Up the ‘Pokai’ in TruantSea
By Grahame Harris - Hamilton, New Zealand

In the 1970’s, I was raised on a dairy farm a few kms out of Tokoroa - a timber mill town in the middle of New Zealand’s North Island. We were resourceful kids making our own fun & excitement from the materials and locations nearby. We shot rabbits, built tree huts, helped on the farm with chores, built rafts to navigate the local stream, and spent a lot of time getting to really know ourselves inside.

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Powering up the Pokai in my Welsford Truant - "TruantSea"

When I was maybe 12, a couple of mates and I decided we’d take the ‘pup’ tent, a kerosene cooker, fishing lines and sleeping bags on our bicycles, ride 5 miles or so up the road to the Nicholson’s farm and go cross country for a few miles to a nice little spot on the banks of the Pokaiwhenua Stream. After many stops on the way for no particular reason at all, and after eating half the supplies we’d brought along, we pitched the tent and laid out our bags. We swam in the waterhole, had dinner of baked beans with dessert of tinned peaches, and after night fell talked and laughed ourselves senseless until sleep finally overcame us.

We awoke to a misty morning and decided conditions were perfect to catch a trout for breakfast. The fishing rods were equipped with our favourite ‘lucky’ lures and each of us claimed a length of stream to catch the monster that lurked beneath the fresh, fast flowing water. As with most 12 year olds concentration soon waned, Derek decided an eel would be easier to catch so he baited a hook with bacon we had brought, Colin decided he could forgo the thrill of fishing to cut down a tree with his hunting knife. I persevered with my copper ‘spoon’ lure, casting upstream and down, and slowly retrieving in the hope of a strike. Oh the hopefulness of youth!

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The entry to the gorge

That elusive strike never happened. Colin never felled the tree. Derek only caught a freshwater crayfish (Crawlies we called them). I didn’t catch a trout that trip. However, almost 40 years ago, we had a really great time for a couple of nights, on the banks of the “Pokai”.

Since building my 11’6” Welsford Truant - “TruantSea”, I have sought out as many fishing/boating spots as I can. Some for sailing, some for sea fishing, lake fishing, or river navigation. As it happens, the Pokaiwhenua stream flows into the Waikato River at Lake Karapiro, some 50km upstream from our home in Hamilton. I thought my darling wife Gail and I could go for a look to see what that end (about 50km from Tokoroa) of the ‘Pokai’ was like.

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The one lane bridge at Horahora Road

We launched TruantSea at the Horahora Water Ski club on Lake Karapiro, amidst dozens of high-powered craft dragging skiers, wake boarders, or inflatable donuts at phenomenal velocities. The little 2hp Honda outboard soon had TruantSea at hull speed of approx 4 knots, for the 3 km (or so) run up the lake. The ‘Pokai’ enters the lakes Eastern shore with a wide stream mouth with its banks covered in broad verdant rushes, and it winds its way, only 2-3 metres deep, with very little current evident for about 800mtrs up to the one lane bridge at Horahora Road. Small fish and wading birds are in abundance.

Upstream after the bridge, open land gives way to native bush – right to streams edge and a river gorge about 1km long develops. Steep sided banks develop into cliffs and the vegetation clinging to each side joins overhead – filtering most of the light. Moss and lichens drip moisture and trickle down to the water and the air cools. The only sound being the putt, putt from Mr Honda’s little 4 stroke. The stream narrows further to be only 3 metres or less wide in parts and there are scrapes in the mudstone banks where larger craft have touched.

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In the middle of the gorge

We saw a bird nest sited in a hollow of the bank – just above flood mark – and two chicks waiting for food from an absent parent. At night the moist walls of the gorge are lit with glowworms (so I’m told) and the stream gently pushes through the confined space at only 2-3 knots. A Christian camp/retreat on the other side of the lake apparently brings Outdoor Education classes up the stream frequently for study sessions. The gorge then opens out again back into sunshine with farmland on one side and pine clad cliffs rising 20-30 metres on the other. The grass is right to waters edge. The stream banks are intermittently lined with willow trees overhanging the water and at some bends there are pools and eddies with sandy bottoms. Ideal spots to tie up and picnic, or toss a line into the stream. A sign says camping prohibited – but who’s to know?

I caught a small rainbow trout at one such pool. The fish interestedly followed the rapala lure for 2 or 3 draws, then struck and put up quite some fight for a minute or two, before tiring and being reeled in. It was only 15 cm long, so back into the stream it quickly went to fight another day. A 12 year old I would have kept it.

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Almost at the top

Gail caught sandflies. They weren’t prolific here, but for some reason the poor woman is instant bait. We continued upstream, frequently seeing the bottom at only 2-3 foot deep. Truantsea’s shallow draught makes navigating in places like these a breeze. Around a few more bends the stream splits in two for a short time and narrows, making it only just navigable. However, that is only for a few hundred more metres until the willows and other trees overgrow the banks and clog the stream, making progress in anything other than a canoe/kayak impossible.

I’m told that apart from a small waterfall 5 miles further upstream, it would be possible to get up the ‘Pokai’ all the way to Tokoroa – about 50km away. Perhaps someone in a Welsford canoe could take a few days off, and try it?

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The end of the line

We stopped for another short time and had a quick look around, then turned downstream again. Isn’t it strange how the view changes from the opposite direction? Still beautiful, still peaceful and scenic – just different. We dawdled in the gorge, stopping a few times to take in the serenity and natural beauty of the place. Back out in the stream mouth fish were jumping and wading birds were at work in the shallows. After a quick run over to the opposite lake shore at Finlay Park Christian camp for a look around we turned back for Horahora Domain and the ski club.

After a 25-minute motor and after negotiating loads of powerboats buzzing up and down the ski lanes, the little motor ran out of petrol only 20 metres from shore after 1½ hours running.

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On the way back down.

So, there it was… the ‘other end’ of the Pokaiwhenua stream that had given me vivid memories from over 35 years ago. And, there were still fish in it. Gail and I enjoyed a good afternoons boating – albeit at a sedate pace, and TruantSea had brought us there and back on only 1 litre of petrol. A bigger boat, with a deeper hull than our 11’6” sailing dinghy would not have been able to negotiate the frequent shallows of that stream.

Yet again, TruantSea has shown itself to be an extremely versatile little vessel.