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July 2012 Issue
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Pigeon Post, July 2012

Letter of the month

Damming the Waitaha

Just as the dust from the Mokihinui affair settles, there’s a proposal by Westpower to dam the Waitaha River in South Westland. It’s a 16-20MW project and Westpower’s CEO George Caldwell is playing the minimisation card to the max by likening the proposal to a smaller, relatively unobtrusive project further down the coast at the Amethyst Ravine.

The comparison is disingenuous at best, as the Amethyst is creek-fed from the frontal ranges while the Waitaha is a medium-sized snow and glacial fed river. It is pristine and rugged wilderness.

Westpower intends damming the river at Kiwi Flat and piping the water under Morgan Gorge to the river flats below. The Morgan is a stunning carved-rock gorge with azure blue water, overhung by southern rata and tall podocarp forest. It puts the Mokihinui Gorge to shame. The river’s flow would be reduced by 75 per cent and without the glacial component its colour would change. The only water of significance coming through would be from a large side-creek entering Kiwi Flat below the dam. An access road would be carved through the virgin forest above the Gorge on the north bank of the river.

I have no objections to small-scale, low-impact schemes such as Amethyst Ravine or Griffin Creek. The coast could easily set an example and become self-sufficient with more of these, but the Waitaha plan is plain dumb and destructive.

– Andrew Buglass, Christchurch

* Our letter of the month correspondent receives a pair of Marmot Moraine Glove worth $89.95 courtesy of Allsports Distribution ( Readers, send your letter to the editor for a chance to win.

Onus on trampers, not DOC

It would be prudent for DOC centres, such as at Mt Cook Village, to maintain some type of paper-based intention sheet, as alluded to in your editorial (June 2011). Some DOC centres were very good at monitoring the intention sheets of those heading into the hills. However, many were not and an inconsistent standard has persisted across the country. There are also many access points well away from DOC centres.

The new online service at provides another tool through which people are enabled to notify someone of their intentions. It is certainly not fool proof and should be seen as supplementary to good trip planning, as laid out in the recently developed Outdoor Code.

Of huge value are road end/access point logbooks. There are many around the country and, if more were provided, many people, who are slipping through the system, would be able to state where they are off to.

A similar story to the one mentioned in June relates to a French tramper we met in the heart of the Tararuas. He was planning to do an east-west crossing from Mt Holdsworth Lodge to Otaki Forks. He had no North Island maps on his GPS, hadn’t told anyone where he was going or when he intended to come out and didn’t have a PLB. He was well equipped with six days of food and, very importantly, he had filled his intentions into the logbook at the road end and in the hut we shared. I am happy to report that he made it out. He was unaware of the Adventure Smart website and that you could hire a beacon.

If he hadn’t made it out, his non-appearance in three weeks time for his departing flight would have started a delayed search, which would have been greatly aided by the road end logbook.

The onus should not be on DOC, but on the individual adventurer. Educating user groups and individuals, with a special focus on overseas visitors, of the need to notify their intentions is essential.

– David Eaton, chief guide, Off Track Adventures

Caroline Creek too small for Te Araroa

After five glorious months, I returned home to the UK truly in awe and hugely impressed at the New Zealand hut system and the quality of management of the many outstanding national parks.

However, my experience with Caroline Creek Hut (Nelson Lakes NP and a part of the Te Araroa Trail) gave me the impression that New Zealand is sadly resigned to let its high standards drop in favour of other priorities

The night before my arrival at the two-bunk Caroline Creek Hut, two hunters and three trampers stayed (three tenting and two in the shelter). At the hut, I met the two hunters, who had decided to stay an additional night. I would need to camp (I was carrying a tent) and did so 45 minutes further up the track. Later two Israelis arrived at my camping spot, having tramped from Blue Lake Hut. They didn’t have a tent and assumed there

would be space on the floor of Caroline Creek Hut.

Two days later, after a detour to camp at Thompson Pass, I passed a young Japanese lad on the Waiau Pass. We later corresponded and he told me four people were in Caroline Creek Hut the night he stayed, two of whom slept on the floor.

My feedback on Caroline Creek Hut is this:

  1. The area was fairly grim and untidy, with the belongings of the two hunters scattered;
  2. There is no toilet;
  3. My experience in New Zealand was that trampers were reluctant to take a tent, yet there is little shelter after Blue Lake Hut, until much further down the Waiau River;
  4. Increasing numbers of trampers will want to do the Te Araroa Trail with obvious negative consequences.

I hope Wilderness readers may know of some way to improve the problem at Caroline Creek Hut for the benefit of all.

I alerted DOC to my concerns and received two replies, though these indicated it was unlikely resources could be found to address the issue.

– Timothy Pitt, UK