Hugh Canard's speech at the Living Rivers Coalition launch, 15 December 2004

Hugh Canard explains the reasons for the NZRCA joining the Living Rivers Coalition.

Tena koutou katoa. He Hugh ahau. He kaiawhina me nga awa, no reira tena koutou katoa.

Today I represent the New Zealand Recreational Canoeing Association. We are an association of canoe clubs and individual members from throughout New Zealand. Canoeing has a long history in this country, especially if one recalls that the first settlers migrated here over huge distances of unknown ocean by canoe. Each of us has some relationship with our rivers, depending on them for the bulk of our energy, our agriculture, our landscape, and our recreation.

An increasing number of younger New Zealanders are discovering the simple pleasures of paddling a boat on a river or lake. Try counting the number of roof racks in your city with kayak cradles. We are quite good at paddling too. We are still winning Olympic medals in canoeing, and we have the best adventure racers and multi-sport athletes in the world. If you go to almost any swimming pool you will see lots of young people tearing up the place playing canoe polo. Many high schools now have canoeing as part of their outdoor education programmes.

What most paddlers value most of all, however, is to paddle on a natural free-flowing river. The fastest growth area in canoeing world wide is whitewater canoeing. Every weekend in most of the remoter reaches of New Zealand's rivers there are people paddling little boats in wild water in scenic surroundings and loving it. Part of our problem in this media age is that what we do is done out of the public eye.

What do we value? Natural flowing rivers in natural surroundings. Whitewater canoeing requires commitment, development of personal skills, and a certain amount of courage. These are attributes I think we can agree are valuable in any nation, particularly for young people.

I started paddling back in the late 1970s when there were no kayak shops and most of us made our own canoes and safety gear. My companions and I survived through sheer luck and the ability to swim almost anything. By the 1970s the major rivers of New Zealand had been dammed and inundated. The Waikato, the Tongariro, the Clutha, the Waiau, and the Waitaki were all under large hydro lakes or the Ministry of Works were in the process of finishing the job off, or 'Taming the Wild Rivers' as their history was called.

About this time canoeists I met were talking about the Motu River. I had never heard of it. The easy rivers had been taken and now the planners were after the more remote ones. As with the plan to raise Lake Manapouri, which was the trigger for my generation to question the the accepted wisdom of our leaders, so was the Motu River for canoeists. A loose coalition formed out of canoeists, conservationists, local people, and people who simply loved the wild parts of New Zealand, and in 1981 the outcome was the first National Water Conservation Order on a New Zealand river.

Canoeists started turning up at hearings and discovered that fishing and hunting people, trampers, jet boaters, conservationists, and iwi were there too. I am delighted that today we are launching Living Rivers. It is something to be proud of that a whole bunch of organisations can agree on one simple thing—that our remaining natural flowing rivers are our heritage and they are worthy of the best care and protection we can give them.

At a court hearing on one river I answered a lawyer's question by reeling off the names of a series of rapids on the river in question.
The judge interrupted. "Do you mean to say the rapids have names?"
"Even some of the individual rocks have names, your honour", I replied.
I hope this gives you, as it certainly did the judge, an idea of canoeists' relationship with the rivers we visit time and time again.

Maori have a unique relationship with the rivers of this land. Te waka, te maunga, te awa, te marae, te iwi—defines a Maori. Rivers like the Wanganui and the Mohaka and the Waikato are an inseparable part of the identity of the tangata whenua.

In the time I have been paddling I have watched with great sadness the loss of a number of rivers and many rapids &em; and, yes, they all had names. The Wanganui has literally dozens of rapids that were named by Maori, and one of the greatest rapids on Earth called "Wakarere" - flying canoe, was on the Waikato. It's now under many metres of weed infested lake not too far upstream from here. Down South when I drive through Cromwell I don't see a lake but the lost treasures of the mighty rapids that lie lost forever under 60 metres of water.

There is greater realisation now that rivers are finite and are valuable just for being � rivers. I like to think that rivers are no longer taken for granted and they are not just conveyor belts for waste. When I went to school in Hamilton many years ago the graffitti in the toilets by the Hamilton Rowing Club used to say, 'Flush twice. Huntly needs the water.'

Twenty years ago visiting paddlers were absolutely stunned to see us drink out of the river we were paddling on. Sadly there are few rivers that we can safely drink from today. Some rivers are even unfit to swim in, and canoeing is a sport in which swimming is always a distinct possibility.

Regional councils still are unaware of the extent of recreation on and in our rivers. Try and get anyone to remove a car wreck from a river and a 'hazard to recreation' does not even enter the consciousness. So-called river protection works are routinely constructed without thought of the dangers to navigation, not just for paddlers but also for jet boaters and kids on inner tubes. There is a general lack of respect for rivers that can cost us in unforseen ways. Pollution, inappropriate forestry, dams, diversions and poorly conceived river protection works all come back and bite us in the form of floods and loss of recreational amenity.

Other countries blessed with great rivers have moved not only to protect their heritage by protecting some of their rivers from exploitation, but also to honour and respect them. Canada has its Canadian Heritage River System, a public trust with representation by federal, provincial and local governement and private citizens. Ask any Canadian about their national heritage and they will mention the voyageurs in their canoes travelling across Canada establishing trade, and the sheer wilderness qualities of their river systems. When this country was covered in forest the only way you could travel was by waka. Where's our heritage?

I'd like to read you a quote. In a country where nature has been so lavish and where we have been so spendthrift of indigenous beauty, to set aside a few rivers in their natural state, should be considered an obligation. This was an American senator Frank Church in 1968. Where does New Zealand stand in 2004?

The US National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed in 1968 and it has protected many rivers since. Perhaps the most important contribution this legislation has had is to bestow the name Wild and Scenic River and to note this on maps, sign posts, and generally to give these river corridors equal status with national parks.

Even the current US administration, which is not known for its environmental friendliness, is discovering that communities all over America are standing up for their Wild and Scenic Rivers. These rivers are valued by their communities and that ultimately gives better protection than all the legislation.

Why should we volunteers spend 16 years preparing submissions and attending three tribunal hearings to finally get the Buller River protected by a National Water Conservation Order, only to have to have it challenged only two years later by a developer?

National Water Conservation Orders should mean something to all of us, and they should be sacrosanct. We need to give our rivers the respect and the status they deserve.

Hugh Canard
New Zealand Recreational Canoeing Association