Messing About in Boats: Do something

In boats, or with boats...

As Ratty said, there is nothing -absolutely nothing- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.
So what do you do while stuck on a company project for six months, three hundred kilometres from home?
You build a boat of course :)

Herewith the voyages of the Sue, a Micro Auray Punt as designed by Hannu Vartiala.

A Micro Auray Punt

I intend to poke that blunt little nose up as many creeks, lakes, swamps and backwaters as I can find :)
Auckland, NZ, 2006


It's now 2012, six years since I built the Sue, and she's still the most fun I've ever had on the water.

Construction log

Lake Pupuke

Relatively sheltered, close proximity to home base, and a multitude of access points made Lake Pupuke the obvious choice for initial sea trials. Herewith some photos from the second trip out on the lake, this time with enough confidence in the boat to risk taking the camera, albeit sealed in a ziplock plastic bag - hence the dreamy soft-focus feel ;-). The edges of Pupuke are a fascinating place with all sorts of watery terrain to explore, including a completely submerged jetty.

Update: On the most recent visit I was gently pursued by a couple of inquisitive and hungry swans, keen to nibble on any extremity presented, even very carefully retracted oars. Any time I stopped rowing, up they'd glide with an expectant look.

Whangamarino River

I will freely admit to an unnatural attraction to swamps, and the Whangamarino Wetland has been high on my list of places to explore since a couple of train trips to Wellington. The North Island main trunk runs through the area, which is a maze of wetland, lakes, canals and several rivers. This was a trip (in both senses of the word) straight out of The Wind in the Willows - and precisely what I had in mind during the build. Apart from a gentleman fishing from the boat ramp as I departed, I saw not another soul for three hours. The area is cool, green, lush and watery - therapy of the highest order. Side channels and backwaters are everywhere, and one could spend days just exploring.

Exploring a backwater about a kilometre up from the ramp Water meadows are a challenge to navigation Gratuitous foot shot The Whangamarino River, upstream of the Maramarua confluence Tied up via the bailer at the Island Block Road boat ramp Whangamarino Wetland Trail Guide

Whangamarino Reprise

Back in the swamp, this time the eastern side, just downstream of the Falls Road ramp. The swamp proper is separated from the river itself by a stopbank, forming an incredibly vast lagoon.

The lagoon, seen from the stopbank. 30 foot portage required. Visiting a maimai out-of-season This one's seen better days... ...but nonetheless there's a resident

Acacia Bay, Lake Taupo

Crystal clear water and nobody about at 05:30 :)

Orakei Korako

Realising that a weekend in Taupo was imminent, I cast about for interesting places to boat. Top of the list was the sinter terrace forming the lowest extremity of the geothermal field across from Orakei Korako, on the eastern shore of Lake Ohakuri on the Waikato River. The field itself is on Maori land and they charge $26 to look around. I merely wanted to view the place from the water, and enthusiastically (but naively) diverted 14 kilometres off State Highway 1, only to encounter an obstacle. While I have no objection to paying to visit a privately owned tourist attraction (and this place is worth every cent), banning kayaks and so forth seems just a fraction mean-spirited. Now I had me a challenge.

Second attempt: The next point at which the road approaches the river was a long way upstream, and it was immediately obvious that it would be impossible to get back against the current. At this point I gave up for the evening and continued to Taupo.

Come Sunday afternoon and the trip home. By this stage I'd had 48 hours to ruminate, and was feeling particularly bloody-minded. I acquired a topographic map and set off with the vague intent of carting the boat down some bush track if need be; recalling something I'd seen on the web about hot pools and the Akatarewa Stream. I figured there had to be *some* land-based access. In the area of the stream however, Te Kopia road is lined with nothing but farms, locked gates and even (at a forestry block) dire warnings about electronic surveillance and wheel clamping if you so much as park near the gate. I continued heading north and suddenly spied water, very close.

I turned around and to my amazement found a vehicle track heading down to a sort of impromptu ramp in an area of wetland. Without bothering to check the map I lost no time in getting on the water, and headed upstream. It turned out to be a very long row. The exposed crossing of the widest part of the lake was (in retrospect) a little bit beyond what should have been attempted in a craft intended for flat water. Fortunately there's no discernible current, just wind and chop.

The reward was some of the most stunningly beautiful aquatic terrain I have ever encountered. I persisted upstream to the geothermal area and pottered around, literally getting myself into hot water, while mentally blowing raspberries at the western shore.

Welcome to Orakei Korako: The first hint that things might not be completely straightforward The final launch point was about three kilometres north (downstream) on the other side The warm highly mineralised water has promoted a luxuriant algal mat The water temperature here would have been about 40C Don't pay the ferryman

This is just the lower edge of an enormous area stretching for about a kilometre inland.

In the water closest to the terrace, bubbles were surfacing around the boat. Lake Ohakuri is largely the creation of a hydroelectric scheme which flooded a number of vents. One which wasn't quite submerged exists independently a few hundred metres downstream, gurgling away to itself right on the waterline.

.wmv, 3.2 MB

Ultimately I put about six kilometres on the hull, some extra callouses on each hand, and a Cheshire-cat grin on my face :)

The Te Henga (Bethells) Wetland

There's only one place where the road gets close enough to the water; but it has both a convenient parking area and a short track, albeit gorse-infested.

The track comes out into a tiny punt-sized clearing in the toitoi Nosing around in tight spaces Beyond

Mill Bay, Mangonui

Whangamarino again, overnight

Yes, it can be done. (Disregarding certain minor challenges: it rained and the tarp was two inches to short for the boat; mosquitoes - one or two continuously all night; and the posture-threatening location of the seat).

The enhancement list: Removable plywood bunk panels, flush with the seat; squab to match; and a custom-designed dacron tent, sealed to the gunwales.

Backriver Road, Mangonui

Oruati River, Windust Road, Mangonui

This is about as close to small-boat utopia as one can get - a rural willow-lined stream with access right to the water's edge.

Watchman Island, Auckland Harbour

In pursuit of a Geocache.