Thames to Miranda

Ak Canoe Club Dec12 Jan13 lo (3)The lads of the early morning kayak group are always eager for interesting paddling adventures. A couple of weekends before Christmas an opportunity to do an elusive paddle availed itself. We would attempt to paddle the shoreline length of New Zealand’s biggest mangrove forest.

This is the vast clump of mangroves that grow in the nutrient-rich sediment at the base of the Hauraki Plains. The green swathe stretches from Thames township all the way to Miranda. It has a coastline length of 25 kms and in places is almost 1 km wide.

The logistics of doing this paddle were quite demanding. It would require the biggest tides and good weather. From the launch site at Thames to the first available take out point near Kaiaua, we would need to paddle almost 30 kms. There would be a window of opportunity of about 4 hours to complete the paddle. Failure to keep within this time frame would result in being stranded in the vast mudflats that lurk in the area.

This would mean that we would need to maintain a paddling speed of 7 kilometres per hour. In normal circumstances it would not be too much of a problem. But this paddle would be different. Most of the paddling on this trip would be in water less than a metre deep. A phenomenon known as shallow water drag would have a big part to play on this paddle. Shallow water drag increases with speed. Ak Canoe Club Dec12 Jan13 lo (2)Increased effort does not produce a proportional increase in speed. It was going to be an energy-sapping effort to maintain the required 7 kph.

A few of the lads were out of town or busy with pre-Christmas commitments, but Matt, Ryan and myself were ready for the challenge. We were all on the road by 5 am. I met up with Matt at the coastal layby just south of Kaiaua where the campervans park. We would leave Matt’s car here for the shuttle at the end of our paddle.

Arriving at our launch site next to the old wharf at Thames we met Ryan and quickly set about our pre-launch routine. We had planned to be on the water 2 hours before high tide. The wharf is located near the mouth of the Kauaeranga River and we could see all manner of tree trunk debris snagged in the mud banks near the river mouth.

We managed to be on the water 10 minutes early and set off into the turgid torrent of the in-rushing tide. Once clear of the river mouth and its debris we picked up the strong tidal stream flowing into the Waihou River. We had to be careful here and set a course for the far side of its broad river mouth without being dragged too far in.

Both Matt and I had our GPS tracking units operating to monitor progress. Our speed was fluctuating as we encountereAk Canoe Club Dec12 Jan13 lo (4)d both favourable and adverse currents. We also noticed the drop off in speed as we crossed mud banks often with only half a metre of water beneath. The only sure-fire way to plumb the depth in the murky water was to use the paddle.

The mangrove forest was a long green barrier to our left and its dense growth was impenetrable. Our first way point was just past the Piako River and we were bang on schedule. A long way off in the distance to our right we could see a beacon to mark the entrance to the channel into the Piako.

Once clear of the two major rivers and with the tide still rising we noticed that the water appeared to be less murky. As we neared the two hour mark and the point of no return we were all feeling good. Both Ryan and I were using hydration systems and Matt had a big bottle of jungle juice under the bungees. We were all having regular liquid intakes during our work out.

Nearing Waitakaruru we spotted a line of bamboo stakes stretching off into the distance out to sea. These were to guide a small fleet of commercial fishing boats that operate out of here to catch flounder. Waitakaruru is also the outlet for one to the big drainage canals that opened up the former swampland for dairy farming.

Over on the eastern side of the Firth the mangroves became less Ak Canoe Club Dec12 Jan13 lo (4)densely packed and we were able to paddle through the outer clumps. Ryan commented that they also looked cleaner and healthier than their Auckland cousins. Flitting along through the mangrove tops was a large flock of grey herons that we had been inadvertently herding along the coast. The occasional grey mullet smacked the surface to accompany the steady splash of our paddle stroke.

Our keen eyes were now frequently scanning the horizon ahead hoping to catch a glimpse of a shimmering white campervan top and journeys end.

Finally we saw something and we dug in for a final push. In the distortion of the heat haze on the horizon the white glimmer turned out to be the first of the white shell banks near Miranda. This was the first dry land we had seen on the coast since Thames. A cuppa stop was called for.

The shell bank beach was at the mouth of a small creek and sand spit. As a bonus it had a comfy log to sit on. Behind the sand spit was a lagoon area that was part of the Miranda seabird nature reserve. All number of wading birds were in residence and bird watchers were also in abundance. They weren’t disappointed as great flocks took to wing and wheeled about at regular intervals.

With the tide now rushing out of our small creek it was time to leave. We finally spotted the campervans when we rounded the sand spit. The final leg was to be tide-assisted but an incoming sea breeze had sprung up and negated any benefit. We beached our kayaks on the shell bank below the campervans 2 minutes before our ETA. We stood at the top of the shellbank looking back at the mangrove forest disappearing away into the distance towards Thames.Ak Canoe Club Dec12 Jan13 lo (5)

The last time we paddled here we witnessed the speed with which the tide recedes in this area. We had not long arrived from our paddle and were cleaning up when saw a couple hauling two small plastic sit on top craft down the shellbank. The tide was just about at the bottom of the shellbank where it turns to mud. There was just enough water to float their boats, but when they hopped on board, they grounded in the mud. They then attempted to drag the boats to deeper water, but the tide was receding quicker than they could haul them. After about half an hour of this mudlarking futility they gave up and squelched their back to the beach.

It was then a leisurely run for us back to Thames to retrieve our vehicles. Adjacent to Thames wharf is a fishing co-op with a retail shop that also does fish and chips. It was about lunch time and we felt that we had earned it. Fellow paddlers were Ryan Whittle and Matt Crozier.

Roger Lomas