Published on June 28th, 2022 | by Kayak Session

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The Waitaha: Too spectacular to lose, West Coast NZ

New Zealand’s Waitaha River is once again under threat of hydro development. On June 1st, Westpower asked for a reconsideration of the Waitaha Hydro Scheme, and Whitewater NZ has been working hard to try and understand the current situation and how they can make sure that the original decision is upheld and ensure that paddlers’ voices are heard and that the Waitaha River continues to flow freely. Liam Hopkinson reflects on the beauty and legacy of the Waitaha and why it is crucial to protect this wild river. 

Gently, ever so gently floating on the verge where fantasy rolls in on each new wave and rises to form this majestic chasm of wonder. That is the feeling you get as you paddle into Morgan Gorge. Only visible to the naked eye under starlight and perseverance. This gorge is viewed from the stunning heights of a high-up swing bridge or through navigating its formidable whitewater.

I grew up on stories of this fable from my dad, who pioneered and explored the rivers of Africa, Pakistan, and Nepal before moving to New Zealand. No matter the stories he told, he always referred to the Waitaha River as the most pristinely beautiful and pure.

As I grew up in the kayaking scene, learning the tricks of the trade from my old man, I always kept the Waitaha in the back of my mind as an opportunity I wouldn’t miss for the world. I knew that paddling its whitewater and drinking in its untouched rugged beauty would be the experience of a lifetime.

This summer, I was offered the opportunity to adventure into this phenomenal wilderness with a great crew of peers. From my experience, I can tell you this: True fantasy is achieved as the sun rises and the day is seized. I shit you not when I say the stories were true. The Waitaha is the prize jewel of the West Coast. The Morgan Gorge twists and spirals like layers of fossilized wood. The walls rise 80 meters or so, glinting in the sunlight with dripping moss. It’s a truly humbling place to revel in the power of water. 

I try not to swim to the verge of despair as they threaten to dam this river, again. Greed and apathy are overcoming sound reasoning to care for this Aoraki of rivers. However, I believe that the power of the community can fight to save it. If we band together, keeping this river pure will no longer be a fantasy but the fight of a generation, our stand to keep the West Coast of New Zealand an untamed natural wilderness.

Reach out to Whitewater New Zealand for more information and to find out how you can help.

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