Another epic coast-to-coast journey

An account of a trip recently conducted by Tim Sikma and Joe Jagusch in February this year as a re-enactment of a trip carried out 116 years ago by the Park brothers. Tim is currently researching further information on the original Park brothers' trip for a future article. If you can help with further information please contact Tim on

A few years ago the NZRCA published in NZ Canoeing a gruelling account about a famous historic NZ kayak journey that was carried out in wooden kayaks 116 years ago by the Park brothers (George and Jim). The expedition involved kayaking/trudging from the West Coast, up the Taramakau River, over Harper Pass (Southern Alps), across Lake Sumner, and down the Hurunui River to the East Coast. The journey took George Park approximately nine and a half days to reach the Hurunui River mouth and then he spent a further three and a half days kayaking down the coastline to Lyttelton. Unfortunately for Jim Park he only got as far as the Hurunui Hotel before his kayak became too badly damaged for him to continue.

The NZRCA article stirred my interested in doing a re-enactment of the trip. The last sentence in the article commented on how few would consider trying to do the trip in a kayak these days. That comment was all I needed to spur me into doing the trip. For safety reasons I thought it would be best to do the trip with at least one other person. However, since the trip would be more of an epic endurance adventure rather than a pleasure cruise, I knew companions would be hard to find. I thought my friend 'Crazy' Joe Jagusch would be crazy enough for the adventure and he was.

Album: Another epic coast-to-coast journey

Album: Coast to Coast, February 2006

Images of the trip by Tim and Joe.

(12 images)

Joe and I decided to use a two person Topo-Duo for this trip as it was the heaviest whitewater boat (30kg+) we could find, which would best give us the feeling of what it must have been like to carry 43kg wooden kayaks over Harper Pass on the original trip. The Topo-Duo (which was borrowed from the UCCC) had the added advantage that it was more suitable for running the class III sections on the Hurunui River (that the Park brothers portaged) and being plastic the Topo-Duo was robust. However, the big disadvantage is that with its short length the Topo-Duo has a very low glide ratio (speed) compared to a 17 foot wooden kayak that, unfortunately for us, made the flat and slow braided sections of the Hurunui River a lot slower and harder going than it probably was on the original trip.

Joe and I started our trip at Kumara Beach on the West Coast at the mouth of the Taramakau River on 4th of February 2006. We managed to get about 30-45 minutes of upstream paddling before the river became too swift and featureless to allow further progress. This point was about 100m upstream of the Taramakau road/rail bridge. From there onwards, Joe and I trudged and carried the boat with all our gear up the river, over rocks, and over Harper Pass for three days using a variety of dragging and carrying methods.

Near the top of the Harper Pass we encountered two German trampers who to our amazement did not seem to blink an eye at the sight of two kayakers carrying a heavy two person kayak over the Southern Alps. However, at Harper Biv., down on the East coast side of the pass, we encountered an English tramper (Stephen Penn), who was most amazed with what we were doing, and went about performing an interview and a short video on us, as part of his BBC Radio documentary about his own epic journey (tramping from Cape Reinga to Bluff).

It took us three long days to get to Hut 3 in the Hurunui catchment. It took another two hours of boat-hauling on the fourth day before we could launch the kayak into the Hurunui River and finally do some paddling. With the very low Hurunui River level (about 17 cubic metres at the Mandamus flow recorder site) we could only start paddling about 3km above Lake Sumner, and even then the paddling involved a lot of jumping in and out of the boat and pushing the boat though the shallows until we reached Lake Sumner.

It was slow paddling down the flatter class II sections of the upper Hurunui River, but we made short work of the steeper class III sections ('Maori Gully' and 'the Chute'). Joe paddled intensely on the grade III sections (as it was his first time on a class III piece of water), while I steered the kayak from the back seat. We took the easiest lines down the rapids where possible, as with all our gear in the boat and without the backup of fellow paddlers to perform a rescue, we were not in a position to take unnecessary risks. At the 'The Chute' we did a bank scout as I had never seen the rapid before. With a good line sorted out in my mind and Joe's strong paddling we ended up shooting a fantastic line down 'the Chute'.

It took us a long 14 hours to get from Hut 3 to the Hurunui Hotel - which we made just on closing time. Travis, the owner of the Hurunui Hotel, provided us with hot showers and comfortable beds for our aching bodies and even turned the cooking vats back on to cook us some huge servings of fish and chips for a late evening meal. And yes, we deserved our DB beers at the pub.

Day five started really well with a big breakfast at the Hurunui Hotel. We got Travis to provide us with a large packed lunch since we had run out of food. Travis provided an excellent lunch and even threw in extra bacon and cheese in our burgers and other goodies knowing that we had a big day ahead of us if we were to make the Hurunui River mouth by the end of the day. It took us a full eight hours to get from the Hurunui Hotel to the Hurunui River mouth. Aptly the weather turned southerly and started to rain heavily (with the water we had been wanting for the last couple of days to crank the river levels up) just us we got to the Hurunui River mouth and the impending long cold wait for our shuttle driver.

All in all it was a very hard five day trip which I will never do again, and probably no one will ever do again in a similar style. I developed a greater respect for the original trip, and what they achieved with their wooden kayaks. Joe and I realised that while we may be fit, athletic blokes, our modern bodies are not accustomed to the heavy lifting and hauling that was a common part of everyday life 100 years ago. All I can say is that they must have been hard bastards back then, and the Park brothers have never received the recognition they should have.

As a bit of an afterthought, Joe and I have just realised we may have inadvertently just done the first ever coast to coast crossing in a tandem kayak.