Finding Neverland.. A bike packing Packrafting Adventure in the Whanganui National Park
After what had felt like a tough week, I was hanging out to get away from it all.
4days in the Whanganui backcountry should do the trick!
The original plan was to take in a figure of 8 style loop with a bike Ruatiti to Whakahoro- packraft Whanganui - Bike a hiking track; Matemateonga track- pack-raft Whangamomona- Bike Bridge to Nowhere track to Ruatiti. The hiking track was thought to be 50 percent rideable However we could find no info about the second river. Google earth showed what like a waterfall.. West had a yarn to half the Whanganui river valley folk to try to find out if it was a goer. They were all very friendly and all thought we were completely nuts...old mate Lloyd, the local farmer, said he hadn’t found a way around the falls. Given that we were going to be first time pack rafting and be bike packing to we came up with a more sensible plan b....or so we thought!
Day 1: bike Ruatiti - Mangapurua Saddle- Kaiwhakauka track -Whakahoro
The day started with an early morning flight to Welly where I met West. A 4 hour drive to the National Park. We built bikes and then somehow attached 2 packrafts, paddles, tent, stove and food for 4days to our bikes and bodies! Fully loaded we grovelled the 600+m climb through lush farmland in the beautiful Sunshine. Initially descending on rough farmtrack we headed into fun singletrack- what a win!
fully loaded and loving some singletrack descending!
Bike handling was a little challenging loaded up but it did give the bonus of adding extra traction! We arrived in the few houses that made up Whakahoro an hour or so before dark. After a bit of to and fro we eventually found a good spot by the river to pitch the tent and pump up the rafts. After a little trial and error we had 2 rafts ready to go for the morning! We were surprised by the amount of debris in the river- large trees and branches lined the side and some scattered though the river itself. I was wondering what the hell I was getting myself into- would I be able to steer the boat- especially loaded with a heavy bag and bike!?
Camp spot on the river
Day 2. Packraft Whanganui River
We awoke to the sound of rain...it had been forecast to be quite heavy but so far the river looked good- no big trees floating down the river just yet!
"Joeys" and Boats fully loaded
After a fun game of strap all the gear and bikes to the packrafts we tentatively set off. I’m not going to lie- I was pretty nervous! Straight into some little rapids I was pleasantly surprised at how well the little rafts manoeuvred. All the gear was staying place and the packrafts were staying inflated -win! The rain however was getting heavier, we stopped for a quick leg stretch a couple of times but I was getting pretty cold. I could stay warm enough if we kept paddling though!
sheltering from the rain in a riverside cave
After about 30km of paddle we reached John Coull hut. We realised the tent and West’s spare clothes were soaked and I was a little chilly! Fortunately the Doc Warden, legendary 70/ 80 yr old Liz took pity on us. (As it’s a great walk huts are meant to be booked and paid for in advance). We had a cruisey afternoon/ evening drying gear, sitting in front of the fire, doing yoga and hearing yarns from the other paddlers- like two of their mates who hadn’t made it after they’d tipped the canoe and had to be rescued by jet boat!
We had one single person packraft and a double person raft which we put most of the gear in. Then took turns in each raft!
The hut on a sunny Sunday morning
Day 3: packraft to Bridge to nowhere: Bike to Mangapurua Saddle to a little hut Liz told us about.
Sunday the sun was back out and we bobbed down the river playing tag with the other canoeists we stayed at the hut with. Even playing a bit of river rugby!
We passed the Whangamomona River we’d planned to paddle originally and were pretty glad we hadn’t given it a go, it was narrow and full of trees!
Generally the river was pretty tame and we savoured any little rapids, getting a bit of speed on felt good!
Transition wasn’t exactly quick but we eventually got everything packed up and back onto the bikes for a late lunch and a lay down in the sun on the Bridge to Nowhere.
the legendary "Bridge to Nowhere"
Nearly at the top!
After a long uphill grind we made it to the summit. Again the rain came in and it was getting chilly again. We didn’t know exactly where the hut was as it wasn’t marked on the map. After some descending down the ridge we investigated a little side track- bingo! One awesome little hut complete with a fire. We love you Liz! And the McIntyre family who kindly let people stay at their hut!
Day 4: “Adventure” Day
With a 6pm flight out of Wellington the sensible option would have been to return the way we came in down the road to Ruatiti. Probably an hour or so bike ride. The trouble is neither of us are particularly sensible and the call of potentially awesome singletrack was too high! What could possibly go wrong...?
Well one missed flight and 2 broken fingers it turns out!
Where did the track go?!….
Lured in down farm track we dropped 350m height. It then took us about 4 hours to travel 3km with the track going from bad to worse. Bush bashing on a vague hunting route- supposedly a marked track on the map- carrying our gear and hike a biking.
Fingers "munted" and "the track"....hikeabike goodness!
I slipped on a rock, somehow landing on my fingers in full extension- I heard them crack and the instant pain and swelling - although nothing like breaking bigger bones in your body- I knew they were broken! Already so far in we just had to keep going. West carried my bike over the worse sections where going one handed wasn’t an option.
It was very slow going. Following the track was difficult as it would just disappear but fortunately the GPS was working so we could more easily micronav our way to stay en route. After about 5 hours we eventually made it to some farm tracks and homesteads in the middle of nowhere.
back on track...some 8hours later!
We had planned to follow the track by the river out to the road but we didn’t want to risk another barely there track so a 3 hour ride and another 600+m of steep climbing was the best option. We eventually made it back to the car- about the time I should have been boarding my flight! What a day! A swim in the river and a picnic had never felt so good!
Thanks to West for putting up with the sometimes off the charts level of craziness and making sure we both got out alive!
Thanks to Chris and Em Forne, Leif Christensen for loan of the packrafts
Thanks Fuji Bikes for the SLM bike packing machine.
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Enduro racer, adventurer, locum veterinary surgeon, cow and cat lover