No swans, no flamingos: do it right or lose it, deputy mayor says

by Lauren Pattemore - Feb 08, 2023

Public access to a stretch of the Shotover River may be in jeopardy if people continue to "float" down the white water on cheap inflatables, raising safety concerns.

The Queenstown Lakes District Council's opened up the previously restricted waterway to recreational users in recent years, but last Friday river goers weren’t taking it seriously, putting themselves and the blanket permit at risk.

In response, deputy mayor Quentin Smith, who sat on a hearings panel that helped open up the iconic section of waterway, is warning users to "do it right or lose the opportunity".

Regular river goer and vice president of the Arthur’s Point Community Association Nigel Lloyd says more experienced Shotover River rafters were “scared by what they were seeing” on Friday night.

There's reports of multiple people needing rescuing - including after becoming trapped under trees, and that's dangerous, he says.

“If you get tangled in a tree, you can get held underwater and drown pretty easily."

Crux has also been told of one river user on Friday needing to be rescued by helicopter and Helicopters Otago has been approached for comment.

Mr Lloyd says people aren’t showing the potentially hazardous river the respect it needs, taking it on without the right gear - sometimes turning up without even a paddle or a life jacket - or a decent understanding of what's involved.

“Part of the problem is people think you can sit on a $20 inflatable and drink beer and float down the river. It’s not quite like that.

“You need to be able to maneuver around the river to avoid hazards.”

He also notes the river changes frequently - there's different currents, constantly moving sandbars, and fresh tree fall.

Plus, last week's bout of rain meant the river on Friday was flowing faster than usual.

A detailed infographic for public recreational users of the Shotover River to refer to (Image: Facebook/Friends of Shotover River).

Mr Smith says he's "gutted" to hear of river users ill-prepared.

He sat on the hearing panel for the review of the Shotover River Bylaw 2021, which opened up the blanket access to the river on Wednesdays and Fridays from 5.30pm to 9pm.

Deputy mayor Quentin Smith says its compulsory to wear a life jacket if you're on the water on a vessel under six metres.

Before that, the river was used exclusively by Shotover Jet or individuals who’d obtained a permit.

“We've gone a long way to providing that opportunity and it really is dependent on people doing the right thing and using it appropriately,” the deputy mayor says.

“It is really the first time in a generation where the public has had regular scheduled access to that section of the river and we should really protect and appreciate that.”

Mr Smith says it is compulsory to wear a life jacket whilst in a vessel under six metres, and this goes for any waterway in the district, including the Shotover.

But, Queenstown resident Terri Anderson says she's seen a child going down the river on a mattress – no life jacket or paddle in sight.

Ms Anderson says the loose language used to describe the stretch of rapids is contributing to the problem, with many referring to the activity as a “float”.

There should be more signage around the river, Ms Anderson says, so people are more informed of the risks involved and equipment needed before they get in.

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