Access to the Karangarua

Tony Ward-Holmes outlines the case for air access to the Karangarua submitted to the Westland/Tai Poutini National Park Draft Management Plan and hearings with the West Coast Conservancy Board. The original article was published in NZ Canoeing, 00.1 (Autumn 2000).


Air access to whitewater rivers is a topical issue with restrictions being considered (or already imposed) on the Karamea, Anatoki, Stanley and Waingaro (refer Kahurangi plan threatens river access), the Adams and Perth (with the proposed Adams Wilderness area). Kayaker access to the Waipara and Upper Landsborough are already restricted due to imposition of Wilderness Areas.

In November 1999, the Department of Conservation called for public submissions on the Westland/Tai Poutini National Park Draft Management Plan. With diminishing recreational opportunities in mind, the NZRCA made a strong submission for access to the Lower Karangarua River, along with many other kayakers, in March 2000.

In April, Tony Ward-Holmes and Robin Rutter-Baumann presented the NZRCA case at hearings conducted by the West Coast Tai Poutini Conservation Board in Canterbury. The outcome of these hearings was generally positive. Board members had some concerns about the possible frequency of use in light of the growth of paddling on the Coast, and about interaction with trampers starting the Copland track. These were seen as issues to work through rather than showstoppers as there are a range of solutions.

Recently DoC have published their responses to the Draft Management Plan submissions. The document "Westland/Tai Poutini National Park Draft Management Plan 1999: Submission Responses by Plan Section, 10 October 2000" is available from DoC, Private Bag 701, Hokitika. While DoC acknowledge that kayaking has minimal impact, they have recommended that our access request be rejected, for the following reasons:

  • few opportunities exist for tramping in valleys without aircraft.
  • there are other rivers on the West Coast suitable for heli-kayaking.
  • disturbance of natural quiet is an issue for other recreationalists.

The NZRCA intends to respond to the West Coast Tai Poutini Conservation Board before 3 November, along the following lines:

  • DoC have rejected kayak access out of hand. There has been no specific research regarding the impact of heli-kayaking on other user groups. Aircraft concessionnaires have agreed to fund monitoring of aircraft impacts for five years - the kayak access should be covered by this research.
  • Banning kayak access for a further 10-years is a blunt (non-)management approach. It should be possible to allow managed access to the Lower Karangarua so as to minimise alleged impacts.
  • It is difficult to understand why significant air access is allowed for groups like tourists, skiers and climbers, and not kayakers.
  • Kayaking opportunities are being reduced through air-access restrictions (Kahurangi NP, Adams, Hooker and Mt Aspiring Wilderness Areas). It is important for the future of the sport that recreational opportunities are maintained.
  • The Lower Karangarua section is just 10km from State Highway 6, is zoned Back Country with facilities (not Remote Experience, nor is it a Wilderness Area) and is already an air-access corridor.

Original NZRCA Submission

Air access is strictly controlled in the park, due to the potential impact on other park users. The Lower Karangarua is the river of most interest to kayakers, and fortunately it is also in a position where air access is eminently justifiable. The river is very scenic as it is close to the highest peaks, it is inexpensive as there is a helicopter operator at the end of the river, and there are two good sections: class IV-V boulder gardens from Cassel Flat down to Purcell Creek then a couple of kilometres of class III+ to IV from Purcell Creek down. The Upper Karangarua from Christmas Flat Hut (off the map) is not of interest to kayakers due to an unpaddleable cascade.

NZRCA submission (PDF, 72k)


Album: Karangarua

Images supporting access to the Karangarua.

(2 images)

River Information

The stats for the Lower Karangarua River in New Zealand Whitewater, Revised Edition (2000) (Graham Charles, p205) are incorrect. Try these instead:

CLASS: IV (IV+) V in high flows
LEVEL: Any. Done at medium-high flow, running grey-brown, approx. 40-60 cumecs at SH6 bridge.
GAUGE: Visual. Flow is two-thirds what can be seen at the SH6 bridge due to the addition of the Copland.
GRADIENT: 16m/km first 3km, then flattens.
TIME: 8 hours, including 5 hours walking with inflatables and river crossing
PUT IN: Confluence of Karangarua and Purcell Creek.
TAKE OUT: SH6 bridge, either Copland track carpark or true left if there is a track.
MAP: Topomap H36 Mt Cook
CHARACTER: Big mountains and often big, cold water. Wide river bed full of big schist boulders.
HOT TIP: Get involved in kayak access issues before we lose more rivers like this!