Published: December 19th 2006December 14th 2006
Pass to Pacific
Kayak descent of the Waimakariri River
“Pass to Pacific” is the name of our day’s pursuit; from Arthur’s Pass to the Pacific Ocean! Jon Earle and I are hoping to kayak the full length of the Waimakariri River, facing up to the imposing stretch of water to raise funds and awareness of the Pole to Pole project.
Jon, an outdoor guide, is the Mac-Daddy of mullets and with an attitude to suit. He is also the captain of the trip.
I’m in love with climbing rocks, although I like a bit of everything. I am the ideas man, because I’m always full of silly ideas.
My great sister Lanz organised a support crew, which consisted of herself, as team Mascot, and her friend, Smithers, the Boss! They are in charge of, well, everything.
The Waimakariri River has its beginnings near Arthur's pass in the Southern Alps,
explaining the origin of its Maori name, which is "cold waters". For much of its upper reaches, the river flows through wide mountain scenery. Approaching the plains, the river passes through a belt of mountains, and is forced into a narrow canyon (the Waimakariri Gorge), reverting to its braided form for its final journey across the plains to the
Pacific Ocean. We planned to kayak the entire 150km in a day and set an aim of 15 hours for the mission.
We anticipated a long, hard and or course, fun day...
Here’s how it went:
Stirring early, I take in the slowly brightening horizon from my bed nestled in the edge of the Beech forest. I hear faint rustlings as Jon prepares gear for our big day that will take us from Pass to Pacific (P2P). It's 5am and the sun is just rising above the Craigieburn Range near Arthur's Pass. A few bites of home-made bread and swigs of cereal from an empty honey container taste great and hit the spot between bouts of wrestling with neoprene and latex as we don our armour to battle the Waimakariri.
In crisp early morning air we carry our boats across gravel bars and small braids that mark a young river, still near its melting snowy source. It’s a wonderful feeling to be out on the water early, as the sun still tries to push its head above the jagged horizon. Pulling on the paddle shaft, I feel my muscles engaging and slicing through the
Boats on Shoulders
we go looking for water
water to provide a smooth forward motion on the clear, moving water. This water is as good as it gets, and I greedily make the most of it taking gulps in the calm spots.
Overhanging trees and rocks prove the only obstacles to our path early on. Picking a channel with enough water to avoid the bony bottom of this young flow is the most difficult part here. Ahead, the sun starts to shine over a crest on the ridge silhouetting two figures on the bridge as they bend their bodies to form P to P.
Below this first bridge, the river opens into a wider expanse of braided channels. Lupins adorn the channel edges and provide a splash of violet and blue to nature’s palate of alpine colours. Beyond them, the impressive backdrop of snowy peaks of the Southern Alps is the source of the rivers crystal clear waters. Soon up ahead, we arrive at the Mt White Bridge, which marks the first stage of our day’s journey. The girls put on a fine display of “P to P”, star jumps and cheers that welcome us to the first stop. A few muesli bars, high-5’s all around
Mt White Bridge
last human contact for 67km
and it’s time for the next stage; The Gorge.
It will be another 67km until we see the girls again as they bid us farewell.
Gentle braids start to narrow slowly and the river drops through several steeper sections of white water. Soon we approach the gates to the gorge.
I revel in the power of the water as it piles into large walls creating buffer waves and large circulating eddy currents. Looking back over my shoulder at one point, my glance is met by two large white globes almost poking out from beneath Jon’s helmet. I love seeing and helping people challenge themselves, and those eyes were candy to my soul!
The gorge is deep and spectacularly beautiful; walls of greywacke and lighter tertiary sediments with coverings of native bush. The now clouded, but still clean, aqua coloured water is nothing too serious for a kayaker of any experience, but nature’s power can never be ignored. Powerful and Dynamic natural settings have always attracted me, and this one is no exception. I feel alive and invigorated to be on the river today!
At some point we notice that the water is no longer crystal
clear, no longer crisp drink water. Fine silt gives the water a slightly milky look and somehow changes the experience. This is no longer a mountain stream where all obstacles can be seen. It is now a beast that lies in ambush at every bend. Rabbits and goats scuttle away from the rivers edge as we pass.
By the time we are through the gorge, Jon is sure (for the 4th time) that we are half an hour from the Bridge where the girls are waiting. An hour and a half of battling headwinds proves him optimistic!
Our first glimpse of the gorge bridge is met with a sense of elation. Now we are stoked to have that support crew! Bodies again bend to form “P to P”, which gets us smiling… We are tired, aching, hungry and only half way to the Ocean on our “Pass to Pacific” journey. We tuck heartily into a meal that was prepared for us yesterday. We call it “Pasta Pacific” and it’s the first substance that seems to land and stay in our bellies for a long time. There are only so many muesli bars the body will crave…
the gorge bridge, we enter the vast Canterbury plains, which we will traverse for the remainder of the day. The rising easterly headwind makes progress increasingly difficult as the afternoon goes on.
The area is expansive and wild. Choosing your channel is important. Water flows in an intricate mass of jumbled channels across a river bed that is about 1km wide! During the course of the next several hours, we move several times from river left to river right and back again.
In the lower reaches, we start to arrive very evidently at the edge of humanity and its influence on this beautiful river. Large machines extract gravel, four-wheel-drive tracks tear up piles of sediments in the river and strange smells enter the river at certain points.
By this stage my body has superseded pain and it’s purely a mental game. Our next meeting point with our support crew is the objective. They have been legends all day long and a great motivation! At the State Highway 1 bridge, we again make out that familiar contortionist act that spells P to P. Darkness is hot on our heels and we have time to inhale some more Pasta
pacific before the last short section.
Below SH1 something really ‘funky’ is discharged into the river, which seems excessively unhealthy and is the cause of some concern as we watch fisherman at the rivers edge. Just being near this water had me spitting lest I inhale or consume any. It stuck around for the rest of the way down!
From this bridge it is only a couple of kilometres to the ocean, but an advancing high tide means that we must paddle against a current, which is demoralising at this stage in the day. Pulling hard on the water, breathing deep and focussing on that singular objective of the ocean, we part the oncoming tidal current and cut through coastal waves feeling the increased buoyancy of salt water. The Pacific Ocean!!
150km. 15 hours exactly!
A glass of Champagne on the beach penetrates all pain and fatigue leaving us deliriously happy to have completed the mission. Great goal, great team, great achievement. Cheers guys.
There are more photos below