(Note: All the following images should enlarge when you click on them)
It has been quite hot the last week or so, reaching 30ºC (86ºF ) in the early afternoon and not dropping below about 16ºC (60ºF) at night. Days like these it's nice to get somewhere watery. Cool showers are an option, but I love to get out on the river or lake in my kayak. Want to come? You'll need shorts and a teeshirt, a hat, sunblock, and I'll bring a cold drink, some plums and a hefty wedge of the last of the Christmas cake. We'll tie down the kayaks onto the trailer, give the thrush babies a last-minute feed, and we're off.
15 minutes up the main highway and we turn off to the left. As soon as we enter the narrow fern-fringed lane, the busy-ness and heat of the day start to fall away...
Lots of cars down at the bridge, but there's a park for us.
Another day we could bring our togs and swim in the big pools above the falls. But today we'll give it a miss - there are too many people. We'll just go down the path for a look.
Today is a summer Sunday, and so it's one of the 26 days of the year when water is being allowed over the falls and down the Wairoa River (instead of being diverted through the big Ruahihi Hydo Power Station canal). So we could white water raft down over this grade 5 stretch of river and give ourselves a powerful adrenalin rush as we scream over the drops and churn around sharp massive boulders and rapids.
Perhaps another day?
Instead let's go a little further up the road to the big lake behind the dam. We go through the park gates and take the winding unsealed road. It opens out to grassy flat areas and cuts around the sides of hills, wiggling around the lake edge. We could spend the day here and have a picnic lunch, or even camp for a few weeks. We could take one of the walks through the trees and native forest or feed the ducks and swans. We could trout fish if we had a licence... and if we were very lucky we might even hear a kiwi calling in the middle of the night or spot a long-tailed cuckoo or a North Island robin.
But we haven't the tents, and only jandals on our feet, no fishing rods nor licence, so let's go kayaking!
You grab one end and I'll get the other and hoist it out of the trailer. Now, I'll just strap these handy-dandy wheels underneath. Much easier than lugging it down the hill. Just down there is a great place to launch it, and you won't even get your feet wet. We'll slide it in the water and the aerial roots of this big old swamp cypress will keep it upright. Do you want the red kayak or the greeny one?
Ah, as soon as we are on the water time seems to slow down, the cool air wafts, and serene vistas open up. Relax. Paddle gently, no rush. We have all day if you want. The trees slip by and the patches of sunshine on the short grass gleam through the trees, and the ducks sun themselves while they wait for the next lot of visitors with bread.
We go around a corner and there's two black swans right there. They look so surprised that we have appeared, they forget to swim away, and we can get really close.
Paddle over there where the buttresses of the kahikatea (car-hick-cat-tee-a) stand in the water:
There are others enjoying the park today. (And no, that's not a four-legged girl!)
This young lad's Mum was standing on the top of the bank giving him what-o for letting his ball go in the water a second time. I got it for him the first time. I'm sure he could swim for it this time, it's only shallow there.
We are paddling past some farmland now. The sheep take no notice of us.
And now a little pine plantation.
And finally some good New Zealand 'bush' - the indigenous forest cover. Keep a lookout for a branch of the river off to the left, because that's where we're going today...
Here's where the river branches, can you spot something through the trees?
Ah. A small hydro-electric plant. Quite old, but still working.
Now we have a little challenge, but I'm sure you are up to it. See that pale, agitated water in front of the building? It's the discharge from the turbines and we have to get past it. Just stick to the right, and follow me. If you find you are being swept towards the bank, don't panic. Nothing will happen, but you'll need to paddle into the turbulence a little, to go straight. Just beyond, the water is quite calm. And there is a special place, which, I promise you, will make it all worthwhile.
Here we go.
You can do it!
There! Phew! You made it!
Now, you go first; around to the right... and....
We are in The Grotto.
Perfect peace and calm. Cool, and nothing but the sound of....
.... a million tiny drops of water.
The ferns and mosses are perpetually damp here.
An erie and magical place on a hot summer's day.
At the end there is a tumble of rocks, and you can't go any further with the kayaks.
Look up to the sky through the leaves of the trees growing on the sides of this tiny canyon:
Lie back in your kayak and let it rock gently and support you....
Or look down through the crystal water at the sunshine on the rocks....
You will take the memory of this place back; past the foamy upwellings of the turbines, past the green-clad walls of the river, past the people camping on the sunny banks, down the busy highway and back to the hot asphalted city.