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  • Malcolm Paterson

My Life on the Awa - John Nowak

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

My earliest memory of “the creek” - as we knew it growing up - is treating a small clearing in the mangroves (now closed up) in Sherwood Park as a beach. I remember playing around in the shallows as I was too young to swim whilst my old siblings swam around the deep water. Much of my youth was spent on the banks rather than in the river... growing up it was a shortcut, a source of blackberries and a playground with some of the best climbing trees - the only rule was to stay away from the water when adults weren’t around.

It wasn’t the first place I paddled a kayak, but when the family acquired a waveski, me and my sister raced down to the river and launched it. I fell in and was immediately hooked. Staying away from the water was a rule I had outgrown, so I would spend much of my teenage years paddling up and down on that thing - sneaking past Rutherford College on days I was on exam study leave and couldn’t get to the beach.

I did and helped other with a few school projects on the river including one attempting to observe the night animal activity by sitting up all night on some makeshift wooden dock until we aborted due to the damp cold and boredom. Despite all that and, after “growing up” and moving back to the neighbourhood spending many-many hours walking my dog on its banks… I never really appreciated its beauty. It was always been just a place of purpose.

It wasn’t until my daughter took up rowing at the Waitemata Rowing club on Taipari Strand that I discovered the Waitemata Canoe and Multisport club (WCMC) next door. Initially it seemed like a good way to kill some time whilst waiting for her to do her training. And did it what. Although she moved on from rowing, I remained with the kayaking. I have now spent many years exploring many, if not most, of the nooks in the river, and in so doing, discovering a place surprising in its majesty and ability to offer up adventure.

For those of you not familiar… the WCMC are the bunch of kayakers who can be found paddling the river in particular on Saturday mornings for group training sessions, and Wednesday afternoon/evenings for a race to the motorway bridge and back. Rain or shine, light or dark, sunny, foggy, sewer filled or “clear”.

This has led to spending many, many, many hours on the river and therefore experiencing some spectacular moods (though never much rough). Examples? One evening race on a clear mid-winter night without lights, I was able to see the starry sky reflecting on the water surface (a couple of weeks later with lights on the boat I discovered the joy of having a bunch of fish thwacking at the boat apparently drawn to the glow). Another time, the morning water was so still and reflective that where the river began an ended was hard to identify and some long-wavelength ripples created a trippy optical illusion. Sadly, the K1 kayak isn’t the most agreeable platform to pull out a camera and capture those moments on.

As far as adventure, well, get any group of people together in the wild and things will happen. Yes, there has been the odd medical incident on the water. No helicopters required so far, touch wood. One of the group (Russell) was instrumental in documenting and notifying the broken sewer pipe on the Huruhuru that begat the river care group. Owha, the inquisitive Sea Lion which has swum with us many times - is a pretty intense thing to meet in the water, whilst a lesser friendly Sea Lion has taken a chunk out of one paddlers boat in the past. We have had fallen trees to navigate around, bridge-building structures to duck-under. We have found old sunken boats, and watched newer boats sink. We have all had moments of miscalculating a paddle stroke and going for an impromptu swim.

Then there are those moments of discovery… when you paddle past the normal turn-around on a high tide and discover a world in the central suburban area that could be deep in the forest of anywhere. Indeed, there is a section of the Huruhuru where all that can be seen is the mangroves, some trees and the Waitakere ranges, giving a feeling of having left the city far behind. Footnote... sitting in the middle of the Waitemata harbour in a tiny boat on a quiet and still Sunday afternoon is possibly the most physically alone you can get in the Auckland area.

But then there is the less attractive and sublime side. As someone who has never been much for littering, what I see going past on the river EVERY outing has me flabbergasted. Quite what people expect to happen to it, I’m not sure - but it sure don’t dissolve or become nutritious snacks for sea-life. The collection runs from small toys, balls, bottles, buckets, through to tyres, wheels, trundlers and lounge suites. Occasionally I will practice my stability skills by picking items out, but mostly there is just way too much for that even to feel like a dent. One very clear low-tide session I counted more than 30 tyres on the river-bed between Taipari and the Concourse.

Then there are the invasive species of plant and animal, and all the invisible nasties that end up in the river - both accidentally and deliberately… it really is a disgrace what we do to our awa!

So, what does “the creek” mean to me? Well, aside from a place to exercise, meditate, race, explore, breathe, contemplate, socialise… it also represents an alarming example of how we are treating our back yards, our waterways, and our planet as a whole. The day the river runs clean and proper, will be a great day for all human-kind.

Blue GPS track shows an example of the high-tide kayak-navigable reaches of the two rivers. There are other parts accessible as well.

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