A road walk down a gravel road brought us just short of the Whanganui River.
After our 8 am breakfast of cereal and toast provided by Sharon and Roger, Sharon gave us a long prepared lecture on things to know for the rest of the North Island. Her most important point (besides having some sort of PLB) was that we should book our ferry tickets to the South Island before we leave, because tickets are selling out quickly and, once we leave, we won’t have cell service until we reach Whanganui.
I was still a bit wary of getting ferry tickets this early since we won’t get there for at least a few weeks, but Peter, Susanna, and I decided on flexi-tickets for January 30, so if we get to Wellington sooner, we might be able to get on an earlier ferry. (There is also the possibility to fly to a private airfield near Ship Cove and save both the ferry to Picton and the water taxi to Ship Cove, but after land travel for the entirety of the North Island, flying there feels wrong.)
CareFree and I didn’t leave Coupers Crossing until nearly 10:30. One we did, the weather was reasonably nice. it was overcast, with just a little bit of rain a few minutes after we left.
We followed Oio Road the entire day. Paralleling the Retaruke River, the road took us through farmland — no surprise there. When we did have views of the river, the most obvious thing was very steep cliffs that accompanied it.
Over the course of the day, we stopped for two breaks on grassy areas along the road where it briefly widened. Aside from a few brief views of the river or mountains in the distance, there wasn’t really much in the way of scenery to enjoy.
As we approached Whakahoro (population 8 according to a wooden sign tacked onto the town’s boundary sign), we passed besides private property for an outdoor retreat. A sign on a fence read “Caution!! Pigs Bite. Please do not feed them your fingers!!!”. (There did not currently appear to be any pigs.)
A bit after 4, we reached the Blue Duck Cafe, part of the outdoor retreat. They’d closed for afternoon food service already (and were only serving retreat guests for dinner), but we were still able to buy sodas and brownies they still had available, which were quite tasty. They were also offering a breakfast buffet tomorrow morning at 8 am, but since we needed to be ready for the canoes at 9 am, we didn’t think that was enough time.
Just past the cafe is the Whakahoro Bunkroom, a ten-person DOC hut. Among the first people in the hut (and the only hikers who actually reserved space in the bunkroom), we quickly claimed our bunks, two adjacent bottom-bunks.
We joined Peter, Susana, and Hannah at a covered picnic table near the entrance to the hut’s space, and cooked dinner with them. While we were chatting with them after dinner, it started to rain, quite heavily. This was especially problematic for them since their tent had developed a leak, and they hadn’t yet set up their temporary workaround, a plastic sheet hung inside the tent, between the leaky outer layer and the mesh interior. (They have a new tent waiting for them in Whanganui, which they’re very much looking forward to getting once the river trip is over.)
As sunset approached, we retreated to the hut, avoiding getting too wet (though the larger problem for the short walk was the now very soaked grass). We talked with two cyclists from Australia who are in the process of cycling from Auckland to Wellington.
We set a 7 am alarm to be ready for the canoes when they (are scheduled to) arrive at 9 am tomorrow. After that, it’ll be five days of canoeing down the Whanganui River, which will hopefully still have elevated water levels from the recent rain. (Higher water levels means faster flow and fewer rapids.) Over 170 km later, we’ll be in Whanganui. I’ve kayaked before, but this’ll be my first time in a canoe, and the first time on a river for more than a few hours. It should be fun!