As is logistics on the coast, all the local players had been waiting for an extended period of good weather that would allow the high alpine runs to come in. A period of high rainfall over the xmas break, topped up by regular rainfall in the Westland Ranges had been keeping flows just above the 'good' level. But this would eventually dissipate and it was those who had the free time when it happened that would be on our trip. Barny and myself were always going to be there, joined by Zak Shaw, Daan Jimmink and the man himself, Justin Venable. Plans were made, Dando was called and we locked it in... mission on.
A relatively relaxed 10.30am pick-up started off our day with Zak flying up solo with Dando, a flight that we thought was going to include some thorough scouting of the gorges, then Daan and I flew up followed by Barny and JV. After waving off Dando we all began the usual verbal breakdown of what we seen from the helicopter... a lot... but little detail. Something that we all noticed, or thought we noticed, was that Frisco Canyon had changed for the better since the recent floods. Another more concerning feature we all faintly noticed was that there was some wood in the second drop of the Upper Mungo Gorge. Nevertheless, we had a lot of paddling to do so we quickly got on the river and began bombing our way down.
The next two drops were all good and then we found our way into that eddy on the right... right above a very serious portage. This is where there used to be a class II+ ferry into a must catch eddy, now it was a class IV ferry with several moves into a must catch eddy. Commitment moment number two. I think all of us were looking for bankside options, and there was a possibility of making it work on river left. Barny, however, had other ideas, giving me the nod before sacking up and going for the eddy. After making the moves in true 'Bulldog' fashion Barny gleefully pulled into the eddy looking back at us to say, "Well I made it boys, your turn!". Again, we all had to strap on our big set and commit. This would have to be the most intimidating moment I have ever had in my kayak or even my life, never before had I been so focused on everything I was doing. We all made it without a hitch and began our short portage. Three more tight stacked drops down the right and we had made out of the gorge, exaltation moment number one. Although we had a lot more river to go, there was a definite sign of relief in the group once we were through.
From then down to the famous Gateway Gorge we were treated with some classic New Zealand class V boulder gardens and clean boofs up to 15 or so feet. Pretty much the business. Although I had seen pictures of Gateway Gorge before, they do nothing to show the true beauty of this amazing sight. Exaltation moment number two. The photo of me below paddling into Gateway Gorge is amazing, thanks Zak, but it cannot, nor can I in words, capture or portray its real beauty. This something you will have to go see for yourself.
After Gateway there is still a fair amount of white-water to be had, with Barny sacking up to run the rarely paddled entrance to Frisco Canyon. There were rapids in Frisco and below, but there is only so much white-water I can commit to memory. Just know it was good all the way to Serpentine Hut. After picking up our food bags from the middle of the river, cheers Dando, we clambered up a barely recognisable track to our creek side accommodation. Literally. The duly named 'Sweetfruit Chutney Creek' (from the Hut Book), has eroded away the area next to the hut where Dando used to land, so far that in the foreseeable future the Hut itself maybe taken too. Over the next 16 hours, we devoured a ridiculous amount of food and even slept in past 9am! Gone are the days of extreme white-water enthusiasts, we just forgot the damn goon!
Day two was short but sweet, with the extra water keeping things interesting. After the first boulder garden, what used to be Viagra I think, we were down at Breakthrough Gorge heralded by the 20 foot entrance waterfall on river right. This time JV thought he would take the lead, firing off the unscoutable 20footer. I followed, then Zak, then Daan and then Barny. All pretty much doing the same thing, back loop... roll up... smile!
Although you know the rapids are all over, it is not until you are at the confluence with the Whitcombe River do you really feel the river trip is complete. Even though it sounds gay, I really do feel privilaged to have paddled the Mungo River. There are less than 30 kayakers names in the Serpentine Hut Book, and I plan on getting mine in there a couple more times when the opportunity next arises.