Relaxing, rewinding on Whanganui River

By Eva Bradley

If you had asked me last week if I could survive without some sort of cellular or digital device for three days, I would have told you it couldn't be done. I would also have told you my chances of being able to paddle a fully-kitted-out canoe 100km down a slowly moving river were about zero to none.

For me, the Whanganui River was my Everest, an unconquerable stretch of deep and broody water, daring me to push my way through it and defy my natural aptitude for lying in bed with a book and a bag of Burger Rings.

Last weekend was my only one without work booked in six months. As God is my witness, it was going to count, dammit. Every second of every minute of every wedding-free hour.

And if I could do it without hearing a single text or email alert, all the better.

After a late finish at work and a power-shop dedicated to tinned soups and two-minute noodles in every flavour, we arrived at the North Island's adrenaline central, Ohakune, and collapsed into a hotel bed ready for an early start the next day. Before I had the chance to get my head around what was happening, we had been driven to a small tributary of the mighty Whanganui, plopped in the canoe and pushed into the current with no looking back.

After an "entertaining" few minutes (well, entertaining for the local native bird population, at least) while we spun in circles and figured out that in a Canadian canoe you do actually have to be a back-seat driver, we were on our way into the heart of one of New Zealand's best preserved native environments.

For the first few hours I attacked the adventure with the same sort of hurried enthusiasm I apply to my professional life - always rushing for the finish line as fast as possible and pausing for breath only when the oxygen tank is sitting close to empty.

But the thing with nature is that there is no directing it and no controlling it. After about four hours of solid paddling in pursuit of our first campsite, I finally rolled over to Mother Nature and let her and the current handle things.

Having physically taken myself off the grid, I decided to do so mentally too, and as I exhaled a few gulping breaths of 100 per cent pure New Zealand air, I imagined the balled-up bundles of accumulated stress draining from me at the same time.

When you remove yourself from the distracting and frustrating minutiae of daily life, it is surprising what you notice instead; the way a cool breeze on a hot day slides over bare shoulders, the wing-beat of native wood pigeons flying overhead, the way you smile more and swear less when you are connected to nature instead of a cellphone or computer.

I've never been a huge fan of dehydrated peas, but then again I'd never tried eating them at a remote campsite on the sweeping bend of a river at sunset, with the strong frame of my delicious boyfriend as a backrest. Right at that moment, they could have earned themselves a Michelin star.

My bed that night was a thin roll-up mattress in a small tent - but, just like the peas, I discovered that luxury is all about context and, for a busy person, the opportunity to unplug and unwind made everything around me a five-star experience. When we arrived back at Ohakune and turned on our cellphones, it was a little sad to hear the endless beeping as several days' worth of "urgent" messages begged and brayed for our attention.

But even though I am back on terra firma and up to my usual workaholic tricks, it is comforting to know that all the things you think can't ever possibly wait actually can. And when they do, you realise they are not nearly as important as you thought they were.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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