Wednesday, March 19, 2008

North Island, NZ: Ol' Blue Moves South...

After livin' the easy life on the Kaituna for a few days, Ol' Blue was gettin hungry for something new. We headed to the other local Bay of Plenty run, the Wairoa. River goats warmly welcomed us to their home as we did two runs on this classic river. No pics of the rapids, but the river character reminded me of my home run back in Boonetown, the Taugs. Mint!!!

This is a really gorgeous gorge, ruined by my ridiculous mug. (Sorry about that!) But the picture allows me to say how amazing the Awesome Gorge is. After the Wairoa, we had to start heading south to catch a ferry in few days time, down to the South Island. We thought it'd be rude to drive by the Kaituna without doing one last run, so we stopped, and ended up getting to run the elusive Awesome Gorge beyond the take-out. It is a chilled out gorge, rapid-wise, but with walls shooting straight up on both sides, making eddies non-existent, and the awe-factor indeed awesome! Cheers to Sam for taking us in there, and to Tyler for rallying to do a second run!

This picture presents our next stop...the Aratiatia rapids of the Waikato River. These infamous rapids have a bigger reputation down here than Lord of the Rings. Sam Sutton, a cat I'd met briefly in Cali and again on the Kaituna, was super keen to come show us what they are all about. Thanks for that, bro!!!

Basically, the Aratiatia rapids are released four times a day, mostly just as a tourist attraction. Sam broke the rapids down into three separate pieces, Rapids A, B and C. This is a picture of Rapid A with no water in it. With water, it becomes a monstrous big water chargefest, with high burl potential. The crux of the rapids is at the end of Rapid A, where a lethal weir is formed. Rapid B is a ridiculously full-on meltdown move that is a guaranteed burlfest. And Rapid C is the reward for all your hard work, a straight up chargefest that GOES!!! Once down at river level, scouting Rapid A from the top gave a better perspective of the challenge that lay ahead. My heart was pounding harder than I think it ever has. The roar of the water, the reputation of the rapids, Sam's talk of "If I die..." and the steepness of such a large amount of water all were swirling about in my head, asking me the question...Do you really want to drop into this? After seeing Sam grease his line and letting my heart rate clam down a bit, I was ready to give it go. I could talk for hours about this experience, but all I'll say is that it went great, and I couldn't have been happier. Thanks to Sam for firing us up about the whole gig, cheers to Jamie, Tyler and Ryan for setting safety at the Weir (A MUST!), and thanks to Wheels for shooting footy!

(Video footage of the North Island, including Aratiatia, to appear soon on Rapid Transit Video!!! Keep yer eyes peeled for that!)(VIDEO HAS BEEN PUT ON-LINE...linkage on the Team Riot Blog.

The next day we were reminded why we risk so much, just to run whitewater...because if the Nazis come and kill us, then at least we've done something productive with our time on this earth! If you're wondering what is productive about kayaking, go kayaking and then think about it.

Next up on our journey south was a run called the Ohinepango into the Waihohonu River. The gorgeous scenery enjoyed while waiting for Ol' Blue to be dropped off at the bottom could be considered foreshadowing for what was to come on the river. This is me looking east.

Then I turned around to the west, and watched this volcano erupt right in front of my eyes! Turns out, they were just clouds. The day ended up being a real treat. The Ohinepango was a constant class III rapid containing no eddies, and a few micro-gorges with small waterfalls in them. The width of the river at its widest point, was 8 feet. To stop, you had to grab hold of the rocks or grass on the edge of the creek.

Then it dropped into the Waihohonu, which was absolutely, stunningly beautiful. Crystal clear water, gorgeous native bush and blue bird skies made this day on the river most excellent. This is a picture of Wheels scouting the "mandatory portage," which was runnable.

Waterfalls poured into the river from cliffs lining the bank. This picture does absolutely no justice of its wonder, but again we could have sworn we were on some remote run in the jungle of Central America! The monkeys were everywhere...and they wouldn't stop banging their cymbals.

After spending the night at OPC, (the Sir Edmond Hilary Outdoor Pursuits Center...Sir Ed passed away within a couple days of our stay there. New Zealand was completely devastated to loose one of its heroes...mad props to one brave dude!!!) we drove right along the Tongariro National Park. The park is NZ's oldest National Park, and contains three active volcanoes...Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe (pictured), and Tongariro.

Even if there aren't any National Parks to drive through, or volcanoes to gawk at, driving in New Zealand is anyways nice! Anytime you hit the road, you know you're about to go somewhere amazingly cool, and getting there will no doubt be gorgeous! Ah, the freedom of traveling!!!

Kiwis are so stoked about kayaking, they actually grow kayaks out of the ground. They're like flowers...without petals.

The last river we hit on the North Island was the Rangitikei. For some reason, floating down another river that was stupidly pretty, was a great way to spend yet another day in New Zealand! Here's Wheels floating through "the Narrows." A bit of a different feel from the Gnars back home! But still great, nonetheless.

Wheels dropping into a bit of some of that water in the color of white.

This is Ol' Blue in its element. Boat on the roof, chillin' next to some water, itchin' for the next adventure. This is a picture taken from the porch of Anthony and Marina's place. Thanks to them for putting us up for the night in style!!! (If you're keen to do some sea kayaking in Fiji, or some hiking in Italy, these two cats are the people you need to talk to. Check out Tamarillo, their tropical adventure company!)

