White­wa­ter & Fly Fish­ing Magic


When I have a long drive in front of me, I like to do it prop­erly. I love in­clement weather and a real mo­tor­car. None of those namby-pamby, mod­ern ve­hi­cles with ef­fec­tive win­dow wipers for me. No, in­stead, give me my 1962 Tri­umph TR4 re­plete with a soft-top which con­sis­tently tries to de­tach it­self and win­dow wipers which are, well how can I put it po­litely, fairly use­less! Wa­ter is washed around a bit, but the con­nec­tion be­tween the blade and the win­dow is ten­u­ous at best, there is one speed and it is slow. Cer­tainly too slow for the howl­ing rain and gale that fol­low us from Waiouru to Tu­rangi via the Desert Road. It is hair-rais­ing to say the least.

Five hours af­ter we leave the cap­i­tal, we ar­rive at our ac­com­mo­da­tion just out­side of Tu­rangi; Oreti Lodge in Pukawa Bay. We are so late noth­ing is open for din­ner but we en­joy some cheese and cold meats we have picked up at the su­per­mar­ket in Tai­hape. We are in a spa­cious two-story town house with two bed­rooms and a full kitchen. Shat­tered, we hit the sack around 10 PM, be­cause it is an early start in the morn­ing for the first part of our Tu­rangi ad­ven­ture – white wa­ter raft­ing!

We get up and en­joy a very nice con­ti­nen­tal break­fast bas­ket pro­vided by the lodge. I have to ad­mit be­ing a tad ap­pre­hen­sive about the up­com­ing white wa­ter raft­ing. I have done said ac­tiv­ity four times in my short life and ev­ery time I have fallen out of the raft into rag­ing rapids and thought I was go­ing to die. It is not a sport for the faint-hearted, but Garth Oak­den from Ton­gariro River Raft­ing as­sures us when we ar­rive that it is only grade three rapids and fam­ily-friendly.

It is the be­gin­ning of win­ter and we get decked out in a highly sexy wet­suit with polyprop top over the top, hard hat, enor­mous rain­coat and booties. I am feel­ing very at­trac­tive.

Garth has been in oper­a­tion since 1990 and has guided more than 6000 trips. He says, in spite of this, he al­ways takes the wa­ter se­ri­ously.

“I don’t take it for granted”, he tells me. He also says he never tires of the river, which to­day is churned up from re­cent rain.

“You should have been here last week when it was crys­tal clear”, Garth says.

“That’s what we al­ways say in Welling­ton about the weather”, I laugh.

There are only four of us on the trip to­day and we have to carry the blow-up raft down a steep gra­di­ent over rocks. It is in­cred­i­bly heavy, but I pre­tend I am fine even though I think my arm is go­ing to fall off.

It is a mys­ti­cal place, the Ton­gariro River, es­pe­cially on a misty, damp day like to­day. I keep ex­pect­ing a JR Tolkien char­ac­ter to ap­pear.

We jump in the boat, grab our pad­dles and start on our jour­ney which will take us through 60 rapids. It is freez­ing cold and my feet start to numb early on, but the fresh smell of the air and the ex­cite­ment of the rapids make the dis­com­fort worth it.

Af­ter about an hour Garth guides the raft onto the rocks and we all hop out to see the con­ser­va­tion work he has been do­ing. The river is the stomp­ing ground of the en­dan­gered blue duck, or whio, and pests, specif­i­cally stoats, rats and weasels, are a ma­jor prob­lem. We clam­ber over the rocks to get up to one of the traps set by the Blue Duck Project Char­i­ta­ble Trust which Garth is ac­tively in­volved in.

I have done said ac­tiv­ity four times in my short life and ev­ery time I have fallen out of the raft into rag­ing rapids and thought I was go­ing to die.

These traps use bait to lure the pest and then bonk them on the head to kill them, from what I can gather. Ap­par­ently the traps are hu­mane and these in­tro­duced mam­mals cause so much dam­age to our na­tive wildlife and fauna, there re­ally is no other choice.

When we get back into the raft and head away again, we are lucky enough to see not one, but two blue ducks sit­ting on rocks most lan­guorously.

“That’s the prob­lem you see”, says Garth, “they have no fear, so they are easy prey for stoats and rats”.

