Looking after a lake often forgotten

Guardians of Lake Dunstan chairman Duncan Fulkner stands by the lake near the Lake Dunstan Boat...
Guardians of Lake Dunstan chairman Duncan Fulkner stands by the lake near the Lake Dunstan Boat Club, at McNulty Inlet, near Cromwell. Photo: Simon Henderson
The new chairman of the Guardians of Lake Dunstan says it was a ‘‘no-brainer’’ to step up to help protect the Central Otago waterway. Pam Jones  talks to Duncan Faulkner about efforts to safeguard a lake that is seen as the ‘‘poor relation’’ compared with its Queenstown-Lakes cousins.

How do New Zealand waterways compare with those you remember in your native England?

My experience of kayaking in England was pretty gross. The water quality was so poor that after performing an Eskimo roll in our kayaks we would drink a bottle of Coke to kill whatever nasty bugs we had swallowed while under water. Lakes and rivers became dumping grounds for stolen cars, oil drums, household rubbish, sewage. On one occasion we even found half a human leg which had been dumped after a rather nasty murder.

Do I ever think it could get this bad in New Zealand? Had you asked me that 10 years ago my answer would have been no. However, over the last 3-4 years I have noticed the water quality on the Clutha River getting worse. The culture that it is OK to pollute our lakes and rivers, providing we have a consent, is only going to set a precedent, and over time I suspect water quality will get worse and worse. The rivers in the United Kingdom didn't start out their life as a dumping ground. It happened over generations.

What has made you take on the challenge of chairing the Guardians of Lake Dunstan group?

I love the water and have for as long as I can remember - I still recall trying kayaking for the first time as an eager cub scout when I was 9. Since then I have visited some amazing countries with my kayak and seen sights only few will get to see. It sounds cheesy to say water has shaped my life, but it has. When I heard Lake Dunstan was facing some challenges and the Guardians needed a helping hand, it was a no-brainer for me to step up to the position of chairman. I come from a business background which is helping me build a capable, enthusiastic team to protect the lake for many generations to come.

Freedom campers at Bendigo during a previous summer overlook Lake Dunstan. Freedom camping is one...
Freedom campers at Bendigo during a previous summer overlook Lake Dunstan. Freedom camping is one of the issues affecting the lake that the new-look Guardians of Lake Dunstan group wants to tackle, its new chairman Duncan Faulkner says. Photo: ODT files
What are you hoping you and the group will achieve?

Our first priority is to understand the issues facing the lake and who is responsible for what. Alongside this, I am building a strong governance structure that is well-informed and capable of tackling lake issues as they arise. We have recently applied for charitable status to help with funding, and over the next few months will be working with stakeholders, including the community, to develop a lake management plan. We are thinking big and bold.

We are some way off starting the formal lake engagement process, but already we have had members of the public approaching us to share their ideas. The Cromwell community is extremely excited about what our lake "could" be, and so are we.

What are the issues facing the lake?

Issues identified so far include freedom camping, weed control, silting, the shoreline, pollution and access for all (youth, disabled, elderly).

How would you describe the caretaking of the lake until now?

The lake is only 30 years old, and my understanding is that historically the lake has been a bit of an ugly duckling that no one government organisation really wants to take responsibility for. Perhaps this is why it looks so neglected and forgotten about in places. Lake Dunstan has the potential to be a world-class destination for water sports, recreation and tourism. This would create more jobs and help to drive our local economy, not to mention make Cromwell an even better place to live and play. But to do this we first need to recognise the potential of this 26sq km body of water, and we need a solid plan to improve its biodiversity.

Do you believe agencies and stakeholders are taking the wellbeing of the lake seriously enough - or is Lake Dunstan viewed as the "poor relation" compared with Lakes Wakatipu and Wanaka?

Lake Dunstan is ultimately the poor relation when compared with lakes Wakatipu and Wanaka. To be fair, that's completely understandable, but not good enough. Lake Dunstan was forced upon the community and, like it or not, the lake is there for good. We need to embrace it, protect it and capitalise on it, in the same way other lakeside resorts have around the world.

What's next for your group? What do you have planned?

We have a busy few months planned, including finalising our charitable status, establishing specific reporting lines into local and national government, kicking off a community engagement project regarding the lake and developing the lake management plan. Not to mention actually getting out on the lake ourselves for some good times over summer.


It is a totally different lake to Lake Wakatipu and Lake Wanaka and even Lake Hawea being a man-made lake. Sure, it needs the same pure clean water and weed control but the cost is significantly to be borne by who "owns" the lake. The Dam is a Contact Energy asset as I understand and they should maintain their asset at the same time looking after the water quality of their asset.