Kahurangi air access survey

In early 2001, the Department of Conservation distributed a survey on air access in Kahurangi National Park. Access Officer Mike Savory organised this submission for the NZRCA.

New Zealand Recreational
Canoeing Association
P.O. Box 284

15 March 2001

Jo Gould
Community Relations Officer
Department of Conservation
Nelson/Marlborough Conservancy
Private Bag 5, 186 Bridge St

Dear Jo

Thanks very much for the opportunity to comment on our use of helicopter access into Kahurangi National Park. The following are some collated comments from a number of kayakers around the country and represent the thoughts of the New Zealand Recreational Canoeing Association.

  • Why do you access the park by air?
    Kayaks are difficult items to transport through rough bush and although some rivers are regularly paddled by walking the kayaks into a river, it is obviously more practical to access long, remote or difficult rivers by helicopter.

    The first kayak descent of the Karamea was actually done by a West Coast DOC (NZFS at the time) worker who walked in with a kayak (assisted by some friends) in the 70's. The second descent was a group of paddlers who had their kayaks flown from the Rolling Junction to Trevor Carter Hut in 1983 and spent two days walking in to meet their boats (and then five days paddling out).

    Flying in with kayaks also minimises the possibility that the "extra" safety equipment gets left behind in order to save weight.

  • What type of aircraft do you use?
    Helicopters are predominantly used as there are very few airstrips in suitable locations. In some other areas (Kaimanawa and Landsbrough) fixed wing planes are used.
  • What activity are you involved in?
    Kayaking but rafting would have similar logistics issues to kayakers.
  • Where do you go?
    Currently the primary focus is the Karamea river. However with modern boat technology and skill levels there are more and more smaller and steeper rivers being paddled. Over most of the West Coast of the South Island new runs are being done each year. Currently air access restrictions limit the exploration that can be done in the Kahurangi National Park. Almost certainly rivers such as the Kakapo, Ugly and Beautiful would be explored and possibly paddled regularly if air access were not restricted. Access to other rivers in the KNP such as the Anatoki, Waingaro and Stanley will also become more important.
  • Why do you go there?
    To quote from one respondent "It is one of the few multiday kayaking trips in New Zealand, and offers amazing scenery, great whitewater and the added saftey of tramping huts. The experience has been widely described as magic, and I would not hesitate to do the run again."

    New Zealand is a small country and has very limited opportunity for multi-day kayak trips, especially ones with challenging white water.

  • Where you stay (location - camping or huts)?
    Both camping and huts. The positioning of both Grays Hut and the Roaring Lion Hut provide a good safety backup for multi-day trips. If there is heavy rain, parties need to sit out the resulting flood and wait for the rivers to go down before completing the trip. Lack of suitable huts would create a pressure to "Get out as soon as possible." This could result in unsafe decisions being made to paddle while the river is still in flood.
  • How many times a year and at what times of year?
    Most people who responded said they would look at doing a trip every 3 or so years. This has to be tempered with the fact that currently there is not an option of doing a good single day trip on the Karamea. Putting in above the current wilderness area, gives a very long day trip to get to the road end. Putting in below the wilderness area gives you only a half day trip. If air access were allowed below the Roaring Lion Rapids to give a good day trip, I am sure the river would be more popular.
  • How many other groups, if any, you met while there
    Most people met fishing groups, but none met other kayakers. Meeting other kayakers or rafters is unusual, as you will always be travelling in the same direction and usually at the same sort of speed. If there are any fishing people using the river kayakers will usually see them as they pass the entire length of the river. Often trampers and kayakers can pass quite closely and not notice each other.
  • Please comment if you were affected by any of these issues
    • Aircraft noise
      There are quite a lot of fixed wing aircraft flying up and down the Karamea valley but nobody mentioned them as a problem.
    • Conflicts between different user groups
      None reported. Anglers seem to not have too much of a problem. Generally kayakers are not on the river in the early mornings and evenings that I believe are preferred by anglers.
    • Aircraft safety
      No problems
    • Environmental impacts
      Kayaking tends to be a "fly-in" only operation. It is very unusual for kayakers to leave any evidence of their having passed down a valley. Fly-in carry-out is easily achieved.
    • Specific Locations
    • Any other issues not listed above

I can be contacted on email at access@rivers.org.nz if you have any further questions or want clarification on any points.

Mike Savory
Access Officer
New Zealand Recreational Canoeing Association