By Michael Lanza
Within minutes after launching our canoe into the chocolate-brown and, at the moment, tranquil Whanganui River, in the southwestern corner of New Zealand’s North Island, I begin to get a sense of why the native Maori people believed that every bend in this striking waterway had a mauri, or “life force.” We’ve entered a nearly unbroken gorge of sheer sandstone and mudstone cliffs soaring up to 200 feet straight out of the water, draped with jungle-like foliage in infinite hues of green. Cicadas buzz and rattle almost deafeningly. Ribbon waterfalls pour in straight, pencil-thin lines down walls so oversaturated that they weep tears from every fern and leaf.
The Maori are right: this place is very much alive.