Helping hand saves the paddlers

Another day on the River Road

MATT RILKOFF
Last updated 05:00 03/02/2011
Patea River
CAMERON BURNELL/Taranaki Daily News
HELPING HAND: When the Patea River rose unexpectedly yesterday Hurleyville farmer Bill McColl and dog Millie were on hand to lighten the canoe load by transporting our men's gear to the Patea dam.

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Video: The start of the journey

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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

Arrving at a dam is not something that rates in the normal scale of achievement.

But when you have paddled three days against the current to get there, it feels like one of the greatest things you will ever do.

Photographer Cameron Burnell and I started the third day of our 12-day paddling trip from Patea to Waitara at 5am. That's before the birds get up and not the best time to be on a debris strewn river. However, we had no choice.

We knew TrustPower would be letting water out early that morning and once they did an easy paddle would turn into a hard slog.

And though neither of us are soft buggers, we're not so hard that we want to battle against fast moving water in a far from stable Canadian canoe.

But at 9.30am we had to get hard anyway. The fellas at TrustPower had opened the gates early.

Luckily life has a way of sorting itself out and in this case the sorter was Bill McColl, the man we had shared dinner with the night before.

"Need a bit of a hand do ya?" he said to us as we sat on the side of the river watching the water rise higher and higher as our morale sunk lower and lower. We weren't going to say no and we loaded his trailer with our clothes, food and camera gear and unencumbered by this we tackled the river again.

This time it was a bit easier but not so easy that the swirling and constant currents did not make us wonder if we would ever reach the dam or see our mothers again.

After what felt like hours straining to make headway we arrived and it was only 3pm, which seemed impossible.

We wandered up to the campsite beside Lake Rotorangi to find all our gear already there and former dam worker Barry Kaywood ready with a cup of tea.

Just as the steaming mugs appeared so did Lake Rotorangi local Dexter Kennedy with a truck full of bags of cheese.

"I feed it to the birds," he said in a way which indicated there was nothing else a man could do with a few hundred kilos of cheese.

After helping us get the canoe from the dam to the campground he returned later that night with a chilly bin of ice and a bottle of whisky. "I'm not intruding am I?" he asked.

"How could you be?" I replied as the ice clinked into the glasses and his dogs sniffed my feet.

As we drank the cicadas sprung into full chorus, the water lapped at the dam and the wind whispered through the trees so that it was impossible not to wonder if life, such as it is, gets any better than this.

Today: Up Lake Rotorangi, hopefully as far as Matthew Francis' bach, which he has kindly offered us the use of.

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