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Published: March 19th 2023
So just to recap the 9 days since our arrival on the South Island and our emotional reunion with Jamie and Ellie....We have completed a 3 day tramp to Angelus hut, a 4 day tramp of the Queen Charlotte track and a 2 day seakayak camping expedition in the Marborough sound. We have had our first 3 nights in a tramping hut, camped in 3 campsites and had our first wilderness camping experience on the shores of Marborough sound. We had forgotten how exhausting it is to be with Jamie!
And then it was straight on to the Big One …rafting down the Clarence River with Jamie and Ellie. Apparently the Clarence river is the least explored of all NZ rivers and it just sounded rather exciting to explore it! We set off in Ellie and Jamie's car after Ellie had finished at work and headed off to an overnight stop in Blenheim. Our training day was due to start at 0800hrs the following day in Waipapa Bay where the Clarence enters the Pacific so we left Blenheim at 0620hrs so to have time for a coffee on the way.
The organization of this trip has been sketchy by
anyone's standards. Jamie had heard about it first and I had attempted to organize the trip from UK. The chap in charge is called Rafting Ben and is a man of few words. After a few monosyllabic emails I had handed over the organisation to Jamie thinking that maybe Rafting Ben was more of a man's man and would be easier to deal with by phone. This was not the case and consequently our trip arrangements were at best vague and at worst non existent.
Our arrival at base camp was less than welcoming. Various young men grunted at us and waved their arms towards the office where we meet the awesome Rafting Ben himself. A man in his 50's with a brusque manner and incomprehensible English and a penchant for barking out 2 or 3 words and expecting an instant response. We think he said, "didn't you get my email, you can't go, the water is too high". Not the best start but then he appeared to change his mind and decided that we should complete the training day and see what the water level was doing at the end of the day. A sensible approach.
were handed over to Jordie for our training; a man with even fewer words than Rafting Ben who's unique selling point was that he was able to turn his back and have a wee in front of us all part way through the lesson. The overall impression of the whole outfit was dire….."this is MADNESS!" was muttered by Jan…. But we agreed to see how the training day went before we bailed.
It got a bit better and our time on the water filled us with confidence. Pete could read the river with his canoeing experience and we were all pretty strong and reasonably enthusiastic. Jordie won no prizes for his charm but he did know what he was doing and he was built like a barn so no-one was going to argue with him. "You!", he bellowed at Jan, "Get down on your knees by the boat". There was a sharp intake of breath from Jamie who thought I might not take kindly to such treatment…..but as I obediently crouched by the boat Jordie demonstrated how to rescue a person who had fallen out of the boat by lifting me up by my lifejacket shoulders and tossing me across the boat and almost out the other side. Not my most elegant hour.
We arrived back at base camp for another confused and confusing discussion with Rafting Ben and Jordie about the dangers ahead and the relatively high chances of total disaster. We were shown a depressing picture of a raft that had got splattered against Rat Rock in high water and had remained there for 2 weeks.....nasty stuff..... We were not keen to go ahead if it was bonkers but we didn't want to cancel unnecessarily…. In the end we agreed we would go and camp at the put-in near Hanmer Springs some 5 hours away by truck and await another group who were planning to go down the river the next day with guides who would help us if disaster struck.
We were dropped at a campsite (a rather loose term) in the middle of absolutely nowhere. We were to ring them on a satellite phone (no mobile reception in the mountains) at 0900hrs the following day to find out when the other group would appear. We rang at 0900hrs no reply. Same at 0910hrs. At 0920hrs we got through to Jordie. "The other group is not coming", he bellowed. "You're on your own. Good Luck". And with that he rang off.
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