Interest has been expressed in the Park brothers since Graham Egarr mentioned them in an article in 'Sea Spray'. The following is an extract from 'The Press' (Christchurch newspaper), Saturday' August 26, 1978. It was written by Ken Coates from details collected by Mr Peter Lucas, of Harihari. Other exploits of the Park brothers are briefly mentioned in M.E. Fyfe's book 'A History of the Sport of Canoeing in N.Z.' The Hurunui is considered a Grade 3 river, and further details of it are available in the Canterbury Canoeist's River Guide.
"George Park was mad keen on canoeing in the latter part of the last century. Among his exploits were a crossing of Cook Strait, an exploration down the coastline and rivers of the West Coast, a trip down the Manawatu River, and a paddle among the Marlborough Sounds.
He once took a line out to a coastal ship in trouble on the West Coast in rough Seas. But the most heart-warming story about this persistent paddler concerned his courtship. He was sweet on a girl who lived at remote Okarito, which at that time could be reached only along rough, boggy bush tracks. So George Park, who lived at Hokitika, regularly took to the water in his canoe, paddled out to sea, and then into the long estuary to pay his sweetheart visits. They were eventually married.
The most hazardous expedition he undertook was a coast-to-coast crossing of the South Island over Christmas holiday of 1889-1890."
Compared with the way in which today's speeding jet boat drivers skim the South Island rivers the early canoeists of the last century had to battle against tremendous odds. Little is remembered about these hardy paddlers. Their craft were fragile but well built.
One of the most daring of the country's canoeists in the 1890's was a Scot with pioneering blood in his veins, George Park, born 1863. He was a rugby player of renown in Westland, but the excitement of canoeing drew him to the unexplored inland waterways and lakes of the West Coast. In December, 1889, George and his brother, Jim, a solicitor, decided to make an attempt to canoe across the South Island - one of the most daring canoeing expeditions attempted in New Zealand.
The brothers set out from Hokitika for the Taramakau River with their two canoes, Sun beam and One One, loaded on a wagon. It took a full day to get to the river and on Christmas Day, soaked by teeming West Coast rain, they battled up the swirling Taramakau. At rapids they had to haul the canoes upstream by tow-lines. It was laborious and slow. Just before nightfall they came upon a disused hut near the Otira River and camped for the night.
It took another full day to get within sight of the saddle of the Main Divides. The year before, a severe earthquake had turned the mountain area into a chaotic jumble of jagged rocks and yawning chasm. Slips had crashed down on the few poor tracks. The tortured mountain-sides made the already difficult task of carrying swags and canoes to the summit of the 3141ft pass a trial of strength and endurance.
It took two days of back-breaking toil, with many stops and detours, to reach the summit. The two men spent the fifth day resting in a comfortable camp on the bed of the Hurunui River. The area up to this point was known to George Park because he had worked there with survey parties erecting trig stations. But from the Hurunui on, the country was unknown to both canoeists.
On the sixth day of their daring journey, the men noted that the scenery had changed from rain forest and moss-covered rocks to tussock-covered hills and bare rocks, with beech forest in the valleys. Long slides of shingle and rocks at crazy angles also showed the effects of the earthquake on the eastern side of the Alps. Huge angular rocks jutted out from the river banks and protruded from the water. Dozens of sheer waterfalls made progress difficult, painstaking, and dangerous.
There was little navigable water in the upper reaches of the Hurunui so the brothers decided to lower their canoes down the boiling creeks on long lines. They were not lacking in courage but they had no intention of drowning. While threading their way beside the twisting water that wound its way through the distorted terrain, George Park's canoe was sucked down under a huge log by the force of the water. It popped up like a cork on the other side, still buoyant from the water-tight compartments. The canoe was undamaged, but it was lucky for George that he was holding the end of the line at the time and was not in the craft.
The brothers were able to climb aboard further down the river and made it safely almost to Lake Sumner. But just as he was entering the lake, Jim Park's canoe was ripped along the bottom by a rock. Water gushed in and it looked as though the canoe would founder. George hauled his brother and the half-submerged craft to the shore. The canoe was taken out and the two men went to work with their repair kit - brass screws, copper nails, timber and red lead.
By the following morning One One was repaired and ready for the water again. But Lake Sumner was lashed by a strong south-west gale and waves hid the two canoeists from each other. George Park became exhausted and only just battled his way to the shore.
The brothers bailed out their canoes and waited until the wind died down. They paddled across the lake to the outflow of the Hurunui River. The first half mile was easy going, the swirling current rocking the canoes gently. Hordes of blue ducks were sent winging skywards from the rocks along the banks.
Swifter and swifter the river flowed until the canoes hurtled down the throat of Boulder Fall. The two men frantically plied paddles amid the roar of water and flying spray. Cliffs and gigantic boulders flashed by until they were vomited Into calmer water. It was an exhilarating, exciting [section], but [possibly] the dangerous section of the trip, and in spite of aprons on the canoes, the two men were drenched both with sweat and water.
They had been told that the river narrowed at the gorge to a distance they could jump. but neither had been willing to try to stop once caught in the fast-moving flume. In any case the sides of the gorge were rocky and 200ft high. Instead they pushed on down more seething water and rapids covering 20 miles in a very short time.