This is a picture that is worth clicking on to enlarge. The view from the point just around the corner from Anthony and Marina's place. Sweet as!!!

The trip moves on to the Mainland, the South Island, this is the boat that took us there. Stay tuned for the real action...dragonflies, cavities, bus chases...oh MY!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

New Zealand: The Journey Begins...

I'd be lying if I said that this is where the adventure began. But if you subtract all the who-la in getting to this point outside the LAX terminal...this is where the adventure began. The first task was to get my buggy and I (my cousin Sophie stayed in her home-land, Cali-forn-i-a) from the point at which this picture was taken, to inside the terminal door and to the check-in counter. Not exactly an easy task, considering that doors to any airport are never as wide as three kayaks, or the transformation I had to under-go to become Moses, parting the sea of people inside the airport. It all felt rather fitting though, because I wasn't going halfway across the world not to be challenged!

Ever since I started flying with kayaks, I seem to have developed a habit of getting to a destination without boarding a single flight I was originally booked for. Again, despite checking in my gear and I at LAX while the final boarding call echoed over the masses, I arrived in Auckland, New Zealand early New Years Day morning, continuing my streak.

My earlier-than-expected arrival left me as an observer on the group-W bench outside the airport, waiting for action. This train of buggies went by and I was immediately impressed with their resemblance to ducklings, despite their racial differences.

When I first got to New Zealand, I knew one person in the whole country. Luckily that one man showed up at the airport the same day I arrived! Ladies and Gentlemen...Mr. Gareth Wheeler, A.K.A. "Wheels." Cheers for that, bro!!!

With all the fresh toys loaded up in the back of Ol' Blue, (Wheel's faithful Toyota Hiace that gets 'er done! Better introduction to Ol' Blue later) we were off to the Bay of Plenty region where our first eddy awaited our arrival. (HUGE Thanks out to the kind folk at RIOT Kayaks for making it possible to bring a fresh Boogie, Magnum AND Astro to the land down under!!!)

Driving into gorgeous country side, I was awe-struck by many things; mostly just their misspellings of words even I can spell!

This is a picture of me, happy to be in a place I've dreamed of visiting since I was a wee one! Couldn't have wiped that silly grin off my face to save your life!!!

Day 2 in New Zealand and I was already about to get on the water! This was my first glimpse of whitewater in NZ..."Okere Falls" and "The Weir" on the Kaituna River. We walked along a bit of a track to look at these and the biggest drop of the run, "Tutea Falls."

This is a tunnel. I've had some cool experiences with tunnels in NZ. Better so than my experiences with tunnels in the US. If tunnels were put on a description meter, this one would hover in at the warm and fuzzy point. Fuzzy, like a bumblebee's bum, minus the stinger, because my description of a stinger might include the word warm, but probably not fuzzy. Really though, there is some fuzz to the buzz down here!

Speaking of fuzz...fuzzy-wuzzy was a bear, fuzzy wuzzy had no hair, fuzzy wuzzy wasn't as fuzzy as people thought he was, now was he?

And then...there was kayaking. And it was fun...REALLY fun!!! This is Wheels on Okere Falls, the first drop of any significance you come to on the Kaituna.

Directly after Okere comes The Weir. Here's Wheels coming in hot, disappearing into the shadows.

Yours truly, in the true state of being yours, planting the almighty boof stroke to perpetuate the horizontal forward movement of my Astro over "The Weir."

The Kaituna is absolutely stunning. It twists its way through a gorge covered in all sorts of native NZ bush hanging down from everywhere. It's like riding in a pink, convertible Cadillac in the Macy's Day Parade, streamers coming down at you from all over, except the streamers are branches, vines, and palms. I kept expecting monkeys to jump out into the river and start heckling and laughing at you saying, "Tricked you, stupid American!!! You thought you were in New Zealand!?! Haha, this is Coast Rica!!! Puerto Vida, hombre!!!" Was it in our minds?

Another bend in the river, and it just gets prettier.

Just when life can't get much better, the world-famous Kaituna Get-out Hole appears for your freestylin' pleasure! These cats showed up with their ducky and took it back to the old school. It has been said many times...Enders are BACK!

Around the bend from the playspot, and the normal get-out is Trout Pool Falls. If your day just needs a bit more spice to it, this can be your solution. It's about a 12 footer that lands in a hole with a backwash as far back as the drop is high! Not a place to miss your boof! Here's a shot Wheels took of me trying to avoid becoming fish soup.

In New Zealand, even the take-outs are purtty!!! And yes, it's true, there are sheep here.

Cram into the truck; drive two minutes, and your back at the put-in, ready for another round!!! I'm tellin' you...Livin' the good life!!!

I'll leave you with a classic New Zealand road sign. They're brutally honest here with their signage...Like a zip folks, like a YKK zip.

Sorry for the delay in activity on this site. To be completely honest, I've just been living a dream. When you live a dream that you just can't get enough of, you don't want to wake-up! It's March now, school has started and the weather's starting to show signs of fall; the dream isn't over, but the dream summer vacation is. What I've covered in this post only scratches the surface. I think it's about three days worth of pictures. (I didn't even get a shot of the biggest drop on the run!!! Wait for the video for that!) Stay tuned for more, as I will re-live the epic trip I've had going North to South in one of the most gorgeous places on planet earth!!! HHhhheeeeehhaaaawwww!!! (Like a donkey, not a sheep)