We got on the road from Auckland around 9 AM and arrived at our destination nestled in the secluded Taharua Valley, Poronui Lodge, 5 hours later, where we were welcomed with a breath taking scenery.
After offloading the cars and getting our gear ready for early departure the next day, we were told that we have 5 minutes to get into our togs and make a bee line across the river to the other side. Not easy for some as the water was freezing! That evening our very own in-house chef Jeremy Fry whipped up a great meal, and soon afterwards we all in our beds for an early night. The next morning we all got ready for our trip down the Mohaka River.
The sky was cloudy and rain was pouring at frequent intervals and was carried by an icy wind, but with life jackets and paddles in our hands we were ready for our rendezvous. The A-Team was formed by pure chance. It all came down to where the bags would fit, but Lady Luck proved on our side. Under Captain Dryden was his battle-ready crew: Fe-Supreme, Leong ‘Power Stroke’ Choo, Clifford the Big Red Dog and James the Paddle Master. After allowing the B Team to lead for the first few minutes out of sympathy, we began the domination, but it was not handed to us on a platter. It seem like the B team had a strategy – watch the A team’s every move and do not make the same mistakes!
With more changes in lead than an America’s Cup race on a day of fickle winds, the teams relentlessly pursued one another over two days and 50km of water. On edge at all times, the trailing raft would be constantly analysing the upcoming river, trying to read an advantage the others may not have spotted. The quality of the skipper was paramount. Since the B-Team was usually trailing, often we would hear “back to work guys”, we felt like a brave and noble lion trying to defend his kill from a pack of opportunistic hyenas, forever breathing down our necks. A single lapse in concentration, or a rock submerged just below the surface was all it would take for the hyenas to pounce, mercilessly claiming the lead as our raft lay perched motionless and vulnerable atop a violent and dangerous rapid. “All hands on deck!!!”
Captain Dryden would shout as the crew leapt into battle stations, bouncing the raft and at times even braving the tempest of the icy waters and the raging torrents; putting one’s own warmth and dry gear on the line for the benefit of the team. The Big Red Dog would regularly be the first to sacrifice himself, diving over before Captain Dryden could even begin to issue the command and, using his brute strength, he would lever the boat off the trap, diving back in only in the nick of time as the raft shot forward, no longer held back by the rock.
The challenges came seemingly without relief. If it was not the cold, the rapid or the inclement weather, it was the monster eels who were known to rip a foot clean off if someone was ever naïve enough to dangle their leg over the side. In addition to the savage wildlife, many puzzle like bends in the river presented themselves; requiring a complex series of manoeuvres that made the Argentine tango look like childs play. The A-Team quickly patented the ‘Bounce & Twirl’ or the ‘Slam & Pirouette’ as Captain Dryden gracefully guided the raft through these precarious obstacle courses.
It was at some point during the second day that the friendly competition was temporarily set aside. The two teams, under the careful guidance of the experienced RiverMaster Matt Currie, needed to negotiate a particularly treacherous section of the river. The RiverMaster demonstrated the dangers of a potential ‘fold’ and entrapment in the raft on a large boulder which presented itself in the centre of perhaps the most violent section of rapids. The RiverMaster expertly spotted dangers which would be unnoticeable to the untrained eye. Putting aside the strong tribalism, the team’s swapped positions and worked together, guiding one another’s raft through the rapids.
The river was not without its pleasures however, offering up natural hot springs and sumptuous riverside accommodation, where Mother Nature kindly released the sun for a few beautiful hours as we rested up and managed to dry our gear before feasting on massive, aged, rib-eye steak like Vikings at Valhalla. It was clear that the B-Team would have their work cut out for them if they wished to win the series, but the second day proved to be mostly a repeat of the first. The A-Team established clear dominance, even if often only by a small margin – proving the quality of our opposition. As the day wore on, some members of the B-Team began to flag, suffering from hypothermia, fatigue and general exhaustion. The A-Team, too, felt the effects on their bodies of the past two day’s labours, but managed to hold it together to claim the ultimate victory! Paddle up!
We look forward to a re-match!