Extract from G E Mannering "With axe and rope in the New Zealand Alps"

An account of an 1889 canoe trip by George Edward Mannering and Marmaduke John Dixon down the Tasman, Pukaki and Waitaki rivers. Appendix II from "A history of the sport of canoeing in New Zealand" by Murray Fyfe, 1972: Extract from G. E. Mannering "With axe and rope in the New Zealand Alps", p122-3, p128.

On 13th December 1889 Mannering and Dixon left the Hermitage at Mt Cook and embarked on their 140 mile [225km] kayak trip down the Tasman River, across Lake Pukaki, down the Pukaki and Waitaki Rivers to the Waitaki Bridge. In the first 30 miles [48km] they dropped 739 feet [225m] from the Tasman glacier to Lake Pukaki at speeds of 10 knots [19kmh] in many places. Several strong rapids in the first mile opened up old cracks which kept filling the canoes and had them constantly mending the cracks with handkerchiefs and cloths. When they reached Lake Pukaki they were faced with a stiff nine mile paddle.

"As we scraped over the sandy shallows and pushed off into deep green water, my heart sank within me at the idea of having to cross the lake in its present rough state (for a strong nor'wester was blowing) in our frail canoes which were not built in watertight compartments and were quite unsuited for the work. Every 10 minutes or so I would have to stop paddling and bale [sic] for dear life with the lid of the billy and the craft would immediately swing round broadside on to the seas which seemed to do their best to upset her.

At first we kept edging away from the southern shore and about half way down the lake succeeded in getting within reasonable swimming distance, which, to a certain extent, we retained for a short time.

I made sure my hair would be grey like poor Bonnivards in Byron's "Prisoner of Chillon" before this lake was crossed; but soon the wind dropped and we paddled ashore at 9pm close to the hotel and called for brandy and hot water and seldom was the indulgence more justified."

"Survey of river from old moraine revealed a rushing seething mass of foam-covered water with numberless blocks of rock barring the clear passage of the current." They took six hours to navigate six miles [9.6km] in rapids so dangerous that the canoes had to be roped down; "clambering over water-worn and slippery rocks, tearing our way through the Wild Irishman scrub [matagouri] or wading a few steps middle-deep in the turbid water - bruising our legs against rocks, slipping down amid the slimy stones and scratching the skin off and receiving numerous thorns from the scrub" They had to portage past spots where a number of large rocks were close to the right bank. Dixon lost his paddle - Mannering gave his to Dixon who paddled after his own, caught it and jumped out and held [the] canoe within [a] few feet of [a] dangerous fall. By 7pm they had had enough and walked back along the rabbit fence to Pukaki Ferry. The next day as moraine deposits gave way to fluviatile rocks and the size of the stones diminished, they were able to paddle through quieter pools. Finally they reached the junction where the Ohau, Pukaki and Tekapo rivers joined to form the Waitaki (Crying Water) River with its six-mile wide bed narrowing into the Gorge.

"A survey from the cliffs, to above the stream, disclosed a tongue or groyne of rocks running out into the stream in an oblique from the Otago side and shooting the stretch of straight water followed, but the whole stream was confined in rocky banks so close together that one might throw a biscuit across and the pace of the current was something terrific. For half an hour we considered the situation, finally determining to shoot the rapid, there was really only about 8' or 10' of safe water close to the point of the groyne of rocks and this was right in the body of the current. On either hand were eddies and whirlpools of the most formidable character, which, in the event of us making a bad shot, might swirl us among the rocks on one side or the other and had such been the case we trembled to think what would have been our fate. However, at it we went, Dixon as usual leading with a head as cool as a cucumber, and I following like a spaniel after his master. One wild rush, a few strokes of the paddle. a mad tossing about in a sheet of crested foam, half-a-dozen bucketfuls of water on board, and we were through, breathing again as we tore down the hurrying, but straight and safe, current below.

To describe the mad plunging of the river through the gorge is not easy. For most part the river makes a succession of bends bordered by rocky cliffs on either hand, now and then masses or rock crops up through the water, against which the stream is banked up by the force of its mad career to a height of 10 or 12 ft [3m]. Immediately under the sides of the rock there are vicious looking heavings, eddies, and whirlpools which, if one chances to get into them twist the boat about like a feather blown upon the water's surface. A black swan and three cygnets kept ahead of us for the 1ast six miles of the gorge but eluded our pursuit in a back water."

They reached "Rugged Ridges", W. G. Rutherford's station, that evening, having travelled 132 miles [213km].