They turned a bend in the river and noticed a hut. In response [to] a shout from George Park, a shepherd rubbed his eyes as if in doubt [about] what he saw. He and two mates helped the Parks haul their canoes on to the bank. They spent the night in the hut opposite Mount Noble. The sheep men briefed the canoeists on two dangerous rapids further downstream - at Maori Gully and the Shoot. They were hardly named to inspire the canoeists with confidence.
The Parks pushed off on New Year's Day, and at Maori Gully they eased the canoes down the rapids by rope. It was nine miles to the Glenmore River. The canoeists were glad of the warning they had received of the wild water of the Shoot. Here, fence posts thrown into the fast-moving water to be floated to properties adjacent to the river further down-stream, remained submerged for more than 30 chains before surfacing from deep water.
The Parks had no wish to see their canoes damaged so they carefully lowered them through the rapids by rope. Even so, one canoe was flipped over by the rip and shot into an eddy. Both canoes were undamaged and bailed out. Skilful use of paddles prevented the two men from coming to grief as they negotiated a long, tortuous gorge with succession of rapids and eddies.
Dog tired, the two men reached the Mandamas River near Tekoa Station and were pleased to reach open country. A surveyor from a camp nearby went down to the river to get water. He was astounded when he learned that the two canoeists, busy bailing out their craft, had travelled from the West Coast. The Park brothers were guests at the surveyors' camp that night.
The next day dawned in biting, ice-cold hail, but the brothers pushed along in the southerly storm on the ninth day of their journey. They passed under the northern railway bridge and were soon in a quiet eddy at the Waitohi and Hurunui Rivers' junction. This caused a stir in the bar of the Hurunui Hotel. A patron entered saying he had sighted debris floating in the river. He thought it could be 'a horse and cart in difficulties'.
A rescue party was hastily formed, but its members were astonished to sight two canoeists making for the river bank near the hotel. They took a lot of convincing that the two men had paddled most of the way from the Coast through the hazardous waterways of the Taramakau and Hurunui Rivers.
The brothers inspected their canoes and found One One had a leak which would take several hours to repair. Jim Park reluctantly decided to abandon the trip. His canoe was transported to Waikari and Jim caught a train to Christchurch. George Park, however, decided to complete the last 40 miles of river travelling. He passed under the Cheviot bridge and out into open country again.
The scene had now changed to a wide, shingle riverbed. Large numbers of swans, ducks, gulls and other birds rose in noisy confusion as the canoe approached. After another four miles the canoe was in the Hurunui lagoon. George had covered the 40 miles from [the] Hurunui Hotel in about four hours and, not a man to do things by halves, he decided to finish the trip by negotiating the river mouth, sailing out to sea, and heading for Lyttelton.
First, he found a suitable piece of driftwood to use as a mast, then he paddled to the bar. But the breaking seas sweeping in were too high to risk a crossing. So the resourceful George Park took the course he had often resorted to on the West Coast - he carried his canoe to the open beach, waded out through the breakers, clambered aboard. and glided into calmer waters beyond. He stepped the mast, rigged a small sail, and headed south. A fresh wind from the north sent him towards Motunau Island.
The wind was being so helpful that George decided to keep on until dark. But when he wanted to go ashore there were only jagged rocks in sight . At one stage the bow of the canoe became jammed between two rocks. After an anxious wait, a wave broke over the canoe and lifted the craft free.
It took several probes along the shore before a safe landing was made on a small sandy strip, - later found to be the only sandy beach for miles. George found a small stream of fresh water and boiled his billy. He cut tussock for a bed and pitched his tent. Next morning, the wind was too strong to paddle against so he went in search of the local homestead. He knocked on the door of the house, of a Mr Reece, of Monserrat, and he was warmly welcomed with a huge breakfast.
Back on the beach, the wind had dropped significantly, and after striding through the surf George again launched his canoe. He slogged against the head wind for about an hour, making slow progress. Then came spell of calm weather, followed by a wind from behind, and he made good time to opposite the mouth of the Waipara River.
On to the Ashley River, and seas were breaking around the craft, sometimes curling over the canoe . A specially designed apron kept too much water from getting into the well (cockpit). The buffeting from the waves opened a gash in the canoe's hull which had been repaired, flooding the aft compartment. This made the craft much less buoyant, and heavy and sluggish to handle in the head wind.
A tired George Park decided to chance it across the Waimakariri Bar. He paddled to a swingbridge at Kaiapoi and spent the night at Burnip's Hotel. The canoeist rose at 5a.m. to finish his trip. Four hours later he had crossed the Waimakariri Bar and was heading into a slight head wind bound for Lyttelton. But again, fate was against him.
The wind veered to the east and the sea became choppy. He struggled for some time, but eventually had to beach the canoe and hide it in tussocks in the sandhills north of New Brighton.
Next morning, a friend helped him to launch the canoe once more and with a favourable wind, he set sail for Sumner. Hundreds of people watched him from the beach.
But the battle was not yet over. As he rounded the point beyond Sumner, and before reaching Taylor's Mistake, a rough and choppy sea pitched the small canoe around like a cork. George was drenched in spite of his protective clothing. But the canoe remained buoyant. He paddled doggedly on past Godley Head and finally up Lyttelton Harbour where he slipped into the inner harbour at 6p.m. on January 5, 1890. He had covered 230 miles in 13 days by a method few would try today."