I have to ad­mit, I have never seen such a re­laxed duck as the blue duck. The whio is a beau­ti­ful bird, not re­ally blue, but rather a bluish grey.

Through my trav­els for NZTODAY, I am pleased to have seen so many won­der­ful con­ser­va­tion projects un­der­way and not just by the Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion. There are many com­mu­nity driven projects as well, just like this one.

Like all good ad­ven­ture tourism oper­a­tors Garth leaves the best for last and the fi­nal cou­ple of rapids are long and ex­cit­ing. I get thor­oughly drenched. As Miranda’s mum says on the telly, “such fun!”

Garth has it all sussed in terms of keep­ing us from suc­cumb­ing to hy­per­ther­mia. We have a 10 minute ride back to base, seated on big plas­tic sheets in the van.

“I have learned the hard way”, laughs Garth. “it takes sev­eral weeks for the smell to leave wet car seats”. BACK AT BASE, we re­move most of our gear, get back in our van and go to Nir­vana… that’s right, a lo­cal, au­then­tic, ther­mal hot pool. I can­not overem­pha­sise the un­be­liev­able plea­sure of re­mov­ing my wet­suit and dip­ping my frigid body into the warm, en­velop­ing wa­ter. My toes start to de­frost and I feel like a new woman. Magic.

Warmed up and dressed we head back to base again for hot tomato soup (which the Uphol­sterer spills all over the couch… how ironic). In sum­mer­time the hot pools and soup are re­placed by sand­wiches and salad.

What an ut­terly ter­rific ex­pe­ri­ence I have had and I am so glad, be­cause to be hon­est, I have been wary of white wa­ter raft­ing for the past few years af­ter the ex­pe­ri­ences in my youth and I feel I have got my con­fi­dence back.

We have been rec­om­mended Lake­land House for din­ner, which is on the shores of Lake Taupo in a vil­lage called Waihi, not to be con­fused with the coastal town of the same name near Tau­ranga. Ap­par­ently it has amaz­ing views but un­for­tu­nately it is dark by the time we get there. The food is great, but with Auck­land prices, which seems to be stan­dard through­out New Zealand these days. Smaller town restaurants are miles bet­ter than 20 years ago when, if you were lucky, you got a pie.

I can highly rec­om­mend Lake­land House for a spe­cial din­ner and we had the most re­mark­able 15-year-old waiter who I think will go far. It is rare that you find some­one work­ing as a waiter who treats the job as a vo­ca­tion. He plans to travel with his skills when he is older.

WE CRASH QUITE EARLY again be­cause we have an­other big day planned. We will hope­fully be hik­ing to the top of Mount Ruapehu and look­ing at the crater lake. How­ever, the weather is look­ing very dodgy so when we go to sleep we have no idea what the day is go­ing to bring.

What it brings is snow, snow and more snow, in spite of it be­ing April. There is a say­ing in the ski­ing fra­ter­nity, “snow in May, stays away”, so who knows what hap­pens to snow in April, but if you are lucky enough like we are to be there when it is ac­tu­ally snow­ing you can be fairly sure it will stay around for at least the day.

RAL Mar­ket­ing De­vel­op­ment Man­ager Alistair Hay­dock picks us up bright and early and we head off in his 4-wheel drive to­wards Whaka­papa. Un­for­tu­nately it is now highly un­likely that we will get to do the guided walk to the crater lake, but he has other plans for us. Alistair has only been in the job for 9 months, leav­ing the sto­ried climes of Auck­land to head south. “We wanted a life­style change”, he tells us. We start head­ing up the Bruce Road into a win­ter won­der­land. It is snow­ing heav­ily but the snow is soft and fluffy and I beg to get out of the car to take a few pho­tos. It is ab­so­lutely freez­ing.

Lots of fun mak­ing snow an­gels is had at Lorenz’s café on top of the blan­ket of snow on the out­door ta­bles. I can’t re­mem­ber see­ing this much snow on Ruapehu, even dur­ing the sea­son!

Sit­ting down to a cooked break­fast, we meet An­nah Dowsett, RAL’s Cus­tomer Re­la­tion Man­ager. She is beam­ing.

“The snow to­day, I couldn’t have paid for it”, she laughs. It’s the 29th of April, the day be­fore the dis­counted sea­son passes ex­pire and she’s ex­pect­ing a bit of a run on sales.

