Rafting the Mohaka river is one of my great joys. Even on the cold and wet days, there’s a chance of a hot pool at a campsite. On a good day, there’s sparkling water and picnics on the banks, pirates and cliff jumping. And it’s always an education.
Last trip I battled against a new captain (sorry Barry!) for half a day before one of the other paddlers told me to relax and follow orders. Barry was “ferry gliding”, a technique I hadn’t seen before.
Rather than head the raft down the current, he kept the raft on an angle and let the power of the water push the boat across the flow from one eddy to another, crossing bank to bank with very smooth control.
Barry told us ferry gliding was a technique used extensively in colonial days for ferry crossings (hence the name). In the 1800s New Zealand rivers were crossed – in order of sophistication – on foot, on horseback, by canoe, by punt or a larger ferry and very occasionally by a bridge. Early colonial bridges were often pretty makeshift and were regularly washed away.
The punts were attached by a pully wire to a high cable hung across a river, and, as with our ferry gliding across the Mohaka, the flow of the river (or the pull of the tide) worked with the angle of the ferry punt to push passengers across the water.
We willingly throw ourselves down the rapids in an inflatable raft with our life jackets, helmets, wetsuits, PLBs, maps & compass, the car and the trailer parked up at the end with a change of clothes, a thermos of hot tea and a comfortable ride home. And we call ourselves adventurers.
Here’s an evocative extract from Wanganui Herald, Volume I, Issue 177, 26 December 1867, Page 2. It’s typical reading from the period!
An inquest was held this morning in the Exchange Hotel [Wanganui], before H. J. Perham, Esq., Coroner, and a jury of twelve, on the body of John CONROY, who was drowned off a punt on Friday morning. James HORNE said I am a soldier on leave I belong to the Royal Artillery; the last time I saw the deceased was on Friday morning about 7 o’clock on a punt going up to Waipakaka; when we got to Walker’s, at Aramaho, the deceased and I went ashore; I got a bottle of rum and we went aboard again, we then started up the river; we had got about thirty chains from Walker’s; Conroy said, boys, we’ll have a jolly dinner to-day. Conroy was at the bow of the boat; I was lighting my pipe, and had my back to him, when I heard a splash in the water; I rose to my feet, and saw Conroy about the length of the punt behind we then tried to back the punt, but he drifted faster than we could in about two minutes he went down with his arms up.