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April 2011 Issue
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The sound of silence

Cliffs dwarf paddlers on the Waikato River. Photo: Ruth Henderson
Distance
29km
Grade
Easy
Access
Waipapa Road, boat ramp north of dam.
Map
BE35 Putaruru, BF35 Whakamaru
Waipapa to Arapuni, Waikato River

For several years a group of Yakity Yakkers from the North Shore has headed south every February to base camp at Jones Landing and enjoy Lake Arapuni, the second largest lake in the Waikato hydroelectricity scheme. This time we decided we wanted to do a one-way trip from Waipapa dam to Arapuni dam, meaning we needed ‘shuttle bunnies’.

Opened in 1958, Waipapa power station is the smallest on the Waikato River. Its job is to supplement other stations when demand is heavy.

We settled down to meander with the current, luxuriate in the serenity and tranquillity, the peace and quiet, far enough from Lake Arapuni to not hear any water ski boats or farm machinery. The calm water reflections provided many photogenic opportunities: colourful kayak bows carving a path, paddlers in fluorescent hats and jackets, duck shooters’ maimai, raupo reeds standing tall, swan’s wings and feet flapping to escape our approach. Dragon flies lazily skimmed the water, butterflies flittered about the purple flowering buddleia and fantails darted after their prey all to the accompaniment of cicadas.

Observing insect and bird life was not the sole reason to hug the banks. It was blackberry season and these wild ones were neither touched by chemicals nor fouled by livestock. We only had to reach out and up for a feed.

After about 13km the river started to widen and we heard our first sound of civilisation: a quarry. And then to our amazement we saw the telltale sign of another group of kayakers – paddle blades flashing in the sunlight. Voices and laughter came across the water as astonishingly I knew two of the four and a brother of a third. Slowly over the next 4km, pine forest gave way to pasture and we could see Mt Maungatautari where an extensive network of predator-proof fences has created an island sanctuary for native wildlife. But any chance of hearing native birds was drowned out by the bleating and bellowing of sheep and cattle.

After about three hours we reached The Landing, site of the Hamilton Anglers Lodge and a couple of flush toilets serving a paddock ‘camp ground’. We chose to lunch around the corner from these and the jet skis and speed boats towing donuts with squealing children. Blackberry bushes skirted our patch, so we had berries with eggs, berries with tuna and berries with chocolate.

Refuelled we soon left the hub of noise behind and followed the lines of poplar trees, maize fields and paddocks.

We cruised past the odd angler and a few families who had set up beach umbrella camps on the lake’s edge and were taking turns waterskiing. After about 8km the lake took a right turn and we were within cooee of Jones Landing, the launching site for many speedboats and a campsite for a few. We called it quits for the day. We were saving Arapuni dam for the early morning light.

We were on the water before dawn, relishing the stillness before speed boats ruffled the surface. The towering cliffs, ferns clinging tenaciously at the water’s edge and pine trees with exposed roots, were exquisitely reflected in the water. There was no chatter; everyone was immersed in their own world. The peacefulness was disturbed only by our paddle blades dipping into the water and swallows bursting explosively out of their nests in the pock-marked cliff faces.

After 3km we came to Arapuni Dam. Completed in 1929 it was the first to be constructed and is the oldest operating dam on the Waikato River.

Touching its base we, completed the 29km from dam to dam.

– Ruth Henderson

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