A five-day raft­ing trip down the Clarence isn’t a new ex­pe­ri­ence for me. As a raft guide and Clarence lo­cal (I grew up on a high-coun­try farm in the area) I spend nu­mer­ous weeks on the river each sum­mer. How­ever, it’s a place I never get sick of, and ever

Say Yes To Adventure - - Features - G enevieveKing

AGAINST THE ODDS, this par­tic­u­lar trip had started off ex­cep­tion­ally well. In the cold southerly rain, we loaded up the rafts and made some quick in­tro­duc­tions be­fore set­ting off into the mist. The clients (a group of Nel­son ladies who of­ten get to­gether for tramp­ing trips) were in high spir­its and not put off in the slight­est by the dreary weather. The river was ris­ing fast, trans­form­ing from a lazy clear stream to a rag­ing tor­rent of swirling choco­late milk. Shrieks of ex­cite­ment echoed through the gorge as we splashed our way through the in­fa­mous ‘Chute' rapids, the cold tem­per­a­tures and soak­ing wet clothes long for­got­ten. We made it to the first avail­able clus­ter of wil­lows and set up camp, rain per­sist­ing. Tarps were strung up in the trees, and a warm­ing seafood bouil­l­abaisse whipped up on the fire. Day Two dawned rel­a­tively clear, and with the river now high and dirty there was no ur­gency to pad­dle hard. The wide, braided shal­low sec­tion of the river was now a brown ocean, rock­ing us gen­tly down­stream. There's some­thing very im­pres­sive about the Clarence in flood. As guides, we be­come so ac­cus­tomed to push­ing the boats over shin­gle banks and pad­dling to make enough ground in a day, so for us, a high and dirty river is a wel­come sight.

We pulled in at Quail Flat early and set up camp in a cosy lit­tle spot we like to call Se­cret Squir­rel. Tucked in be­tween some bluffs and the river, with tall and slen­der poplar trees pro­vid­ing a soft, leafy floor, it has al­ways been a favourite place to camp on the sec­ond night of the trip. Gui­tars were pulled out and a cruisy af­ter­noon was spent hang­ing out by the river and strolling through the lush green pad­docks nearby to visit the horses.

With time to spare, I set about mak­ing a cake. For the past year, I had been work­ing on a side pro­ject – a book of pho­tos, recipes and sto­ries from the river. Most meal times had re­quired the ad­di­tional pres­sure of styling and pho­tograph­ing the food, and with the book fi­nally sent off to the print­ers just two days be­fore the trip, I was en­joy­ing my favourite camp ac­tiv­ity of get­ting cre­ative in my river-side ‘kitchen'. This wasn't just any old cake; I was in full show-off mode – salted caramel sauce and sesame brit­tle to ac­com­pany a slow cooked spiced ap­ple cake. It's sur­pris­ingly easy to get good re­sults from a camp oven by sit­ting it on hot coals and loading more on top, but there are many vari­ables, and it's al­ways un­known whether you've been suc­cess­ful or not un­til you lift the lid. This time, it came out per­fectly. I proudly dis­played the cake on the ta­ble with a cou­ple of jars of flow­er­ing hawthorne to set the scene.

We en­joyed a beau­ti­ful meal fol­lowed by the cake. Some tal­ented mu­si­cian/ raft guides en­hanced the evening with a fire­side gui­tar ses­sion, and the con­ver­sa­tions be­tween campers flowed smoothly. One lady won­dered if we'd

ever had to evac­u­ate a trip for any rea­son? Never, we said. One by one, the campers drifted off to find their tents in the trees. I stayed, watch­ing the glow­ing em­bers and think­ing about how peace­ful it is out on the river, and how lucky I am to call this mag­i­cal place home.

I put out the fire and went to join the other guides sleep­ing peace­fully un­der the stars, tucked in be­side the bluff with the riverbed be­low. With a tummy full of cake and the fresh air on my face, I was soon fast asleep de­spite the full ‘su­per-moon' il­lu­mi­nat­ing ev­ery­thing around us.

Sud­denly I was run­ning and scram­bling over my friends, flee­ing for my life and fight­ing to stay on my feet. Be­fore I could work out if it were a dream, re­al­ity, World War 3 break­ing out or the earth com­ing up to swal­low us, we were ten me­tres away from the crum­bling bluff, hold­ing each other just to stay stand­ing as we watched the riverbed be­low foam up and turn to silty liq­ue­fac­tion. The banks on the other side of the river were col­laps­ing into the an­gry wa­ter, and the roar of nu­mer­ous land­slides echoed through the val­ley. The poplar trees sur­round­ing us swayed and clashed to­gether, those clos­est to the bank sud­denly ap­pear­ing to have taken on a new drunken lean. Ter­ri­fied, I clung to my three friends and tried to come to terms with what was go­ing on. An earth­quake. The trem­bling earth hadn't yet eased – this was to be­come per­haps the long­est two min­utes of our lives. What a shake! Hun­dreds of ques­tions raced through my mind. Where is the epi­cen­tre of this thing and is my fam­ily OK? Is the river go­ing to dam and flood?

Will there be a dev­as­tat­ing tsunami out on the coast? Is this the big one? Will these poplar trees kill us? Are we bet­ter or worse off than the rest of the coun­try? And where to from here?!? Amidst vi­o­lent af­ter­shocks, we gath­ered up the crew and dis­cussed a plan. One woman's tent was perched over a crack in the ground, with a tree branch thrust through the side. Fist-sized rocks pep­pered our sleep­ing bags that we'd been peace­fully ly­ing in just min­utes be­fore. Ev­ery new jolt brought new rocks down and pro­duced loud crack­ing sounds from the trees. One thing was for sure, we weren't send­ing any­one back to their tents, and there was no way we'd be sleep­ing by the river. Ev­ery­one gath­ered up their sleep­ing bags and mats and we made our way care­fully around the bro­ken bluffs and through the re­cently cracked riverbed to the rel­a­tive safety of the pad­dock, join­ing the now rather dis­tressed horses. A tarp was laid down and im­promptu camp set up.

