05 April 2018

Easter Resurrection for Ancient Kayaker - Waikato River

On and off, we'd been discussing this project - kayaking from Hamilton to Port Waikato a journey down the Waikato River of some 110 kilometres. So this Easter two of my sons and I decided that it was all on. Dad's cunning plan was to use his downriver racer a fast but unstable kayak that he hadn't been in for about five years. It was a way of being able to keep up with the young ones - something that amused them, now in their fifties. I even tried to get used to balancing the craft a few times before Easter. The day before we started David and I located his car and my trailer at the mouth of the river in optimistic anticipation of getting that far!

From left David, Grandad and Warren readying to leave Hamilton (Photo: CatherineS)



Heading Off Downstream on the Waikato River (Photo: CatherineS)


On the morning of Good Friday we set off. Progress was good and within a few hours we were past Huntly having averaged about 8.5 kph and a maximum of over 12 kph on the faster parts of the river. I thought I was going well until I asked David if I could raft up beside him for a bite to eat and a rest - the signs were starting to show. But when we separated I wasn't a paddle width away from him when I turned upside down. Warren picked up my floating gear while David towed me and my kayak to shore - at least I'd done the kayaker thing and retained my paddle! Away we went again but somewhere just beyond Meremere I upended again. This time the rescue and landing was more difficult - willows everywhere. However we managed and afterwards David had a look into the Whangamarino wetland entrance while Warren and I made it to Mercer where we were well looked after in the local hotel/motel. They even made us a very welcome cuppa tea. And the woman there was soooo impressed when I told her I was ninety five. I did fess up to my real four score years but admitted that I was feeling more like ninety five that evening.

Next morning we set off again at about 0830 with me a bit nervously probing the water downstream. Progress was a little slower as the river was now slowing a bit.  Later we explored some of the delta islands and were fascinated by the array of structures that comprised whitebait stands, duck shooting maimai and residences - a hundred or more would not be an exaggeration. Some of the many channels were a bit narrow and some contained faster water as the tide was running out.  A combination of wind against tide made for some (smallish) waves. It was here that grandads problems began.The problem was that we had to cross several channels of the river and the waves and current had me doing more slap-support paddling than progressive paddling.

I managed to tip upside down five more times. So my cunning plan of the fast kayak failed me (or I failed it) but after the several rescues of grandad and his gear we eventually we made it across to the true left of the river and down to Port Waikato - and from there to home and the anxious Catherine who seemed pleased to see us safely home. I was pleased to have finished the job - not without some embarrassment though. The weather for the whole trip could not have been better. I couldn't blame the conditions for my tipping problems at all, just the loss of skill over the years. And the guys reckoned that I didn't have enough for breakfast either. It was a great expedition and great company. We saw lots of wildlife including many very large carp - fortunately none of them big enough to be man-eaters! The big tuna knew better than to try.