“We even ended up on Break­fast TV with Rawdon Christie”, she adds.

An­nah re­minds us, how­ever, that they are try­ing to pro­mote the Ruapehu area as a year-round at­trac­tion.

“Guided crater lake walks in the sum­mer, bik­ing to the Bridge to Nowhere in the spring and au­tumn and of course, ski­ing and board­ing in the win­ter”, she says.

The ad­vent of the sea­son pass has trans­formed ski­ing from an elite sport to a much more ac­ces­si­ble one, but it is still, for most lo­cal fam­i­lies, unattain­able. I am so pleased to hear the work that RAL is do­ing with the com­mu­nity to help chil­dren have a chance to learn to ski.

“RAL runs many dif­fer­ent fos­ter­ing pro­grammes for the kids around here”, says Alistair, “it is so great to see them de­velop and some chil­dren even com­pete”. Af­ter gorg­ing on eggs and ba­con we re­alise we need to do a bit of ex­er­cise. First up is pos­ing for some pho­tos on top of the mounds of snow on the out­side ta­ble, but even bet­ter is putting on some rental skis and climb­ing up the Rock Gar­den piste and hav­ing the first ski of the seas on!

The Uphol­sterer is in shorts, but no mat­ter, he is a bit of an ex­pert on the slopes. The snow is deep and soft and dif­fi­cult to ski, but what a buzz it is. What isn’t so good is re­al­is­ing how in­cred­i­bly un­fit I am. My lungs are burn­ing from climb­ing up the slope. Note to self, go for a run.

Our two guides, Hari Smith and Alex Peth­er­ick have a great time tak­ing pho­tos and videos of us. We must look a real sight. Hari tries to sled down the slope but it isn’t steep enough.

There is a say­ing in the ski­ing fra­ter­nity, “snow in May, stays away”, so who knows what hap­pens to snow in April?

AF­TER ALL OUR HI­JINKS it is time for some se­ri­ous stuff. Hari and Alex take us down to the DoC site at the bot­tom of the Bruce Road, next to the Chateau, to tell us a bit about the his­tory of Ton­gariro Na­tional Park be­fore we em­bark on a walk to see the Taranaki Falls.

Hari an­i­mat­edly ex­plains the his­tory and Maori folk­lore of the area. The park is 78,000 hectares and is man­aged by DoC, with the three peaks of Ruapehu, Ton­gariro and Ngau­ruhoe hav­ing been gifted to the people of New Zealand by the Para­mount Chief of Ngati Tuwhare­toa, Horonuku Te Heu Heu Tukino in 1887. Ton­gariro is New Zealand’s first na­tional park and only the fourth na­tional park in the world. In 1993 it be­came the first dual world her­itage area be­cause of its phys­i­cal and cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance. The ski ar­eas are man­aged by Ruapehu Alpine Lifts (RAL) un­der li­cense from the Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion.

What I find most ro­man­tic and mys­ti­cal about Hari’s talk is the Maori folk­lore about the lo­ca­tion of the moun­tains in the area. Nat­u­rally, it came down to the love for a woman. That woman was Ton­gariro and all the moun­tains in the area fought for her, with Mt Pi­hango the ul­ti­mate vic­tor. The po­si­tion of the other moun­tains in the area is a re­flec­tion of who gave up the soon­est and who fought to the bit­ter end. In­ter­est­ingly, Ngau­ruhoe was not around at the time. It is only 2000 years old and is a par­a­sitic vent of Ton­gariro. I didn’t know that.

I am a bit ner­vous to see tourists peer­ing over the falls from the top. The boys don’t know of any­one who has fallen over, but I still wouldn’t risk it.

AF­TER THIS FAS­CI­NAT­ING HIS­TORY les­son we don our hik­ing boots and head off on our two hour round trip to the Taranaki Falls. It is a beau­ti­ful walk, over the open alpine floor with Ton­gariro and Ngau­ruhoe in front of us and then through the lush, damp for­est cov­ered in ferns and mosses.

We ar­rive at Taranaki Falls and are able to get up close and per­sonal with its majesty.

