Kayak park a rapid success

 Kayaking enthusiasts Pete Simpson (front), of Lake Hawea, and Gordon Bailey, of Wanaka, test  the new kayak park in the Hawea River yesterday. Photo by Lucy Ibbotson.
Kayaking enthusiasts Pete Simpson (front), of Lake Hawea, and Gordon Bailey, of Wanaka, test the new kayak park in the Hawea River yesterday. Photo by Lucy Ibbotson.

A new whitewater kayak park on the Hawea River is the ''world's best'' and is already being eyed up by the International Canoe Federation (ICF) for major events, its American designer says.

Scott Shipley, who has designed more than 20 whitewater courses around the world, including the London Olympic kayaking course, is thrilled with the outcome of his latest project.

Mr Shipley and other local whitewater enthusiasts were undeterred by yesterday's cold, drizzly weather as they whooped with delight on the newly-formed rapids during a test run of the park, just above the Camphill Rd bridge.

The park features two rock weirs cemented into the river, which create play waves for kayakers and rafters of all abilities.

''It's the world's best play park, I'm sure of that,'' a shivering Mr Shipley said after a lengthy stint in the river putting the park through its paces.

''It's just a world-class feature. It's got the ability for people who are just learning as well as those very best people in the world to do what they want.

''This is a feature you could hold the world championships on tomorrow. You don't get waves like this often. It's really fantastic.''

Mr Shipley said the park was starting to make waves internationally, too, in terms of its event potential.

''The ICF has already been watching it.''

Central Otago Whitewater Inc (Cow) committee member Roy Bailey, who has been involved with the project since it was first floated 11 years ago, said it was ''almost surreal'' to see it finally come to fruition.

''All the way along, you focus on the process, and now to have it on the Hawea River is awesome,'' Mr Bailey said.

''I think it's probably exceeded everyone's expectations.''

The park is paid for by Contact Energy, which controls the level of the river with its structure at the outlet of Lake Hawea. Contact agreed to Cow's request to build the course when it was renewing consents for its Clyde and Roxburgh dams. Contact engineer Denis McEntyre said the integrity and any erosion levels of the structures in the river were tested yesterday, and would be tested over the next few days at river flows up to 200cumecs.

A celebration for those responsible for creating the park will be held next Tuesday, and an official public opening is planned for early next year.

The park will host its first event, the New Zealand Freestyle Nationals, on March 9 and 10.

lucy.ibbotson@odt.co.nz