With the clients set­tled and at­tempt­ing to get some sleep, we dug out the sat phone and tried to con­tact the out­side world. Some­one got through to fam­ily in Nel­son and Roy could con­tact his par­ents in Methven, but there was no ring tone on the East Coast. This was bad. There wasn't much to do but lie

down, and with the ini­tial adren­a­line spike over, I slept sur­pris­ingly well be­tween af­ter­shocks.

We were wo­ken at 6am to a chop­per land­ing be­side us; a nice sur­prise to see Guy Red­fern from Muz­zle Sta­tion. It must have been quite a sight, 14 campers asleep in the mid­dle of the pad­dock. Guy had snip­pets of in­for­ma­tion but none of it very good for us. Thank­fully the quake hadn't hit Christchurch or Welling­ton too dras­ti­cally, but there was no word from Kaik­oura or any­one around Clarence. Equipped for a week in the wilder­ness, there was no im­me­di­ate con­cern for us. The clients knew their fam­i­lies were safe and there was noth­ing we could do but carry on. We made our way back to the pic­turesque camp­site which had felt like a death trap just hours ear­lier. My jars of hawthorn blooms were still stand­ing on the ta­ble, quite a weird sight when it felt like the rest of the world had gone side­ways. Break­fast was fried up on the fire, and the camp­site packed down. I don't think I'll be stay­ing there again any­time soon.

It was a strange feel­ing push­ing off from the newly frac­tured river bank. An eerie haze lay over the val­ley, and the strong smell of fresh earth filled the air. The cat­tle which had been so noisy dur­ing the shakes were now lick­ing the newly ex­ca­vated min­eral-rich banks, seem­ingly un­af­fected by the events in the night.

We had only trav­elled a few kilo­me­tres when Guy came swoop­ing in, land­ing his he­li­copter on a nar­row is­land of boul­ders in the river. “You'd bet­ter pull in at our place, the river's dammed at the en­trance to the gorge,” he said. Wow. This quake was worse than ex­pected, and we didn't even know what was go­ing on out­side our lit­tle bub­ble yet! The next 24 hours were spent wait­ing at Muz­zle Sta­tion. Wait­ing for the dam to burst. Wait­ing for word from the out­side world and wait­ing to find a new way home. The river was cer­tainly not an op­tion. It was a wor­ry­ing time for me, know­ing that our farm sits on nu­mer­ous faults and lime­stone out­crops that sur­round the homestead. Grim images kept sneak­ing into my head, de­spite the ef­forts of the other guides to keep spir­its high.

Iron­i­cally, at one of the most re­mote high coun­try sta­tions in the coun­try and with cracked walls and crum­bled sheds by the homestead, I man­aged to get on the in­ter­net, watch the news and even use the flush­ing toi­let. Be­ing en­tirely self-suf­fi­cient and iso­lated sure has its pos­i­tives! Frus­trat­ingly, all we had seen of Clarence in the news was three Here­ford cows perched on an is­land of land­slide de­bris, look­ing a bit con­fused but oth­er­wise quite re­laxed. I couldn't tell which neigh­bour they be­longed to but judg­ing by the land dam­age sur­round­ing them, things were ob­vi­ously very bad.

Through a com­pli­cated net­work of friends and rel­a­tives of lo­cals who could fly in with pri­vate planes, I was fi­nally able to es­tab­lish that my par­ents, along with ev­ery­one else in the val­ley, were alive. My cot­tage was gone, the wool­shed and deer yards de­stroyed, and we had new hills run­ning through the farm. The seabed had risen, and cray­fish lay wait­ing to die, high and dry in what used to be their un­der­wa­ter land­scape. The homestead was mirac­u­lously still stand­ing, and my par­ents quite lucky to be alive. Re­lief and frus­tra­tion hit all at once, and with many unan­swered ques­tions, it was a long and emo­tional sleepless night, made more ex­cit­ing by a vi­cious nor'wester rip­ping through the camp.

By the fol­low­ing af­ter­noon, a friendly pi­lot from Nel­son had stopped by and of­fered us a ride home. Yes, please! It was a very emo­tional flight, sur­vey­ing the dam­age to the river and wait­ing to see my home and fam­ily. Luck­ily I have a very ac­tive imag­i­na­tion and had con­jured up in my head scenes far worse than the re­al­ity. There were no stranded cray­fish on the front lawn, but the front lawn was now ten me­tres higher than it had been when I left for the raft trip four days ear­lier. Mum, Dad and my brother were all sur­prised and re­lieved to see me dropped off on the drive­way. I gave them a quick hug then checked to see that the Jack Rus­sells and my pet pig were safe and sound. Ad­ven­ture over, now it was cleanup time.

When I even­tu­ally got to my cot­tage, lit­er­ally split in half by the up­lifted fault but some­how still stand­ing, the first thing I picked up out of the rub­ble was a paint­ing of a quote I'd done ear­lier in the year. “You are a ghost, rid­ing a meat coated skele­ton made from star­dust, rid­ing a rock through space. Fear noth­ing.” Quite fit­ting I thought. Can't wait to get back on that river!

This ar­ti­cle was writ­ten al­most two months on from the cat­a­strophic

Novem­ber 14th 7.8 mag­ni­tude earth­quake that hit the top of the South Is­land of New Zealand.

To check out the recipe for Genevieve’s Spiced Ap­ple Cake, head to page 106.

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