Dunedin student found dead in river was keen tramper

The Makarora River. Photo: Getty Images
The Makarora River. Photo: Getty Images
A Dunedin student who was one of two people found dead in the Makarora River at the weekend was a senior member of the Otago University Tramping Club and a keen photographer.

Police this morning identified the man as Kevin Kum Fike Lee (22), who resided in Dunedin.

Police are yet to release the name of a woman also found dead in the river.

The 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.

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It me 👋

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Otago University Students' Association president Jack Manning said it was "deeply saddened to hear of the tragic death of Kevin Lee".

"Kevin was an avid and valued member of our university community, and a senior member of the tramping club.

"He will be sorely missed by fellow peers.  Our thoughts are with his family and friends over this time, and we ask that their privacy is respected."

He said OUSA Student Support was open from 9am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday for any students dealing with grief.

"We ask the members of our community to look after their friends and whānau over what is understandably a difficult period."

Mr Lee was a pharmacy student and called himself an "adventure enthusiast" on his Instagram account.

The last photo he posted was listed as being taken in Makarora 17 weeks ago.

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Taken at 2179m

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He also ran a freelance photography business called Kevin Lee Photo.

A police spokeswoman earlier this week said the pair were a man and a woman. 

The circumstances of the deaths were not believed to be suspicious.

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

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."

 

 

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