The first omen was the fresh wind blowing headlong up the river. The second was the shabby looking boats, and the third was Alan breaking the rudder on the double kayak. ‘No worries’, said Alan, I’ve done that before. The boat’s a bit tippy but you’ll be fine.’
We are on the winding historic Waihou River near Te Aroha
at the foot of the Coromandel Rangers in the Waikato.
Stephanie had already asked ‘How deep is the water? Is the current strong? Any rapids?’ I sat smugly in the back of the ute. It was only the little old Waihou river and we could all swim and, honestly, no big deal.
We slid the kayaks down an overgrown slope to the river. Stephanie slipped into the single, I flopped into the front of the double with Danielle in the back. Paddles clasped firmly we squinted up at Alan, who was very eager to get off fishing.
He did pause to take this photo on my camera which I carefully replaced in its plastic bag, along with my cell phone and the number to call for our pick up. Overkill to use the bags maybe, but, a few minutes later, I was very glad .
We pushed off into the current and straight into the westerly. What happened next was a slow wobble and a gentle tip-over of the double kayak. We slid quietly into the murky water, right under, hats and all.
My backpack was in an air pocket under the kayak, Danielle was clutching at her paddle and mine was out of reach. Stephanie grabbed it and wedged her kayak onto ours, so we could hold it against the bank. We pushed over till our feet stuck in the sludgy mud of the bank, and we were able to right the kayak, and climb back in.
Later Stephanie said she had refrained from warning us about the eels. Even later Danielle admitted she was wondering about the life insurance money. I just wanted to save my camera!
The leisurely day of drifting down the river had become a tense battle with my confidence, as well as a bit of a struggle with the changeable wind and surprisingly unstable boat. I wouldn’t even look to see if Stephanie was following, so anxious I had become about the boat tipping again. Stern self talk about ‘worst case scenario’ and ‘breathe deeply’ allowed me to glance occasionally at the trees and birds around us, but my focus was mainly on staying afloat and arriving at our pick up point. I have an oozing blister on my thumb to testify to the tight grip on my paddle.
There was no way I would turn to take my sodden back pack into the front and no point in being worried about water damage- just get to the end then worry. Stephanie’s cheery comment about it being lovely to be outdoors did not warrant a reply.
The Waihou River had far too many twists and turns before it met the bridge in Te Aroha. Our kayak misjudged the landing ramp by a meter and wedged under a post. So I had to sink myself into the mud again to guide us out. At the same time Stephanie was gliding past so I grabbed her too, and we scraped up on to the concrete.
The double boat was too heavy to pull , and Stephanie soon discovered the reason. The rear storage tank was full of water – no wonder it threw us off balance. As we waited for the pickup which I had texted on my still functioning phone – thank you Glad Bag – I checked the dampish camera. There was a photo taken of us all happy at the beginning of the trip. Our sodden cold bodies were not worth another photo.
It was wonderful to throw off my wet cold clothes and slither into the spa pool at the Te Aroha Domain, then drink a hot chocolate at Berlusconi’s. Was it a good day? Well, we are still alive, it is a good story, and I now want to own my own kayak, so it is familiar and well maintained. And I will skip the windy days next time- go kite flying instead.