“People swim in the pool at the bot­tom in sum­mer”, says Alex. It is hard to be­lieve this, as it is a very cool day and I imag­ine, even in sum­mer as we are so high above sea level, the wa­ter must be rather chilly. The falls spill 20 me­tres over vol­canic lava flow, formed when Mount Ruapehu erupted more than 15,000 years ago.

I am a bit ner­vous to see tourists peer­ing over the falls from the top. The boys don’t know of any­one who has fallen over, but I still wouldn’t risk it.

On our re­turn to base we are greeted with the most spec­tac­u­lar views of the Chateau from our alpine meadow track. And speak­ing of which, it is here, where we will en­joy the next part of our trip.

Call me old-fash­ioned, call me greedy, but noth­ing ap­peals more to me in the af­ter­noon af­ter a chal­leng­ing hike, than a high tea look­ing out at Mounts Ton­gariro and Ngau­ruhohe through the pic­ture win­dow of the Chateau’s main re­cep­tion area.

I have been to sev­eral high teas be­fore and some­times I find them a bit stingy for the price. Not this one; there are cu­cum­ber sand­wiches, (ph­wah ph­wah), pe­tits fours, sal­mon sand­wiches (yummo), scones with jam and cream and sundry other good­ies for us to en­joy. All of course with tea or cof­fee in fine bone china.

Only trou­ble was the boys and I weren’t ex­actly dressed for the oc­ca­sion, be­ing in hik­ing gear and boots, but the ho­tel is very un­der­stand­ing and I hope we don’t of­fend the other guests too much! I imag­ine the Chateau is rea­son­ably for­giv­ing with its dress code com­pared to other top ho­tels, be­cause of the fact it is of­ten cater­ing to people par­tak­ing in the great out­doors.

We bid the boys adieu and Alistair drives us back to Oreti Lodge where we will be din­ing that evening and in­ter­view­ing the as­sis­tant man­ager Fleur Ash­ford, that is af­ter a most lux­u­ri­ous and ther­a­peu­tic soak in the fab­u­lous Tokaanu Ther­mal Pools, just down the road. I have been there sev­eral times over the years, when the moun­tain has been closed for ski­ing but to­day is the first time, I have tried the pri­vate pools. I man­age only about 15 min­utes, but the Uphol­sterer says he could stay soak­ing all af­ter­noon! Oreti Vil­lage Restau­rant was built seven years ago, al­though the ac­com­mo­da­tion has been around a lot longer. The self­con­tained apart­ment style units are all pri­vately owned but man­aged by the lodge. They re­ally are tucked away gems and a fan­tas­tic lo­ca­tion to en­joy all the Ruapehu/Tu­rangi area has to of­fer.

But what Oreti Lodge is most well-known for are its wed­dings. “It’s one a weekend dur­ing the sea­son”, says Fleur. “We have ac­com­mo­da­tion for 80 guests and of­ten clients will hold a re­hearsal bar­be­cue on­site, the night be­fore”.

Cer­e­monies are usu­ally held by the dead tree, which is right in front of our apart­ment. Ap­par­ently the tree has been dead for years but hasn’t moved an inch.

Our din­ner is top notch, again a re­flec­tion of the huge in­crease in the qual­ity of restau­rant food in the coun­try’s smaller towns. We re­tire early af­ter a full-on day and to pre­pare our­selves for our fi­nal day of ac­tiv­i­ties.

We are up and at ’em bright and early. Garth at Ton­gariro River Raft­ing also rents out moun­tain bikes and we pick two up to do one of the lo­cal trails.

Just like the white-wa­ter raft­ing, I am a very hes­i­tant moun­tain biker as well. If you read my Ro­torua story a cou­ple of is­sues back, you may re­call that I had a rather nasty fall while bik­ing in the red­wood for­est which re­sulted in an enor­mous bruise to my left thigh and my ego.

Zelia from Des­ti­na­tion Great Lake Taupo.

Ex­cite­ment as the fish bites.

Ton­gariro River raft­ing fun

The elu­sive and en­dan­gered blue duck.

I told you about the sexy out­fits!

Demon­strat­ing the ro­dent trap.

Good to see he’s got some qual­ity read­ing.

Who needs ski pants in April?

Ton­gariro with its par­a­sitic vent, Ngau­ruhoe.

Hari ex­plains the finer points of Ton­gariro’s his­tory.

Head­ing to high tea.

Taranaki Falls.

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