Warkworth: Cast off on a voyage into the past

By Cate Foster

Cate Foster joins a grand old lady and her passengers on a trip down the Mahurangi River

The restored scow Jane Gifford now takes tourists for sails up the Mahurangi River. Photo / Supplied
The restored scow Jane Gifford now takes tourists for sails up the Mahurangi River. Photo / Supplied

Nostalgia rules the day as the children and I line up by the short gangplank that leads to the restored scow Jane Gifford. We're at the Warkworth Wharf on the Mahurangi River. What was once hardly more than a heap of firewood now sits softly gleaming on the green water, bunting on its forestay, polished spars rising high above us into an unseasonably blue and tranquil sky.

After a spring of storm and tempest we have been blessed by a day demanding sunblock. Warkworth, this sunny Saturday, had its holiday hat on. When we arrived in good time for the cruise, timed to slip downriver on the high tide at 10.15am, preparations were in full swing for the annual Kowhai Festival. This is the second-oldest community festival in New Zealand and although you've missed it for this year, put October 15 in your diary for 2011. We sat at a streetside table at one of the many cafes and sipped a coffee while watching the stallholders set up, before wandering down to the wharf.

Under the expert skippering of Mark Rothwell, a former commander in the Royal Navy, the equally over-qualified crew of trained volunteers cast off and we glide under engine power to the invisible channel mid-river. Prior to the Jane Gifford being able to use the river again, this channel had to be resurveyed and learned by heart. Although the Jane Gifford is flat-bottomed as all scows are and able to float in little over a metre of water, the Mahurangi is only navigable at high tide and so the trip timetable is governed by the laws of nature, not man.

Once out on the olive green waters of the river, and apart from the fact that the river is buzzing with kayakers and other small craft who nip and duck around our more ponderous progression, it is easy to imagine how life on the river must have been for those who made their living on the boat 70 years ago. Dense native bush lines the northern banks just as it would have then, wind rattles the rigging above our heads and birds whip across our bows. Because this is a holiday weekend and "The Jane" must be available for the public to inspect, we are only going to an inlet called Duck Creek half an hour downstream. Sadly all too soon this point is reached and, just as we were just getting well and truly into the swing of being "on board", we begin our leisurely return.

In what seems far too short at time, we dock alongside at the wharf and tie up with military precision. Already many on board are planning a repeat trip, only next time we decide it will be under sail, and hopefully right out into the open waters of the Mahurangi Harbour. At the moment all trips are under engine power only, but sometime in mid-summer the finishing touches that allow the sails to be used will be complete. At that point even children of school age will be able to handle the sails. And not only children - I'm going to return and lend a hand sailing the Jane Gifford myself.

Information: The Jane Gifford Trust aims to run regular trips throughout the summer. Times are tide-dependent so see the website or call Dave Parker 0274 849 935. Families $40, adults $15, children 5-15 $5, preschoolers free, all proceeds go to the restoration fund. For group bookings, email: eventswarkworth@xtra.co.nz.

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- NZ Herald

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