Waitaha River - Aoraki / Mt Cook of Rivers

One of the things we love about making films is the chance to delve into a business, issue or product and try to work out what the underlying stories are.

We were recently approached by Whitewater New Zealand to produce a video to highlight the issues that a proposed hydro development on the Waitaha River poses. 

This project was quite an emotional one because as whitewater kayakers, and having shot films on the amazingly beautiful Waitaha river before, we feel a strong bond with this special place.

When the scheme was first proposed around 6 or 7 years ago there was a feeling that it would be a shame to loose the water from this beautiful place, but also an acceptance that at the time the West Coast needed more power generation. At that time no one had paddled through this gorge.

A few years later there was a successful descent of the gorge by a keen group of local kayakers who had been exploring other local river gorges thought to be un-paddleable. We made a short film showcasing this incredible whitewater for an international film competition and placed 4th. The message was that rivers we may consider impossible to kayak now (and therefore open to hydro development) are simply the challenge for the next generation of adventurers.

Now that the hydro proposal for the Waitaha River is being considered by DOC things have totally changed. Morgans Gorge is now sought out by kayakers at their peak looking for the ultimate challenge, and power usage has dropped significantly on the West Coast. There is now no requirement for extra power generation both locally and nationally.

Over the last few years we have been keen to showcase much of the good work the Westpower (who are proposing the Waitaha Hydro) done. Excellent schemes of their's such as the Amethyst Hydro Scheme show how hydro can be done in a way that benefits everyone in the community and does not impact in a significant way on conservation land or on recreation. Unfortunately the Waitaha Scheme does not fit the same criteria.

Looking to the future we hope to be involved in filming the first complete descent of the Waitaha from it's source high in the Alps at Ivory lake to the Tasman Sea. All the sections of the river have now been paddled making it the pinnacle of whitewater in New Zealand - the Aoraki/Mt Cook of rivers.

The last section to be completed was the truly awe inspiring Windhover gorge. We were fortunate to be filming on the first attempt to descend these massive waterfalls by kayak. Three kayakers started the trip but only 2 made it out with one kayak and one paddle between them - a truly epic adventure. We caught some of the carnage on camera and it formed the basis of a news story for TVNZ.