Wairehu Playhole

Mike Birch backgrounds the development of the Wairehu Playhole.

Tongariro Power Scheme Resource Consents

The consultation process with paddlers for releases on the rivers of the Tongariro Power Scheme (TPS) began in 1991, when the Electricity Corporation (ECNZ) planned to renew their rights to take water under the Resource Management Act. In 2000 Genesis Energy applied for the resource consents, which were granted, and the NZRCA appealed the decision. In August 2002 an agreement was reached between NZRCA and Genesis Energy, which resolved this appeal. The Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre (OPC) also came to an agreement with Genesis Energy. Both agreements included releases on the Tongariro, Whakapapa and Moawhango Rivers and also included provision for the development of a structure to create a standing wave, known as the play hole, on the Wairehu Canal. Genesis Energy's engineers designed and modelled the play hole: a single wave/hole feature, designed to be "working" in the 8 to 15 cumec range (the canal flows in this range for about 25% of the time). It was initially planned to build it in late 2003 early 2004.

Play hole funding

The inaugural river releases occurred in 2005, but the play hole was delayed because of funding shortfalls. In late 2004 the NZRCA applied for funding from various charitable organisations, but it wasn't enough, and construction was delayed for a further year.

Construction of the play hole was due to commence in February or March of 2006. At the time of the application, the engineers contracted by Genesis estimated that the costs of constructing the play hole would be approximately $187,000. Unfortunately, on detailed site examination prior to construction, the engineers informed Genesis Energy that the costs for the original plans would be more than double due to unforeseen technical problems.

Genesis Energy, OPC and the NZRCA vigorously evaluated alternative lower cost construction options both at the Wairehu Canal and another site. No other sites were possible at a cheaper cost and a meeting was held in June 2006 to consider other options. Representatives of the construction company (ICE construction) made the suggestion that NZRCA forego some of the river releases and in return Genesis Energy could provide the funding. Genesis Energy later agreed to the idea and provided an indication of the number of releases that would need to be given up.

Consultation with kayakers

The NZRCA consulted with many clubs and individual members as to whether releases should be foregone to build the play hole, and if so, which releases and when. A package of Access 10, 13/14 and Whakapapa releases was rejected because Access 13/14 and Whakapapa cannot be paddled at all without releases, whereas Access 10 can be. Members were supportive of foregoing some Access 10 releases in winter when attendance was sparse, and so NZRCA proceeded on this basis. The alternative was to not forego any releases, in which case the play hole could not be built and Genesis Energy would have provided the sum of $90,000 to OPC, for use by OPC for a particular project, which as far as possible would create a recreational resource of benefit to the wider recreational public (not necessarily a kayaking resource).

Ten release days exchanged for funding

At a meeting of the NZRCA executive in Piopio on 5 November 2006, a motion was passed to accept the proposal to forego nominated TPS releases in exchange for Genesis Energy bridging the funding shortfall and constructing the Wairehu playhole. Genesis Energy then agreed to provide an additional $200,000 (excl. GST) towards the construction of the play hole. NZRCA applied to the NZ Community Trust, which donated $30,000 towards the construction of the play hole. OPC was able to secure $15,000 from the Huckleberrys Trust in Turangi.

In early 2007 a consent change was sought to limit the number of recreational flow releases from the Poutu intake to two per year (instead of the current three per year) until 2016, at which time the recreational releases would revert to three per year. The release planned for 5 May 2007 below Poutu Intake on the Tongariro River was cancelled.

Opening of the play hole

The play hole was constructed during March and April 2007. Testing is planned to take place by some expert kayakers at a range of flows. If these tests are successful then OPC plan to hold a kayaking event for the commissioning and opening of the play hole to the public. For health and safety reasons, public access is not available until the test programme is complete.

Genesis Energy will maintain the physical structure of the play hole as part of its routine maintenance of the TPS. Any additional appendages and attachments to the play hole will be provided and maintained by OPC and/or NZRCA.

Update: July 2007

On 5 July 2007 acceptance testing of the Wairehu Playhole was undertaken by kayakers. Representatives from Genesis Energy and their Engineers, NZRCA and Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre were present.

Unfortunately the playhole did not perform as expected and as a result the playhole remains closed to the public. This was very disappointing to all parties involved in the project. However the playhole design is being reviewed to provide a safe kayaking environment and it is hoped that remedial engineering work can be undertaken this summer. Site modifications can only occur when Wairehu Canal is dry i.e. during periods of dry weather, usually late summer.

Update

The remedial work was completed and the playhole has been open for use by kayakers since April 2010.

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