It rained a lot. My goodness, did it rain. It started on Boxing Day. The gutters overflowed, the roar pounded on the tin roof and it seemed like it had forever been soggy. My little river rose and rushed oily and thick past the house.
My two sons and thirteen friends had planned the canoe trip down the Whanganui for months and when they arrived at the beginning of the journey the company did not dissuade them, despite the severe weather warning forecast. It was to be a trip they will never forget. Five days of torrential rain and by the last day, the river had come up eight meters (24 feet) and was still rising when they reached the pick-up point at the end. Brown waterfalls gushed like fire hoses from the sides of the gorge and the whirl-pools cast them from left to right without warning. They had to avoid huge logs and debris that were carried along in accumulated masses in the centre of the channel, including chunks of white pumice - floating volcanic rock. They completed each days' sections at almost twice the speed (1.8 x to be precise) and although the first day was relatively uneventful, the final stretch literally went off with a bang - well with many bangs - as the clouds opened even wider, the river was crushed flat by the rain and the thunder boomed and reverberated off the valley sides.
The Whanganui River travels though thick forest for the centre part of its journey from the volcanic plateau to the coast. My sons and their friends went from Taumaranui to Pipiriki which is just north of Jerusalem on this map. The river has a very gentle gradient and meanders through a series of huge regular bends. This gentle river was historically an important travel route, enabling both Maori and European to access far into the interior of New Zealand in the early days.
Image above from: Molloy, L, and Smith, R. (2002) Landforms. The Shaping of New Zealand. Wellington: Craig Potton Publishing.