Mokau Victory!

Terry Lasenby describes a celebrationary descent of the Mokau River, now free from the immanent threat of hydro development. This article appeared in NZ Canoeing 11.2.

Bev checked the Mokau gauge and got back to me with a reading of 2.95m so I put some emails out to find keen paddlers for Sunday. We ended up with a big crew with Darrin, Stu, Michelle, Steve, Greg and myself from our Waikato club and Bruce Clark, Joe Anderson, Phil Boorman, Mark Thomas and Mike Gerrand from over the Kaimais, plus about seven or eight from the Auckland Uni club. On arrival at the put-in we found the level had dropped to 2.65m but the sun was shining and Wairere Falls pumping full force was a spectacular sight.

Everyone managed to avoid the first few holes and a few had rolls on the first drop leading down to the eddies directly above Little Huka. Here, most eddied out to check the line. When I say most, that excludes Darrin who didn’t realise where he was until it was too late. No problems though, he has bombed it before.

With a big crew it took a while for everyone to go through with Michelle doing the most spectacular yellow submarine imitation. With no carnage thus far we headed on down through Cork Screw and the other smaller rapids to Cow Rapid. At the bottom of this one at high flows there is an eddy that sometimes likes to play games with you so I kept going till I was in the next eddy down and stopped to watch. Most who caught the big eddy had to work hard to escape it but Jenifer from Auckland did multiple circuits before she finally managed to break through the line and continue on her way.

Next stop was Dragons Tooth where the level was high enough for us to have a right and a left line option. Most took the hard man’s line on the right including Greg who had started the trip paddling his Mystic which had miraculously turned into a Smoothy somewhere along the way. Everyone avoided that big hole just on the other side of the final dragons molar. Except Greg. He eventually got surfed out the lower end of the hole. With that little bit of entertainment over we stopped for lunch.

For those that didn’t know about the proposed dam I pointed out the cone up on the hillside that marks the spot where the dam would be and shows how much of the run we would lose. At this level the river moves on nicely even in the flat sections and the Tauranga crew who had never been to the Mokau before were impressed by the size of some of the waves.

Little Aratiatia was at its intimidating best with huge waves and very disturbed water for a long way down the run out. It is, however, generally safer at this level. Greg got smoothly through in the Smoothy and then took my boat through as well while I took pics and kept the throw bag close just in case. He says the Habitat paddles itself anyway and he may be right because he hardly put the paddle in the water the whole way through. Matt from Auckland started his run with a back loop, a quick roll and then finished with a more dignified line to finish. Everyone else made it though easily enough although Steve G also picked a manky place to test his roll.

Flying Flippy on Little Huka. Photo: Terry Lasenby
Flying Flippy on Little Huka. Photo: Terry Lasenby

One more rapid to go and the trip would be done and dusted but this is where things went a bit pear-shaped for me. When I arrived above the drop, people were already running the left line. From above, it looked as if they were getting through ok although some seemed to be paddling franticly to clear the bottom of the drop. On the many previous trips here I’ve always gotten out to check which line is best but this time I went ahead and ran it without looking and took the right of centre line that had worked on other occasions. Bad call. At this flow that’s where the tow-back was strongest and although I timed my boof nicely and landed cleanly it pulled me back in and smashed me.

I pulled the deck for the inevitable swim. I’ve never seen anyone flush from this side and I didn’t want to waste any of my breath fighting it because there’s usually a bit of down time. Well, I can tell you I needed all of that breath. I got pushed real deep and seemed to take ages to resurface and although I was well away from the drop when I did come up, no sooner had I taken a breath than I was pulled down in a sucky seam for another short sub-daylight-mystery move.

There were plenty of people around to get me to the bank and retrieve my boat so no real harm done in the end. My pride was a bit battered but I really did deserve it. With that last bit of entertainment supplied by me, everyone was in relax mode for the flat paddle out. As we paddled the flat section to the take out, Matt showed us his planking skills across two kayaks. I’ve always thought that planking and some of the words that rhyme with it are quite inappropriate but actually it was a clever touch of humour to end the trip and showed he must have awesome stomach muscles. We all stopped at the Thirsty Weta in Otorohanga for a beer and hot wedges on the way home and it was suggested that I should be drinking from one of my paddling booties (and I will). But having survived a swim in the river, there was no way I wanted to risk almost certain death by drinking from a booty that had just walked back to the van through cow pats, goose poos and Mokau mud.

A few weeks after this trip we received the great news that King Country Energy have withdrawn their appeal to the Environment Court action that could possibly have given them approval to build a dam. This really is the best news we’ve had for a while and shows the value of being members of organisations like Whitewater NZ and your local clubs. Together we are strong and have a voice that is being heard.

A big thanks to everyone who sent in submissions, went to the hearings and showed up in force with their kayaks the day the news media visited the river. There were many people who gave their time freely to the cause. Two of the kayaking community’s real gentlemen that come to my mind instantly are Craig Peters from the Ruahine club and Alan Bell from the Hutt Valley club. These guys had to travel more than most to be at the hearings and without these two our case would not have been as strong.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m not the most eloquent person about so thanks to all those who spoke so beautifully and passionately at the first hearing in Te Kuiti. The Mokau is the Waikato Club’s closest long run during the winter and we use it frequently. So to everyone involved in saving it, thank you once more from the bottom of our hearts.