“Wilderness areas are first of all a series of sanctuaries for the primitive arts of wilderness travel, especially canoeing and packing. I suppose some will wish to debate whether it is important to keep these primitive arts alive. I shall not debate it. Either you know it in your bones, or you are very, very old.” ― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac: With Other Essays on Conservation from Round River
Here at Kristin we feel it in our bones! The concept of a self-sufficient canoe expedition for 21 days in the wilderness of the Whanganui National Park is one of intrepid exploration, adventure and intrigue. And, over three weeks at the end of Term 3, 24 brave Year 9 students embraced the challenge wholeheartedly as they embarked on Odyssey 2019; a three-week adventure in self-sufficiency, bush craft and survival along the length of the Whanganui River. This became our 6th connection with the awa (river).
Split into two groups; Whio (Blue Duck) and Ruru (Morepork); of twelve and accompanied by two instructors per group, the students worked with the Department of Conservation, local iwi and private landowners on service and conservation projects. They weathered beautiful sunny spring days and some wild spring storms and icy snow blasts, hunted and gathered their own food, trapped pests, met locals and designed their own journey to the Whanganui River mouth. One group completing their journey with a night paddle into Whanganui. To end the journey, all students went to the point of the river that meets the west coast ocean. Touching the salt water and looking out to sea, recapping on their 234km memories, being grateful and thankful to have experienced an opportunity of a life time.
Their vessel of choice was a traditional two-man 16-17ft open canoe; its versatility when carrying large loads, stability, and manoeuvrability made it the perfect option for the novice paddlers. The Kristin Base Camp was manned throughout the journey, with the teams checking in twice daily via an Inreach GPS device with updates on their plans for the coming days and supply requests. While the teams had the same overarching objectives, there was little interaction between the two. Independent river and land excursions meant that both groups followed their own path, embarking on adventures as they came upon them in the wilderness. At Jerusalem, on a local marae called ‘Patiarero’, during a cultural marae stay, Whio performed a powhiri to welcome Ruru onto the marae in an emotional get together and an amazing experience for all to cherish.
Resilience and self-management played a significant part in their adventures and it was great to see the students stepping up when faced with challenging situations unlike anything they’d experienced before. In the early days of the trip the groups took part in firearms training and a bout of target shooting. Hunting and gathering was a big part of the intrepid experience and over the course of the three weeks the students became adept at brewing up goat curry and venison back steaks; many came home bearing the fruits of their labour in the form of their very own goat and possum pelts.
Throughout the trip the students were challenged socially, intellectually, physically, emotionally and creatively by both the natural consequences of the wilderness environment and the requirements of their activities. Ultimately, the journey was a success thanks to the way the students embraced the unknown with an open mind and invested their efforts in developing a comprehensive new skill set.
Increased self-awareness, both as individuals and as a group, was a natural consequence of the adventure and the students who disembarked from the bus on their return to Auckland were markedly different from those who set out three weeks earlier.
E rere kau mai te awanui, mai i te kahui maunga ki tangaroa. Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au.
The river flows from the mountains to the sea. I am the river and the river is me.