My warm sleeping bag and comfy sleeping pad feel like the place to stay this early in the morning.

But it is 6.15 am, at this time of year still not quite light, but if we are to be underway on the river by 8.30, then I need to get going.

Even this early, it is already warm. The day, especially by afternoon, is going to be a hot one.

Water on the big camp stove is brought to the boil, ready for tea and later dishwashing. The coffee pot is soon chortling. It is remarkable how the smell of freshly brewed coffee can get guests moving.

Breakfast this morning is tea, coffee, yoghurt, muesli, fresh blueberries, bacon, eggs and toast. That should quieten the stomach rumbles for a few hours.

Breakfast is soon over. My helpmate, Melissa, gets busy cleaning up the dishes and packing away all the other camp kitchen equipment. Our guests start sorting out their tent before taking it and their personal dry bag down to the river’s edge.

Campsites on the Whanganui are placed well above the flood line. The Whanganui can flood huge, so there is always quite a haul taking equipment and personal gear from boats up to camp, not so bad taking it all back down.

On this morning, everybody is committed, and by 8.25 am, we are all in “Te Whaiau”, our river dory, gear loaded and stowed, ready to cast off from the beach.

Whanganui River Dories
Whanganui River Dories

Being on the river early is magic.

Often, a low mist will hang over the water’s surface, creating an almost ethereal scene, like something out of a movie. The mist will disappear soon enough as the sun burns its way through.

For now, there is only the rumble of the oars in the oarlocks, the rhythmic splash of the oar blades in the water, as the dory glides its way downstream. Occasionally spooked ducks will take off ahead while shags eye us from vantage points, no doubt hoping we will disturb a fish or two. Rugged forest coated hills appear and disappear in the mist.

In my mind, I have the day mapped out. I want to cover as much distance as possible while the day is cool, before the afternoon heat.

Whanganui River Dories
Whanganui River Dories

This is day two of a four-day dory trip on the Whanganui River through the Whanganui National Park.

Today we will cover our longest single stretch, from Ohauora campsite to Mangapurua, where the plan is to walk into the Bridge to Nowhere later in the afternoon, camping at Mangapurua campsite that night.

Occasionally, we pass by other groups, all in canoes or some form of kayak. Many are the admiring glances and comments about our river dory. Our guests look quite smug that they are being rowed down the river in a beautiful craft and do not have to paddle their own canoe.

To be fair, those who would take a dory trip are generally older, and for whatever other reason, would most likely be unable to spend hours paddling that having their canoe would entail. Choosing to travel the river in a dory allows them to share in the experience of this iconic New Zealand river journey.

Shortly after we pass Mangawaiiti campsite, 20 km downstream from Mangapurua, we stop for lunch. When travelling on a river, I am a great believer in big mornings and short afternoons. Lunch today is wraps filled with a choice of meats, salads, cheese, pickles, and relish—fruit and homemade biscuits round the menu out.

Bridge to Nowhere - Whanganui National Park
Dory Trip on the Whanganui River

We are soon back on the water, covering the last few km to Mangapurua by mid-afternoon.

Luckily several canoes pull out from the mooring just as we arrive, giving us space to park our boat.

The Bridge to Nowhere is famous, more because of the folly of its construction and the hardships endured by those early settlers than anything else.

By 5 pm, we have walked the round trip to the bridge and have rowed across the river to camp. A glance at the menu. Cheese, dip and crackers followed by a chicken curry, with home-baked cake for dessert.

After dinner, time to relax with a couple of glasses of red wine. Soon enough, it is time for bed.

In the morning, we will again try and get on the river early. The plan is to visit Tieke Marae and run one of the bigger rapids just before Ngaporo Camp, where we will stay tomorrow night.

Our guests have had a great day and are looking forward to tomorrow.

So am I.

Brian Megaw

Whanganui River Dories
Dory Trip on the Whanganui River

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