The heart of hospitality

00:27, Feb 14 2011

It's over. Cameron Burnell and Matt Rilkoff completed their river journey yesterday, and were welcome by children at Waitara. Here's Matt's final report from the field - you'll find more at

It is done. At 10.37am yesterday morning, photographer Cameron Burnell and I pulled our canoe into the Waitara river mouth boat ramp and shook hands.

For the previous 12 days we had paddled, pushed, and pulled our boat from Patea river mouth to its equal in Waitara.

It was not easy. In fact it was quite hard.

But it would have been impossible without the help we were lavished with along the way.

Though we were fearful our route through the back of Taranaki would take us away from people, we soon realised that was a hollow anxiety.


People were everywhere and even without us asking they gave us a hand.

It was like going back to the country we read about, where everyone is there for everyone else and a hot meal is never far away.

Even though 12 days separate the start from the finish I can still taste Marg Newlove's muffins pushed into our eager hands just hours after we started.

A day later it was a steaming plate of stew at the McColl's farm house some 12km short of the Patea dam and then at the dam itself the generous and outrageous tales of Dexter Kennedy.

From there we were never far from a wave or a cheerful shout from a river bank farmer.

"Are you those jokers paddling from Patea to Waitara," shouted one as we paddled downstream from Purangi on the Waitara river.

"Bloody good on you."

The gap between the Patea and Waitara is not one you can cross by boat.

And for that part we have to thank the Cook family in Huinga.

They picked us up from the Patea and took our canoe from that river to begin its journey to the Waitara.

It was they who supplied the detergent and water to wash our boat down as per Department of Conservation instructions.

"You can feel good about yourself for a while," said Richard Cook as I vigorously scrubbed down the boat.

That good feeling did not leave even when our journey was finished.

As we pulled up at the Waitara boat ramp yesterday so did three uniformed classes of St Joseph's Primary School students.

"What was the hardest part?" they asked.

At the time both Cameron and I agreed it was the bruising rapids of the previous day that took its biggest toll.

But now I think we would have to say that was easy.

It was the finishing that tested our mettle the most.

Taranaki Daily News