.
There was an air of excitement at the meeting place in Brown Owl. Most of us hadnít done the trip before and we had varying degrees of river travel experience. On our arrival at The Pines road end (near Masterton), we could feel the heat of the sun, even though it was barely 9.00 a.m. We had hardly walked 20 minutes when Anne lead us astray by finding the first swimming hole, just at the point where the track leaves the river to wind its way high above the gorge. The icy water made us gasp, but in no time we were hot and sticky again as we began climbing. (I had heard of a proposed upgrade to the Barra track, but perhaps it is still just a proposal, because the track was as rough as ever.)
However, we made good time along the track and the new Mitre Flats bridge was a welcome sight above the cool clear waters of a lunchtime swimming hole. A group of trampers passed by, having travelled upstream en route for Arete Forks.
And so began our journey downstream, stopping at every good swimming pool, of which there were many. The gorge is just magnificent and travelling through it was a real pleasure. At times we would pass impressively large rocks with dramatic formations which were covered by red lichen. Sometimes the pools were too deep to walk through and we had to swim for short sections. (We were impressed by how the group of trampers we had met earlier must have swum upstream through these pools to arrive at the Mitre Flats bridge.)
Progress was delightfully slow as we enjoyed the river and its beautiful bush backdrop. We gradually became aware of how late it was becoming as the shadows lengthened and the sun was disappearing from more of the valley, even though the rocks retained their heat as we stretched out after our latest swim. It was time to strike out for the road end, after one of the best river trips I have ever done. Thanks Pip for regularly leading this trip. I hope to join you again.