Thursday 26th October: Timaru to Christchurch - MASSIVE ATTACK "Karmacoma"
In another instance of a recurring theme, we woke early. Hastened by the lack of things to do in Timaru, we were soon on the road, driving up the scenic East Coast Highway. Despite being the main road down the South Island, the lack of traffic was a surprise. Occasionally, a double articulated lorry was seen. Due to the incredible power house installed in these road bound behemoths, they are very tough to overtake, even if you had a real need to do so. The mighty Pacific continued its relentless quest to erode the South Island's East Coast away to our right as we sailed effortlessly up the highway.
About halfway between Timaru and Christchurch, we veered off the main road towards the quaint Victorian town of Geraldine. Despite the beautiful buildings, good enough to adorn a biscuit tin, we continued through and turned back to the North again. Shortly after leaving Geraldine, we headed off the beaten track into the real Wop-Wops of the Mackenzie Country. Ahead of us lay the vast mountain ranges of the Southern Alps, still swathed in bright snow at the summits. We drove for a further 30km, through the scenic forest reserves in the shadow of Mount Peel. Eventually, we arrived at our intended destination: Rangitata Rafts.
The rafting company owned a large wooden lodge, virtually in the middle of nowhere. Set in an idyllic rural location, the surrounding fields were filled with sheep, various types of cows and deer. By the time we arrived at the lodge, the sun was shining brightly and not a cloud could be seen in the sky. Four other people, all from Ireland, were there already; waiting to take part in a rafting trip that promised no less than two grade V rapids.
|The lodge at the rafting centre. You can probably just make out the brown dog at the base of the steps.|
We sat and lay for a while in the sun. Often, a large friendly brown dog would come and lay next to us in the sun. Just as we were starting to cook, a bus and another camper arrived simultaneously, dropping off the last four rafters; a surfy couple from Melbourne - Tim and Jenny - and a pair of Dutch rowers - Mathieu and Linke.
With all customers now in attendance, we were offered a very early lunch (it was about 10.30am) before being kitted out in wet suits and rafting garb for the trip ahead. We then leapt on a minibus and were driven for half an hour on gravel tracks and past vast tracts of verdant pasture up to the 'put in' point of the Rangitata River.
The scenery was amazing. Looking up stream, the towering peaks of the Southern Alps stood like a dozen surly sentries staring down on the blue glacial flow of the river. The Rangitata itself at this point displayed a wide gravel and rock-strewn flood plain through which two wide and flat water flows passed gently. Downstream, the first utterings of a gorge cutting could be seen with the waters flowing down amongst it.
After drinking in the views, we got into our raft. Our boat consisted of our guide Hewie who was a man sporting a Lou Vincent beige brigade growth of facial hair and an outgoing personality to match. Taking up the front positions were the long-limbed Mathieu and myself. Behind us were the Aussie Jenny and Mathieu's partner Linke and taking up the rear positions were Tim and my Jenny.
The initial stretch of the river was very flat and gave us a chance to hone our technique under Hewie's tutelage. At first, Hewie was worried that the right hand side of the raft might be unbalanced due to Mathieu's long arms and rowing technique when compared to mine. However, my strength of stroke and Mathieu's inability to respond to commands to 'back paddle' meant we retained our initial seats.
As it became clear that we were ready for the rapids, we steered into a Grade II section. Mathieu's failure to respond to a "lean in" command saw him fall out of the raft and into the river flow. Thanks to Hewie's training, I was able to quickly extricate him from the water.
The next section, the long Grade III section called "The Pencil Sharpener" proved to be a tough one to negotiate, but very exciting as Hewie had us spinning our boat around as we went down. The next two rapids were the Grade V sections, before which we stopped the boats and got out to have a look at the forthcoming rapids. We were told by Hewie how to negotiate them perfectly. We got back in our rafts with some trepidation as we put our lives at risk.
|Our crew start to negotiate some more white water. Hewie's at the back standing up.|
As I'm sure you can guess, we safely negotiated the rapids with no loss of life. Halfway through one rapid though, we caught our raft on a rock that it then attempted to wrap itself around. As Hewie tried to instill a sense of panic, the raft gradually filled up with water before inevitably breaking loose and floating off effortlessly down the river.
That was the real rapids negotiated with - ones where the stunt woman from "The River Wild" had learnt her trade. The remainder of the trip was taken up with some small rapids, an opportunity to leap from a 10m high ledge (after the similar leap on the Kawarau River, I chickened out) and then a jolly little float down the river thanks to our life jackets for Tim, Mathieu and I.
Then it was over, we walked out of the river and loaded the rafts on a trailer pulled by a bus. It took ten minutes to get back to the lodge where, following hot showers, we were offered a barbeque and a CD full of photos. Whilst we ate our sausages, we chatted with the team at the lodge. It turned out that the bus driver had once been a New Zealand Olympic rower. Unfortunately, interesting as this was, we had places we needed to get to, so after an hour or so, we left.
After tracing our way back down through the Peel Forest, we breezed across the expansive Canterbury Plains on die-straight roads that surge across the obstacle devoid plains for kilometres. We passed through tiny villages with names reminding us of places from back home - Arundel and Ealing - before hitting route one at the large but uninspiring double towns of Tinwald and Ashburton. From there, our drive followed the railway, passing infrequently over vast flood plains and low rivers into the conurbation of Christchurch.
After working our way into the city, negotiating traffic lights, roundabouts and other street furniture that we hadn't seen for a while, we stopped at a pub to pick up a bottle of red wine called "Roaring Meg" before parking up on a driveway in Salisbury Street. The house, about a mile from the city centre, is the residence of Chantal - a Dutch girl who played for Jenny's cricket team in the New Forest - and her partner Pete.
|Chantal and Pete in their own, very pleasant, back garden in Central Christchurch.|
Chantal and Pete had moved to Christchurch a few months before we arrived in Wellington, having previously lived there in 2004.
We drank and chatted with them into the small hours. We spent this time catching up on the last eight months; our travels, their travels, plans to see the Ashes and so on. Various subjects passed our lips as the wine ran out and the beer stockpile gradually diminished. As time passed, we slowly drifted off to bed on their spare room's floor, aided by our camper van's cushions and our own sleeping bags.