Sunday, March 8, 2009

Adventures from the Wanganui River

Last weekend's adventure took us to Wanganui (won-ga-NEW-ee), on the west coast of the north island for some camping and river exploring. The Wanganui river is the longest navigable river in NZ, and it has a long history as a transport link between the Tasman Sea and the interior, first used by the native Maoris, and later by everyone else. Jake took this first pic -- isn't it beautiful? More on our trip...

...but first, some cute animals we saw along the way. These little guys were wandering and playing in the grass next to the road.

Yes finally, here is a sheep pic so many of you have been asking for. I'm sure we'll have many more. Also saw lots of horses, cattle, deer, goats and lots of interesting birds. 

How to Find a Good Campsite
We found what looked like a good campsite in a travel guide... It had everything, with showers, laundry and cooking facilities, cabins, river-front scenery, hiking trails. There were more little icons in its description than any other campsite on the page, so we pointed our little Nissan in that direction. What we found was an incredibly cramped and loud mini-city with screaming kids everywhere. Obviously we couldn't get out of there fast enough.

So we drove away from the city maybe 50 kms farther up the slow, windy and gorgeous Wanganui River Road to find a site hidden back in the woods called the Kauika Campsite. It wasn't very big, but it was perfect. Quiet, beautiful, empty and no wind. The only other campers there were Raymond and Andre from Belgium, who shared a fire and some friendly conversation with us. This is what camping should be.

Kiwi Lesson #129: More amenities does not equate to a better camping experience. If it has a pool, stay far away.

Next morning found us jet-boating down the river with Wanganui River Adventures, a small family-owned company that has been in the business for three generations.

I was going to say something clever about the people next to us, but I won't. They're only in the pic because my aim is off. 

It's hard to get a good pic of the spectacular scenery. I'll blame it on not having a wide-angle lens.

The Bridge To Nowhere
Finally I get to use my rain pants! Our 30-minute somewhat-rainy hike from a remote spot on the river took us to the Bridge to Nowhere. Apparently when the NZ troops came home from WWI, the government made sure to find them work. And so they put many of the guys to work building roads and bridges. This area was cleared for farmland and needed a route to transport goods, equipment and farm animals. 

It took four guys a year and a half to build this bridge that stands high above Mangapurua Gorge. Not long after, road construction in the area was called off because the area was deemed too remote and unsuitable for farming. So now this bridge stands out in the middle of nowhere, with no roads connected to it. And you can see just how the native plants have overtaken the farmland once again.

This still feels like a dream. 
I actually had a dream last night that I started waiting tables at Chili's. And it was terrifying. To be fair, there's a lot of normalcy (dishes in the sink, cleaning the lint trap, etc.) sprinkled in to our lives, but I can't help but think every day about what a ridiculous, crazy, fantastic ride we're on. We love it.

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