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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

New Zealands Waitaha under threat

Its the classic river dichotomy. To construct a single turbine hydro scheme or relise that 40mw of power is bugger all and the sacrifice is far from being worth it. This time its the Waitaha that will be exploited. We stand to loose one of New Zealand's most stunning river gorges, the Morgan Gorge. An area of pristine wilderness and supreme beauty the Waitaha river in years to come will find itself becoming increasingly threatened.

Ben Jackson gearing up for a big day on the Waitaha.
Image - Zak Shaw

The list of rivers targeted on NZ's West Coast is not limited to the Waitaha. The Arnold, Mokihinui, Taipo, Taramakau and Wanganui either have plans in effect or are seen as potentials for "renewable energy"

Image - Zak Shaw - The spectacular Morgan Gorge.
The entrance to Morgan Gorge is where the proposed dam would be situated. This image was taken from a swing-bridge which spans the impressive gorge below. Visiting trampers use the bridge to access the rugged Hitchin range to the east.

Below is a short video file Ben jackson put together after our recent kayaking trip into the Waitaha. Enjoy!!

The main Waitaha track itself is challenging but provides access up the Waitaha river and the isolated Scamper Torrent hut. This four bunk hut rests directly below the craggy slopes of Mt Durward on the western side of the main divide.
"South Island Weekend Tramps" by Nick Groves has a full rundown of the options for tramping in the Smyth Range and greater Waitaha river drainage.

Last week a team of us from the NZ Kayak School made the drive from Murchison to the Waitaha River. We flew to Moonbeam hut, it was a huge day out but well worth it!
Image - Zak Shaw, Matt Shearer gets it right on one of the Waitaha's crux drops

Seal Launch! Its an intimidating one, but the rapid below is deep.
Mick Hopkinson gives Matt a shove out and away from a small ledge
in the middle of the third gorge. With no one to give you a
push who's going to go last?
Image - Zak Shaw
Image - Zak Shaw, Ben Jackson shows his battle scars mid way through the 1.5 hour kayak carrying/dragging/climbing portage up and around Morgan Gorge.

Image - Zak Shaw, The Waitaha portage. Its a good thing that it comes late in the day! You have paddled most but not all of whitewater the Waitaha will through at you by this point.

The Waitaha is a big day by anyone's standards. Most parties take between six and nine hours to break down the continuous class 4-5 rapids that exist below Moonbeam hut. The difficulty of the whitewater is un-relenting and is mostly found in several committing bedrock gorges.
Once the third gorge opens out and the valley walls widen the intensity backs off briefly before smooth schist walls rise again and the river dramatically carves its way into the heart of Morgan gorge.

It doesn't get much better. Like most west coast rivers the Waitaha river flows through an environment second to none, one you can paddle through! Image - Mick Hopkinson, Ben Jackson and Matty Shearer cashing in on some scenic dollars.
Image - Zak Shaw

The following images were shot during a 2007 descent of the Waitaha.

Paddler - Eden Sinclair
Image - Zak Shaw
Paddlers - Gareth Friar, Eden Sinclair and Oli from Wyoming.
Image - Zak Shaw

Typically Waitaha.
Image - Zak Shaw

Follow - www.rivers.org.nz for future updates regarding NZ rivers and the Waitaha project.

Comments welcomed.


  1. Hi Zak,

    Beautiful photography. I'm waiting to heal up and get back on the water myself. We had a lot of rain this winter and the Salt should flow all summer.

  2. Dear Zak

    i discovered you blog by googling Moonbeam Hut where I stayed in 1993. This led me to your blog and the superb photos. I am writing a story about the valley on my blog and I was wondering if you would let me borrow one of your kayaking photos. They are superb. I hope they never put a dam on the river.

    Thanks for great photos,


  3. Hey Bob

    If you check in here again, feel free to copy the image you need.
    Mention where the image came from when you make a new post.

  4. Hi Zak,
    It is a beautiful river and it breaks my heart that it may yet become another 'victim of progress'. Are you going to fight the power company's plans? My husband Robb and I are currently in the process of supporting an action group opposing windpower in the Tararua and Ruahine Ranges in the North Island. These too are beautiful places, and must be kept that way.