Paddles down, time to portage

21:18, Feb 01 2011
TDN river
Welcome wagon: Bill, left, Marie and Daniel McColl laid on dinner for our paddling pair.

When paddling a Canadian canoe upriver it pays to know that plans will change.

On the second day of my trip from Patea to Waitara by river with photographer Cameron Burnell we had intended to make it to the Patea dam.

So about 9.30am, as the smell of bacon and fried eggs wafted out over the valley we had stayed in, everything was going just as we had planned.

One hour later when we finally got the canoe packed and started paddling, it was safe to say the plan was still intact if not a little awry.

I mean, the sun was shining, the wind was low and cool and we still hadn't beaten each other over the head with our paddles.

But then it changed, suddenly.


It was while we were stopped for our mid-morning cup of tea that we realised the water was rising.

"That water is rising," said Cameron. "Yes it is," I said as I took another bite of my apple.

"That water is still rising," he said minutes later as I finished my apple off. "We better get out of here."

Which we did, crossing to the opposite bank where a sandy beach offered some refuge. But not for long as the water continued to rise and before we knew what was happening the tranquil Patea had turned into the raging Zambesi, though admittedly without the hippos, snakes or anything else more dangerous than a slimy tree stump. But swift nonetheless.

Swift enough that we could not paddle against it. Swift enough that, were we of the age, a game of Pooh sticks would have been too fast to be rewarding.

So we were reduced to sitting on the side of the river with a stick at the waterline ready to measure any drop or increase.

Though neither of us are too smart in terms of water, we could only presume the sudden half metre rise in water was due to TrustPower releasing some water from their dam so people in Auckland could continue to drink their short blacks and mocha- cappucino-frappes.

Then again, they could have been letting out some of the water collected last week when flood waters raised the river level about five metres above normal. That is quite a height and the destruction it has caused is quite a sight.

Anyway, after sitting on the side of the river for so long that we started working out each other's character flaws we decided to do the one thing we would have preferred never to do.

We portaged.

It wasn't easy going. There were times when we could have come to some strife but little by little we made it.

Which was a good time because about then a few locals, Bill, Marie and Daniel, were sitting down to eat and they were only too happy to share.

"So what is your last name?" I asked over a cup of coffee.

"McColl,"said Bill. "Yes that has two Cs."

Taranaki Daily News