Deaths devastate Makarora

The Makarora River. Photo: Getty Images
The Makarora River. Photo: Getty Images
The small community of Makarora is "devastated" after four deaths in the area in the space of two weeks.

Two bodies were found in the Makarora River by members of the public at the weekend — the first about 5.15pm on Friday and the second about 12.30pm on Saturday.

The pair had been tramping in Mount Aspiring National Park.

A police spokeswoman said the pair were a man and a woman. The police were still working through a formal identification process.

An investigation into the deaths was ongoing, but circumstances were not believed to be suspicious.

The deaths came after several days of extreme weather in the lower half of the South Island.

Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage had earlier told media police were attempting to locate a third person, but the police spokeswoman said that was not the case.

"Inquiries are continuing, but there is no detail to suggest anyone is missing," the spokeswoman said.

It had been a tough few weeks for the small community, after two people were killed in a car crash near Makarora on January 30.

After a Department of Conservation staff member was removed from the area’s information centre several years ago, a long-time resident said she was surprised a tragedy had not happened sooner.

Wonderland Makarora Lodge manager Michelle St John said the community had been fighting to have a Doc staff member reinstated at the Information Centre to provide information to those entering the national park, but to no avail.

"It’s been like that for three or four years, and I’m incredibly surprised that this actually hasn’t happened before.

"It seems to be that all the information lands on us, and we’re an accommodation provider.

"Obviously, we put out alerts and we would recommend that people didn’t cross rivers and things, but we don’t have the authority to say."

They had to tell people to go back to Wanaka to check conditions with department staff there, but they often did not, she said.

"And how does someone in Wanaka know what conditions are like in Makarora, 63km away? It’s a totally different climate and environment.

"We fought hard to keep it open, but they closed it anyway."

She said the community was "pretty devastated".

Federated Mountain Clubs president Jan Finlayson said having department staff based near the entrances to national parks was "vital".

"Not just for giving advice to recreationists, but so people understand the environment they’re going into in a general sense," she said.

She urged trampers to follow the basics, such as avoiding having to cross unbridged rivers if you were not confident, and never rivers or streams in flood.

"Crossing the Makarora, especially lower down, is a really hairy undertaking.

"It’s a big river, but snow-melt and rain can make even small rivers and streams rise up and become dangerous. Even small streams and creeks are big rivers in the making."

A Doc spokesman said the department was unable to comment yesterday afternoon.

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