Auckland Canoe Club History

These recollections from Gordon Andreassend describe the early days of the Canoe Club founded by Jim Mason. We are very grateful to Gordon for taking the time to put these recollections down on paper and sending them and his old photos to us. You may also like to read his recollections of the club’s trip to Fiordland in 1954/55.

The Auckland Canoe Club in the 1950s

Early days

I think it was 1953 when Garth Barfoot and I went to hear a talk by Jim Mason on this recently established Club. We signed up us members, there and then, as it sounded like good clean adventure, and a bit of fun. We were soon joining the weekend trips that Jim organized to several rivers south of Auckland.  I will give details of some of those trips.

The Waikato was an early river to be tackled, and there was some urgency in tackling its rapids, as hydro-electricity production became the main source of electricity.  One by one the rapids were disappearing as sections of the river were drowned.  We managed to canoe all the major rapids before they became submerged, thanks to the organization provided by Jim and the Canoe Club.

One Mile Rapid

Experienced canoeists would have kayaks, but the majority of us used the inflatable, ex-military rubber dinghies provided by the Club.  One particular rapid on the Waikato was called the one mile rapid, as it covered almost one mile of the riverbed.  I had some experience at that time, so was put in charge of a 4-man dinghy for the ‘one-mile’ run together with 3 young ladies.  We went over the drill required to paddle the not easily manageable dingy, emphasizing that it was essential to grip the safety ropes on each side in turbulent water.  The paddles were tied on, and would look after themselves.  We pushed out into the rough water, and almost immediately were tossed upside down.  As we carried on at high speed down the rapid, I was pleased to see 3 very wet heads bobbing along with their owners tightly clutching the safely ropes.  I called out to the crew to hang on tightly and lift their legs under the canoe, to miss the rocks in shallow parts of the rapid.  We carried on like that until we reached the still water at the end of the rapid.  We were happy to have completed the ‘mile long rapid’, even though we were on the wrong side of the dinghy.

Wanganui River

The Wanganui was another mighty river that Jim discovered and I joined 3 of the more than 20 trips he organized down the river.  Many of our cruises started near Taumaranui, and sometimes further down the river where road access permitted.  On my first trip Jim had decided to repair an old Hau Hau warpole.  It had fallen in a storm, damaging one of the 4 arms that had been fitted at the top of the pole, pointing roughly in the cardinal directions.  The problem was that the warpole was considered to be tapu, and none of the local Maoris would touch it.  However, they all wanted to have the pole re-erected.  One of our group was a linesman working on the erection of power lines, and he was prepared to supervise the re-erection.  It was a totara pole similar to those used by the power companies, and the job was soon completed.  The pole was about 6 feet shorter, as the bottom 6 feet had rotted off at ground level.  The four arms were carried down to Wanganui in one at our rubber dinghies for renovation and repair, at the museum.  I don’t know it that was ever completed.

Mapping the River

Another trip on the Wanganui involved a bit of mapping.  I was the trainee surveyor, so I got the job.  An old friend of Jim’s was a retired civil engineer in Auckland, and he had a project to produce a complete map of the Wanganui.  The Lands and Survey had mapped most of the river but there was a section of about 16 miles about mid-way on the river’s course that had never been mapped.  The engineer showed me what he wanted, and said that a simple compass survey would do.  The method was to measure the direction of the river by a compass reading every half minute.  The speed of the river was estimated to be four miles an hour, so this enabled us to put a scale on the area surveyed.  The job was completed on the river, and the results were passed to the engineer.

The missing portion was fitted into the govt. maps, and the engineer was very pleased with his completed map of the Wanganui.  That was around 1955 and I am sure that the Govt. has by now produced a map by aerial survey to a much greater accuracy.

Progress of the Club

In the late 1950s there was more demand for canoeing to concentrate on competitive events such as those seen in the Olympics, and this led to a change in the structure of the Club.

By 1960 I was no longer a Club member, as I was working outside Auckland.  I was also preparing to leave New Zealand to work overseas, and I departed for Australia early in 1962.  I have worked and resided overseas ever since that time.

However, in the 7 years that I was an active member of the club I met many new friends, and enjoyed a large number of cruises on several of New Zealand’s beautiful rivers. 

I will always be grateful to Jim Mason and the Club he founded, for enabling this.

Gordon Andreassend. Hong Kong.  April 2020.