The Story Behind This Website

My name is Finn ~ at least that’s my ‘river’ name. I’m a raftsman, and I began my rafting career on a log-raft. I run my own rafting business, here.

As you probably know, Huckleberry Finn, together with Jim, undertook a memorable journey down the Mississippi on a log-raft, similar to the raft illustrated above. It was an extraordinary adventure; it was more than just a physical journey, it was ~ more importantly, a human journey, revealling the folly (and the tragedy) of prejudice, hatred, and inhumanity.

The raft was a vehicle for this journey of discovery. It was carried on a metaphor for Life itself ~ the river. The Mississippi, ‘Ol Man River’, ‘Father of the Waters’, flowed through Mark Twain’s consciousness during his entire life. Rivers can be like that ~ they can get into your blood.

My first raft was a 32ft long log-raft, with a long ‘sweep’ at each end, authentically built and lashed with hemp rope. I had never seen a log-raft or even a useful picture of one. Curiously, I recently discovered an illustration which was nearly identitical to the raft I built. That illustration is at the head of this page, showing several logs lashed with four cross-braces.

My authentic log-raft.

The river I rafted was not as large as the Mississippi, but it was swift and powerful, with challenging whitewater. It is the largest river in New Zealand, the Clutha Mata-Au ~ it is ranked in the top ten swiftest high-volume rivers in the world.

Log-rafting the Cromwell “Gap” Rapid on the Clutha Mata-Au River.

The entire journey lasted several weeks, and marked the beginning of my enduring affinity with the Clutha Mata-Au. I subsequently started my own rafting business on this spectacular river, and have rafted the Upper Clutha Mata-Au over 1000 times.

I’ve also lead various multi-day expeditions rafting the entire 338km river from Lake Wanaka to the Pacific Ocean. One such journey was a private expedition in 1992, that took 6-days, and included a notorious Grade 6 ‘Terminator’ rapid that was later drowned by the controversial Clyde dam.

Running a challenging rapid is exhilarating and memorable, but it does not reveal to you the essence of the river ~ it takes time ~ years, to even scratch the surface of what a river really is. One thing is for sure; a river can not be defeated. It always has the last word, so it is better to listen to it and do what you’re told! Experienced river guides and river pilots will know exactly what I mean. Training and technology are ultimately second to instinct and respect.

But rivers are vulnerable nonetheless to human abuse. Pollution, development and water extraction are major issues for rivers world-wide. The Clutha Mata-Au has not escaped development issues.  In 2003 I decided to do something about it. I initiated a major conservation project to set up a river parkway along the entire 338km Clutha Mata-Au River corridor. We are making progress, but if you can offer any support, or even words of encouragement, please do so. We’d love to hear from you, here.

When I began this project, an old friend, Bill Hislop, the former Chief Ranger of Mt. Aspiring National Park, loaned me a book to read  A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold. Sadly, Bill has since died of cancer. His gift to me was his deep appreciation for the natural world; he noticed the details, like Aldo Leopold.


Rivers are the life-blood of the land, but more than that, they are our life-blood, too. Have you ever stood beside a once free river that has been stilled by a dam, contemplated a polluted current, seen a wild riverbank developed, and felt personally injured?  If so, then you have discovered an essential truth about rivers ~ they are part of us. In  A Sand County Almanac Aldo Leopold explains this: “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.”

On the river .

Mark Twain also had a deep affinity for his river. He was extraordinarily aware of its beauty, and its power. There are some wonderful observational passages in his writings. However, he is more well known for his insights into human nature.

The Mississippi, like so many magnificent rivers, has suffered unthinkable abuse. When Twain was a boy, the Western wilderness was still a frontier, and the Mississippi was still largely unspoiled. It would be wrong to look upon those times through rose-colored glasses, because the steamboating era was not without a human and environmental toll. And yet, they were promising and exciting times, when the natural world was close at hand.

Twain cherished his time with the river, as a child, and as a steamboat pilot. He was convinced it could never be tamed. He understood.

I have created this website to explore this era, to share images, and first-hand accounts from people who were there. You will find not only steamboats, but also keelboats, flatboats and rafts. You will see images of skilled artwork and rare photographs, and read quotes from explorers, settlers, artists, writers and historians.

Mississippi Raft

These pages are for the steamboat times, and for a boy who lived in the village of Hannibal, who became a steamboat pilot. Thanks Sam, for your literary treasure, and for giving us Huck. He was your voice, revealing your insight into the human condition, and your reverence for the river.

And by the way, Sam, the fools are still in the majority …

Huck’s Hogshead