Wild Rivers: The Kaituna

As a botaniser's paradise and a kayaker's penultimate challenge, the Kaituna river has become an international destination for all types of people - however a hydro-electric scheme could change all that.  

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Where is the Kaituna River? 

 The Kaituna River starts at Okere Falls on the north western corner of Lake Rotoiti. From here it travels approximately 50 kilometres through temperate rainforest and farmland to enter the Bay of Plenty at Maketu.

 

Why's it so special?

The River derives it name as a food source of the tuna (Kai – food and tuna - freshwater eel).

The forests surrounding the proposed dam site have a rich flora with a large component of ferns and allied plants and animals. This includes substantial colonies of the nationally threatened King fern.

This flora assemblage was the basis for the Crown's purchase of the now named “Upper Kaituna Scenic Reserve” in 1984. This area is ranked as being of high botanical conservation value.

The Kaituna river itself is a world famous white-water tourism destination. The river is used for both recreational and commercial kayaking, rafting and sledging. The river features the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall, the awesome 7 metre Tutea Falls.

The mix of temperate rainforest, warm water, and its unusual character means the river is well known in international white water kayak circles and kayak videos. Jack Osborne (The Osborne’s) kayaked the Tutea falls as part of his adventure TV series – Adrenaline Junkie.

Our threatened long-finned eels are the most abundant native fish species in the upper Kaituna River.

When they are ready to breed, mature male and female longfins leave New Zealand and swim five thousand kilometres north to the tropics. When they arrive in deep ocean trenches somewhere near Tonga they spawn and shortly after die. Their progeny return to New Zealand estuaries and river mouths and travel upstream to re colonise our rivers such as the Kaituna.

Longfin eels are on the decline throughout the country and classified as a threatened species.

What's going to happen?

Currently the Kaituna river is one of our last wild rivers in New Zealand that is not damned.

Bay of Plenty Energy is proposing to construct a 13.5 MW hydro electric power dam in the area known as the “Lower Kaituna Gourges”. This will generate electricity to power approximately 10,000 homes.

See Bay of Plenty Energy’s website http://www.bope.co.nz/generation/kaituna for their description and map of the proposed dam.

To date the Minister of Conservation has issued an interim decision (approved in principle) which provides access to Bay of Plenty Energy for the purpose of constructing the dam on the Upper Kaituna Scenic Reserve.

This approval is dependent on the required resource consent applications being approved by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council (BOPRC). It is unclear when likely that BOP Energy will make these applications to BOPRC. These applications would be publically notified.

Concerns have been raised by local kayaking and rafting groups that the proposed power scheme will destroy a section of river rapids known as the "Awesome Gorge" and leave the section known as "Gnarly Gorge" with a highly reduced flow.

Gnarly Gourge is regarded as one of the most spectacular pieces of whitewater in New Zealand and is only paddled by expert paddlers. Although paddled infrequently, this section of river has iconic status amongst the international paddling community and is valued extremely highly (in a similar way climbers value iconic mountain peaks such as Mt. Everest).

Fish and Game are concerned the power scheme, which would divert water from the river into a 2km canal and power station, could also affect the upper river's "significant" trout fishery. This includes potential impacts on recruitment of fish to the area and food supply in areas of lower water flow.

The Department of Conservation has identified a number of adverse effects on the Reserve that it considers to be significant. These include the effects of construction, the loss of trees and other native vegetation, an increase in the water level and a change in the natural character / landscape values of the Reserve.

The natural character of the river will change from a swiftly flowing, turbulent river with rapidly flowing sections through to a more sedate open lake-like body of water 1.2 km in length.