Call of the foam

Pete Simpson kayaks the Nevis River in 2008.
Pete Simpson kayaks the Nevis River in 2008.
It was a simple but resonant statement: "kayakers are mad".

So said Ministry for the Environment tribunal members tasked recently with deciding whether to protect Central Otago's Nevis River from future hydro schemes or diversions.

The tribunal had just finished watching a film of Central Otago White Water Club members kayaking the grade five river.

White-water exponent and Hawea Flat film-maker Pete Simpson (37) was thrilled he had made an impact.

"They [the tribunal] said, 'What we have learned so far is that fishermen are passionate and kayakers are mad'.

"I really think they respected our case and have understood our point and our position about the Nevis River... I do think they are seeing the big picture, but I do still feel we are the wee fish in the big pond," he said.

Simpson's gob-smacking 12-minute film has now won the special jury prize at the 2009 New Zealand Mountain Film Festival and will have its public debut in Wanaka on July 3.

It features nine Central Otago and Dunedin kayakers, including five who gave submissions to the tribunal: Roy Bailey, Glenn Murdoch and Simpson of Wanaka, Dylan Thompson of Dunedin and Gordon Raynor of Alexandra.

"There are no fancy transitions or editing effects. It is just another day on the river," Simpson said.

Meanwhile, the tribunal has adjourned and whether the "Aoraki-Mt Cook of white water" gets a reprieve was not known at the time of writing.

If the river is dammed, a heck of a lot of promising teenage kayakers' dreams of tackling the river will be over.

It's the experienced kayakers who have sleepless nights rehearsing in their heads how they will tackle it the next day, Simpson says.

On the kayaking scale of 1 (beginners/easy) to 6 (unkayakable), the Nevis is regarded as a "very hard 5, with some 5-plus rapids".

It attracts about 100 paddlers a year, many from overseas.

"Whether I need it in my life or kayaking at the moment, I am not sure. But even when you are in there with your team, you have to be self-reliant. There are not many options out, or to be spotted [if something goes wrong]. It is like being on the moon... In the Nevis, you might not be able to be rescued, even if you are with a team," Simpson said.

Before settling down about 10 years ago, the married father of two travelled the world with just a 20kg kayak and a toothbrush.

He spent 20 years in 23 different countries and most of his time playing on water.

"The kayaking community is really a special bunch of jokers... To bring up a family outside kayaking is the trickier part," he confessed.

As a boy Simpson would bike 8km from his Edinburgh home to his kayak club, change into his gear, carry his boat 2km to the water, and then paddle 5km to the club's training site. He'd train, then go home the way he came.

Similar cycling odysseys occurred whenever he wanted to go the pool to play canoe polo, which was frequently. And there were many family and scout club kayaking holidays.

Simpson studied outdoor pursuits at Glasgow University and began earning a crust on the Zambesi River in 1993, filming tourist rafting trips from his kayak.

He takes a small handycam everywhere in a waterproof box. The camera he uses now was a wedding present 10 years ago from his brother, but he prefers it over any other gear because it is light, easy to transport, still does the job - and because he loves it.

He still has the first boat he ever owned, given to him by his parents when he was aged 7, and it is in the stack near the kitchen window of the Hawea Flat house where he lives with wife Carol and sons Red and Tayawa.


Film-maker: Pete Simpson (37), of Hawea Flat
Short film: Kayaking the Nevis (12 minutes)
About the film: Otago kayakers tackle New Zealand's hardest white-water river, the Nevis, near Queenstown. The river is threatened by a hydro-electricity scheme and kayakers want it protected under the Kawarau water conservation order.
How filmed: CCCD Sony HandicamScreening: Lake Wanaka Centre, Friday, July 3, from 9.30pm. (Special jury award)

About Simpson
From: Edinburgh, Scotland
Qualifications: Bachelor of arts, majoring in outdoor pursuits in the community (Glasgow University).
Employed: House dad/Wanaka Wastebusters employee/ski-bus driver.
Family: Partner Carol Bradley, sons Red (5) and Tayawa (3).
Lives: Hawea Flat, for six years.



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