Desolation, Rugged Beauty, a Potential Train Crash. The Headwaters of the Rangitikei River


Isolation, quiet, nature, wilderness, no people, crystal clear water, monster trout, eels, bird song (especially the beautiful notes of the Korimako/Bell Bird), rugged scenery, spectacular rock formations, tight technical rapids, no cell phone coverage.

All these words, and so many more superlatives, can be used to describe the Headwaters of the Rangitikei River on the central North Island of New Zealand.

A few days ago I returned to this beautiful wilderness for a 4 day trip (by the way, 4 days will become our new standard duration for this trip, rather than the present 3 days – it is just so good, why rush it).

The river was low, but unless we get a direct phone line to the weather gods, you get what you get. However the beautiful warm fine weather more than made up for this.

Each Day Held Special Moments

Blue skies and a crisp morning highlighting the rugged beauty of the Pinnacles Range.

Each dawn a full chorus of bird song led by that lead singer, the Bell Bird. At night, the haunting call of the Ruru.

The peacefulness found while floating through the desolation of the Burn, now finally attaining a full cover of regenerating Manuka, clothing again a fragile landscape that was scorched and black after the devastating fire of the early 1980s.

Thinking to myself, here we go again, while standing at the top and preparing to run the Pinnacle Chute, a steep rocky rapid that is always a train crash waiting to happen.

The pleasure found each day when making a new camp, setting up tents and the camp kitchen in another remarkable place.

Getting to know our customers and quickly developing a rapport. Why on every trip is there always someone who just wants to get firewood and muck about with a fire?

Going for refreshing swims in that so clear, but a little bracing, fresh water.

Men in their 50s doing “bombs” off small cliffs into deep water.

Skimming stone competitions.

Around the camp fire to late in the evening, deep and meaningful discussions, fuelled in no small part by generous quantities of red wine.

The surprise on the faces of the only people we encountered, two fishermen, when they first saw our rafts as we floated towards them.

Young Shags not quite getting their timing right and thumping into the water in an undignified manner. Who knows what the adult birds thought of those antics.

Hearing the rolls of thunder as ominous black cumulus clouds built up one afternoon and wondering whether we were going to get hit or not. The relief as the storm went around us.

White caps on a big pool as a particularly strong gust of wind hammered into our laden boats. 100 metres on and the wind has gone.

Super tight and technical rapids. Rapids that really require a guide to think. The satisfaction gained from taking the right options.

Getting to camp early one day and having a hot lunch.

The occasional squeals of alarm from camouflaged and hidden Sika deer as they first sighted the rafts.

Another deer swimming in the river and surprised by the boats, exiting the water at speed and quickly disappearing into the undergrowth.

The taste of that first can of beer, cooled by river water, and consumed after a few hours of rowing and then setting up camp.

And Then The Disappointment, The Return To Reality

The inevitable feeling of disappointment I always experience when the first farm land is seen, and you realise that this Headwaters trip will shortly be over.

Wondering when a return visit to the headwaters of the Rangitikei River, this magical and special place, will happen.

Not For Everyone

A Rangitikei Headwaters trip is not for everyone. The remoteness and wilderness, the lack of cell phone connection, the complete lack of people, and not least, the expense, means that this trip will never be mass market.

But if you can make this trip, it is unlikely you will ever regret it.


Brian Megaw