Quarrying the Clarence

This article by Paul Macey was originally published in NZ Canoeing 98.3, Spring 1998.

Take one scenic river and several big bulldozers and what do you get? Tranzrail's resource consent to remove 1.9 million cubic metres of rock from the lower Clarence and tributaries.

Tranzrail needs a large volume of rock to construct a breakwater for their new ferry terminal at Clifford Bay. They already have consent to use rock from another site, Stirling Creek, but for some reason, they are also applying to use rock from the Clarence. The proposed quarrying site is the 5km above the main road bridge across the Clarence. The proposal describes taking rock from an island, and upstream of the island from the true left bank of the river, and from two side streams, the Miller and the Wharekiri.

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In the 1991 River survey kayakers rated the Clarence river the 9th most important river, and the most important river to kayakers that is not protected by a conservation order. This section of river is a bouncy class II-III with lots of continuous, bouldery rapids. The section from the end of the gorge is often done as a day trip, but also features as a highlight at the end of a unique multi-day trip, suitable for beginner to intermediate paddlers. After 180km though wilderness, with lots of class I and class II, this final section is an exhilarating finish.

The exact effects of the proposed quarrying are basically unknown. What is certain is that there would be disruption for four to six years, the period for which the consent is being requested. The extraction would involve large trucks crossing the river, diggers in the riverbed, and flows being diverted away from the activity. Tranzrail have proposed ideas for a safety plan, such as warning signs upstream, and a free-phone number for people to advise of their intentions. Truck drivers would also be warned to look give way to other river users when crossing.

While Tranzrail have also said they will rehabilitate excavated areas to re-create rapids, there has been no investigation or research into whether this is feasible. It is possible that a flood could wipe out any new channels. Another concern is that the larger boulders may be removed, leaving only smaller rocks. This would obviously affect the rapids.

Ripping up a riverbed goes against the purpose of the NZRCA "...to preserve New Zealand's whitewater resources..." The NZRCA, Hawkes Bay Canoe Club, Whitewater Canoe Club, University of Canterbury Canoe Club, Marlborough Canoe Club, and the Otago Canoe and Kayak Club, have opposed the application.

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Submissions from canoeists have had an impact on the Canterbury Regional Council, who has asked Tranzrail to consult with the NZRCA. An informal meeting was held between the planners, engineering consultants, Geoff Price from the Whitewater Club, and Paul Macey. This was informative in terms of their application, but little came of it otherwise.

Sarah McRae will be presenting the NZRCA submission in person at Kaikoura, backed up by expert evidence from Hugh Canard and Doug Rankin, and Geoff Price will present the Whitewater Canoe Club's submission. And being in Kaikoura they may even pop in a trip down the river (Golden Rule #1: Always turn up to a hearing with your boat - who needs briefcases?)

See also:
A sample submission on TranzRail's resource consent.
Some images from a Clarence Expedition 1999.