Gibbston residents disappointed at unauthorised Kawarau kayak party

by Kim Bowden - Mar 11, 2024

STORY UPDATE, 4.50PM: A spokesperson for the Queenstown Lakes District Council says the council has now begun its own investigation after receiving fresh complaints from members of the public regarding unlawful camping.

Volunteer firefighters were called out of bed to deal to a bonfire at a pop-up, rule-breaking party beside a stretch of the Kawarau River between Queenstown and Cromwell on Saturday night.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand has confirmed because of the large crowd at the event it had to wait for police support to attend the blaze, which was then quickly extinguished.

The area is in a 'prohibited fire season', which means there is a total ban on lighting any open-air fire.

The site of the party on a bank of the Kawarau River downstream of Queenstown, approximately 8am, Sunday, March 10, 2024 (Image: Supplied).

A spokesperson for the Queenstown Lakes District Council says it received no prior notification of the party and did not issue a permit for it.

The gathering, which was held at the put-in for a rapid known as the Dog Leg, was promoted as an 'afterparty' for the Citroen Extreme Race, a kayaking competition down the stretch of white water.

However, race supporters Whitewater NZ are firmly distancing themselves from it.

Whitewater NZ board member Hamish Darling says the organisation itself had "no idea" about the party until contacted today by media and members of the public.

"Our involvement with this was only to help facilitate the racing event and the issues that arose on Saturday night were not officially sanctioned or related to New Zealand Extreme Whitewater Series nor Whitewater New Zealand’s membership.

"We have since been able to contact some of the individuals present and have requested further information.

"We have also been assured that this party was a one-off and will not happen again. The individuals we contacted were very apologetic and embarrassed."

Tamsin Orr-Walker lives across the highway from the public land where the party was held, and she says the music was so loud on Saturday night her household got little sleep.

Ms Orr-Walker says the music continued until approximately 3.30am, by which time police were at the scene.

A police spokesperson says police received a report of "a large group of people with loud music and a bonfire".

"Police assisted Fire and Emergency New Zealand with extinguishing the bonfire, and spoke with the group who were good to deal with and turned the music off.

"Further information regarding the noise or other breaches on the land, not including the fire, is best referred to (the) council."

Ms Orr-Walker says she had earlier rung the council to make a complaint about the ongoing noise, and although enforcement officers were sent out, she was told there was little they could do to stop the situation.

Kayakers parked up to party at a remote spot beside the Kawarau River near Queenstown (Image: Supplied).

She says she counted close to 40 vehicles parked adjacent to the highway, none of which had self-containment stickers, and 16 tents on the river's bank.

However, she says the council has informed her that because she did not specifically complain about the camping during her interactions with staff on the night, no enforcement action or follow up will happen.

A council spokesperson has confirmed it will not be investigating further, unless advised to by fire or police services, saying council did not receive "any complaints about unlawful camping".

Ms Orr-Walker says it is frustrating the responsibility for policing bad behaviour in terms of bylaw breaches in this instance has fallen on her household.

She thinks if council enforcement officers did a middle-of-the-night trip to the location to deal wth a noise complaint, they should also have acted on other obvious bylaw breaches.

"You would think it would be a no-brainer that their job would be to go out and assess the situation themselves, but they didn't."

Whitewater NZ board: 'As you can see in the photos...the beach and area was returned to a proper state by 10am ensure others can enjoy the area and that we continue to promote our 'Leave no Trace' motto' (Images: Supplied).

The morning after, she sighted a generator, tables set up with drinks, dumped drinking vessels and other rubbish, and the remains of a fire, but says the party-goers did eventually leave, and they took their mess with them when they did.

"They had cleaned it up perfectly, so you couldn't actually tell they had been there, which is good, but so much of that could have already gone down the river overnight, considering the state of people."

She says there was no provision for toilet facilities.

"We've got to respect what we've got, and where we live, and who we live next to...You want people to have fun but you also want it to be safe for everybody."

Mr Darling agrees, and on seeing photos from the initial aftermath of the party says, it is "disappointing to see the environment being treated in this way".

He says Whitewater NZ has a "leave no trace motto".

He shared follow-up photos of the party site from later on on Sunday morning, showing it looking, once more, pristine.

Facebook promotion for the party advertised it as being held at a secret location that would be revealed during the Citroen Extreme Race briefing, and that a $20 koha would be applied to any attendees that had not competed in the day's racing.

Main image (Supplied): The remains of an illegal fire earlier on Sunday morning, at the site of a pop-up party for kayakers fresh off a race down the Kawarau River on Saturday.

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