New Zealand Great Walks: Whanganui Journey

After our rainy walk on the Tongariro Northern Circuit we headed to Whanganui to start our next Great Walk, which is not actually a hike, but a canoe trip! We loaded up our canoe with watertight barrels and started our 5 day trip on the water.Along the way we stopped at a local lavender farm for an overpriced coffee and to use their bathroom. If this were a one-off holiday, I would have loved to buy some lavender honey or lavender products to take home! As it were, we had to keep moving.Kay was pretty happy to be on the water as canoe boss.Here he is, obviously in his element.Along the way we passed smaller streams and waterfalls flowing into the main river. It was so peaceful and easy going.The company had given us the canoe, dry barrels, and some maps of the area, although we were missing the map for day four. We had booked camping permits along the route where we could set up our tent for the night. All the camping spaces need to be booked in advance, which is what Kay had organized so quickly in January before we left for this big trip. He had quite a lot of booking to do to make sure we could complete these Great Walks. Permits for camping are extremely limited and book up quickly!We made a pretty good canoe team with minimal bickering. I tried to listen to orders… We also never flipped over or capsized even though the guide seemed to warn us that it was fairly common and there was a 70% chance of flipping on the last day.We stopped for lunch by a cascade and Kay took the opportunity to cool himself off.This is the closest thing to a shower we took that week.Campsite number two below was definitely my favorite. Not only was it easily accessible to the water and the bathroom facilities were well ventilated, we had it all to ourselves!It was the only time on the whole river cruise that we slept totally alone, and we really enjoyed the privacy! Every campsite was pretty nice though. They all had tables, cooking areas, rain water, and the NZ bathrooms with wind-powered ventilation.Below you see a closer look at our barrel setup. We had a big main barrel for the tent, our mats, and sleeping bags, and then a barrel each for each of our personal items and clothing and two for food, snacks, and cooking supplies.We actually splurged and bought a Jetboil right before this trip to take on the river cruise and our other hiking. We had used the MSR below for all our camping in Patagonia, but with the Jetboil, we planned to go even lighter for our eventual 8 day trip to Abel Tasman which would require a lot of heavy food supplies to last the week. And for the river cruise, it didn’t really matter if we brought both since we didn’t have to carry anything. Without worrying about weight, we brought a lot of canned food that we would never take through-hiking because of the weight and packaging to carry around afterward, but in the canoe it was no problem. We ate pasta, chili, beans for breakfast, thai curries, and more.
The water situation at camps was also very easy. All over NZ, the campsites collect rain water and then we just used our Aquamira drops on the water to drink it or boiled it for three minutes before using.On our last day we did need to get up before dawn and get started on the river early enough to make it in time for our pick up. We had been warned how long it would take from our campsite, but it was the last “camping” site and not an expensive lodge, so we were trying to save a bit of money by continuing to camp in our tent and avoid the private lodging.

So, around 5am, we got started on the river with our head lamps and were a little nervous about coming upon rapids before it was light out.It turned out to be fine and the sky brightened pretty fast. We also enjoyed the time alone on the river as no one else from our last campsite left as early as we did.We also seemed to paddle way faster than expected, because we showed up to the pick up at the end about 2h too early and spent the time having a last snack and swim before the van came to pick us and our canoes up and drive us and all the other paddlers back to our cars.If you are thinking about doing a Great Walk, I would definitely recommend the Whanganui tour. It is very relaxed and easy, with only a couple trickier rapids on the last day. And while we did the five day tour, it’s also possible to just do day tours or one night overnight trips with earlier pickups.

After our canoe tour we stopped in Whanganui itself to meet a friend of mine and then we headed further south to Wellington, where we would take the ferry to the south island for our next trek.

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