Concern over safety of marina breakwater

View over Queenstown, with the Kelvin Peninsula and Kelvin Heights in the centre background....
View over Queenstown, with the Kelvin Peninsula and Kelvin Heights in the centre background. PHOTO: WIKIPEDIA
A multisport legend is warning Queenstown Marina’s breakwater poses a major safety hazard for water users — and fears someone will drown if nothing is done.

Nine-time Coast to Coast winner Steve Gurney, of Queenstown, said he had been concerned about the long, curvy structure at the end of the Frankton Arm marina since 2020, soon after it was built.

He blew the whistle this week, as he was sick of the lack of action by public bodies and their continual buck-passing.

Specifically, he was concerned waves rebounding off the breakwater, in prevailing winds, could topple kayaks and other small craft.

The "undercut" nature of the breakwater could then force a capsized person underneath it, he said.

Then there was no safety ladder or "cargo net" to grab to get on to the breakwater, forcing someone to spend a potentially dangerous amount of time floundering in the water.

Responding to Mr Gurney’s concerns, marina owner Iraj Barabi said he had commissioned Bellingham Marine, which designed and built the marina, to review the "potential risks associated with any reflected waves".

Meanwhile, he insisted safety was "of utmost concern" for his team, and they endeavoured "to address any and all concerns".

He also advised lake users "to stay within their limits and exercise extreme caution", as lake conditions could change rapidly.

Mr Gurney said his concerns over the breakwater were borne out when experienced Queenstown kayaker Simon Bank fell out of his kayak in October last year "in exactly the circumstances" he had been predicting.

Mr Bank said he kayaked from the marina to Kelvin Heights when he was caught by a southerly that suddenly sprang up.

He was then toppled by southerly waves rebounding off the breakwater.

"It just rolled me, like instantly — there was no ability to brace or prepare for it."

He was then faced with swimming a few hundred metres to shore.

"At this point, I swam towards the breakwater because it was still the closest thing to me."

However, there was no way he could clamber on to the structure, he said.

"Fortunately, someone on the shore could see me and ran and helped pull me out of the water, and pulled my kayak out.

"I’ve never felt unsafe in another marina, but this one definitely makes you feel unsafe."

In an email to the Queenstown Lakes District Council last month supporting Mr Gurney, Mr Bank said: "I shudder to think what might have happened had there not been anyone to witness my plight".

"It’s only a matter of time before someone else falls into a perilous situation like the one I experienced.

"We’re extremely fortunate that no lives have been lost so far, but we cannot rely on luck alone to protect the members of the community," the email said.

Mr Gurney said he had gone public as he was sick of the buck-passing between authorities.

As an example, a council monitoring and enforcement officer said his concern was a health and safety issue, which WorkSafe NZ dealt with.

But WorkSafe NZ said the council was "the lead agency for public safety issues".

"It seems like we’re not going to get any action until someone actually drowns," Mr Gurney said.

By Philip Chandler