John Coull campsite – Ramanui campsite (km1292)
We had another fantastic day on the water. We only had to go 30 km (easy with current), so we had a leisurely breakfast and weren’t paddling until 9 am. The weather was partly cloudy all day and just perfect. The first part took us through a really scenic gorge. I’ve paddled down many spectacular rivers but the jungle-like vegetation really sets this one apart. It reminds me most of the Suwanee in Florida but with higher banks and cliffs. There are also waterfalls and streams trickling down every 100 meters.
We made it to Mangapurua Landing by noon. This is where the official TA route begins on the river but it is optional to do as we have done (putting in a Whakahoro). Otherwise we would have to pay for a jetboat to deliver kayaks to this location and that is really expensive.
Here there was a 40 minute track leading up to the Bridge to Nowhere. It was built in the 1930s to facilitate settlement of the area but very few people moved in. It wasn’t worth it to keep the road open in the end but the bridge was built so well that it’s still standing. It’s a popular tourist attraction and several jetboats dropped people off while we were there.
I sat down to eat some lunch at a picnic table near the bridge and suddenly found myself surrounded by one of the tours. The guide was handing out water, juice and biscuits (cookies). A nice lady asked me if I wanted some of hers to share. I tried to not sound too desperate or greedy. “Oh, thank you, maybe whatever you don’t want.” She gave me the whole lot. I may have added in that I was walking the whole country for the last 40 some days. This is a classic example of being a yogi-bear, by which a skinny thru-hiker looks pathetic near people with food and gets showered with treats. We learn it from watching other animals beg for food, hence the title.
I also got treated to the guide’s presentation about the bridge. At the end, all the attention focused on me when the lady announced what I was doing and that I was hungry and thirsty. I got two more packages of biscuits and a whole lot of questions. I was eating it up and having so much fun with the group. They were on a family reunion trip and being all related, they were saying some hilarious things about each other. Their next activity was to walk another few kms and get picked up by a helo. Wow.
Meanwhile, Connor had lost sight of me while I was immersed in the group and thought I went back down to the river. He missed out on the whole thing! I did share in some of my winnings but it’s a shame he didn’t get to learn some tricks from a pro. He looks the part and should have no troubles next time.
A lot more canoes had arrived at the landing, leaving our kayaks squished in the middle and hard to get to from shore. No bother, I felt like a swim. Connor had already tested the depth of a rock ledge so we had a good time jumping off the ledge into the river and retrieving our kayaks from the lot. Once again, I saw some surprised faces when I climbed into the kayak from the water. Connor’s job was to get a video of me jumping in but he pushed the wrong button. Oh well, here I am on the run-up and you can just see our kayaks squeezed in the heaps of canoes.
The swim felt great and woke me up for the rest of the afternoon. It’s been such a leisurely pace, I’ve been getting sleepy. We only had 10 more km to the campsite and were there by 4 pm. We were the first to arrive and the caretaker Daryl drove down in an ATV to pick up all our stuff. It’s a private camp, as opposed to all the other DOC-run sites. For $15 ($5 cheaper than DOC Great Walk Camps) we got bell-hop service, hot showers, a kitchen with gas burners and the works, and perfect grassy tent sites.
There is A DOC site directly across the river, where most of the crowd from last night stayed. It’s a neat site, being that it’s also a Maori Marae and visitors are often treated to some demonstrations of traditional customs. But I was glad to stay where we did because we were the only ones, in addition to our friends Graham and Troy. We had this huge place, with multiple cabins and toilets, all to ourselves. In fact, Daryl later told us to feel free to stay in the cabins. But we had already pitched and all ended up in our tents anyways.
Connor and I later walked up to the lodge that is associated with the property, the Bridge to Nowhere lodge. It reportedly had a bar, so I was going to buy him his first U.S. legal drink, just for the novelty of it (the drinking age is only 18 in NZ). No one appeared to be staying at the lodge. There was someone in the back rummaging around but we weren’t sure if it was open. So we admired the view from the very nice deck, complete with bean bags and lounge chairs. A drink could wait until the town of Wanganui, where at least it will probably be cheaper.
Neither of us even thought to bring alcohol on this river trip. I don’t really drink much anymore and Connor is such a good kid, he didn’t come here to party either. Surprisingly, I have seen very few others drinking as it’s been mostly families paddling with us. It’s nice to be in such a chill state, where everyone is more focused on enjoying the beauty and peacefulness of the place.
Back at the camp, we were joined by a fifth-wheel, a fluffy black cat. This had to be one of the friendliest cats I have ever met. I immediately scooped him up and he erupted in purrs. He was so cuddly. He hung with us the rest of the night (to the annoyance of the rest of the group, who are decidedly NOT cat people). He laid right in the middle of the table amongst us and inspected everything we were eating. Too bad for him we’re all thru-hikers and couldn’t bear to waste food.
Later, I sat on ‘the captain’s chair’ and watched the light fade over the river while kitty snuggled on my lap. What a great way to end the day!