If you know Lake Brunner, Moana, the Arnold River will be a familiar name. The Arnold is fed by the lake at its northernmost tip, right by the township of Moana. Its warm dark waters are well regulated by the buffer effect of Lake Brunner, meaning heavy rains have to fill the lake before flooding the river. Time spent lounging in Lake Brunner warms the Arnold to a pleasant swimming temperature for most of the year. If you were to leave the lake and float down the Arnold, you'd meander through native bush until picking up gradient around Kaimata and flowing through a series of sprightly rapids and lazy pools to Kokiri, where the gradient eases and the Arnold braids and wanders until it joins the Grey.
The section of river between Kaimata and Kokiri is unique in its attraction to a diverse set of users, excited by the same things for different reasons.
To Trustpower, the Arnold represents financial opportunity. Their best spin doctors have worked hard to portray Trustpower's planned diversion through canals and hydro power stations as being 'for the Coast'.
But to many people on the Coast, and further afield, the Arnold River represents part of their life that Trustpower simply cannot buy a replacement for. Recent attention has focussed on kayakers, anglers and rafters, but there are school groups and farmers and your classic Kiwi family who jumps on an inflated tube on a sunny afternoon, who stand to lose.
Dave Ritchie, a tutor on the Outdoor Recreation Programme at Tai Poutini Polytechnic in Greymouth, points out some facts:
we supervise more than 240 individual descents of the river in February and March alone. On the Arnold River our students learn how to recognise the difference between real and perceived risk and how to deal with the effects of these in themselves and others. It's precisely these aspects of their training that make them so effective in the New Zealand recreation and tourism industries.
Educational opportunities also appeal to Greymouth High School teacher Ben Louie.
Within 20 minutes from school, our students can develop their skills and personalities. They can learn the step from kayaking on moving water to whitewater. And we can be confident that they are on a relatively safe river. By that I mean it's not cold, it's close to the road, we have cellphone coverage and the rapids have that certain something we don't find elsewhere. We have a long tradition of using the Arnold.
Arguably, Riccarton High School's tradition is longer still. They have a lodge, established in the '70s, to which all of their Year 9 and 10 students are delivered over 6 months of the year. They deliberately have no transport, but are close enough to use the existing section of the Arnold River for adventurous activities. To drive to access fun would take away the very nature of their experience. Neil McKeegan, Head of Chemistry and Outdoor Ed, is also concerned about the proposed canal - to run close to the school's lodge:
I've dealt with enough risk analyses to know that this presents us a problem, not an opportunity.
Westland Canoe Club, in Greymouth, use the Arnold for beginners' trips every year. For adults, the jump to whitewater comes more quickly than for children but the enjoyment is the same. Brendan Rae, chairperson, points out that the length of trip is perfect for a variety of uses.
So close to home, we have a trip that can take two hours with beginners down to half an hour in a race boat. Even in winter, with a bit of luck you can fit it in after work.
Fish and Game have an official line, as do the New Zealand Recreational Canoe Association, but this is about locals. Rob Roney has fished the Arnold for over 20 years.
We appreciate the regular flows and warm brown water with willow and totara banks for shade. The Arnold River is one of a kind. It's a river that you can take children or beginner fly fishers to and reliably catch trout.
One of a kind is a phrase to remember in this debate. There is no other river in the northern South Island with all of the attributes of the Arnold. Some of these are sought after by Trustpower, some aren't. Trustpower's team would be well advised to look wider, as their consultants have already had the message: the Arnold River cannot be replaced.