Violent wind, friendly folk

Day one: Patea to Wainoa Rd Hut, about 17km.

MATT RILKOFF
Last updated 07:38 01/02/2011

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Video: Two boys and their boat

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The River Road

A river road tale The heart of hospitality Going, going, they're gone Canoeists speed down river Reserve a haven for tasty fare Dream ride restores one's faith A helping hand for baby eels Helping hand saves the paddlers Boys on river trip warned about didymo Paddles down, time to portage

It all looked certain to end in disaster.

A violent wind blew up as photographer Cameron Burnell and I pulled into the Patea boat ramp yesterday morning to start our river trip to Waitara.

It may have been there all morning but as we packed the canoe it only got more angry, quickly destroying any hope we had of a peaceful start to our 12-day adventure.

In fact, it nearly destroyed any hope we had of even getting started as it seemed foolish to try and paddle against its determined force.

But we pushed off anyway. What else could we do?

Having never been good with knowing where a wind was coming from I'm only guessing when I say it was a nor'- easter. It could have been a northwest wind, a south-easter or just a plain old westerly. I prefer to call it a bastard.

As luck invariably has it, around every third bend the wind died down to nothing much. It was during one of these respites that we disturbed a gaggle of geese.

Having never had much experience with geese I was surprised by the behaviour of these ungainly and squawking creatures.

In their panic several of them fell off the river bank, others clumsily dived underwater and still more just began running into each other.

If ever there was a challenge to the theory of evolution, geese are it.

They weren't the only things we saw on a river still scarred from last Sunday's floods. A black swan danced around us in a stunning display of flying ineptitude.

Fresh water mussels poked their stupidly fat tongues at us whenever we got out of the canoe and two kingfishers watched us suspiciously from their perch.

We stopped noticing these things when the effort of paddling began to take its toll. It started out as a small throb in the middle of our backs and within a few minutes we realised someone had somehow got on the small canoe and stabbed us right between the shoulder blades.

It was a rotten thing to do and just as we were contemplating having a break to recover from these terrible wounds we found a saviour.

Actually we found four: Marg and Jim Newlove, their friend Sue Crawford and a dog called Bob.

They were waiting for us near Otauto Pa with cups of hot coffee and freshly baked muffins.

"These are the best muffins I have ever tasted," Cameron said.

"Try the fudge," said Marg.

That too was good and was even better later that night. She insisted we take the whole container.

With the riverside refreshments done, Jim took us on a tour of the pa site, which like pa sites in general was on the top of a steep slippery hill.

Despite what you might imagine, the best thing for walking up steep slippery hills are not $225 hiking shoes but a pair of black Skellerup gumboots. Just ask Jim.

As I fell hard on my backside yet again I expressed a small amount of concern at the isolated country ahead of us where a broken leg or twisted ankle could become an issue of quite oversized proportions.

Jim didn't seem to think so.

"You'll be all right," he said.

"You're in hillcountry farm land now."

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* Today: Towards Patea dam and eel trapper Dexter Kennedy.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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