Claim staked for Queenstown riverbank farm access

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Fish & Game is putting bidders on notice ahead of the multi-million dollar auction of Queenstown’s Kawarau River Station tomorrow. 

“Fourteen kilometres of riverbank is an important recreational resource and it deserves better [public] access than that which is in place,” F&G Otago boss Niall Watson says.

Watson counters a statement in national advertising for the 1825ha station.

The advertisement claim? “There is currently no public access permitted across the farm or along the riverbank, providing complete privacy for the owner …”

“That’s not correct,” Watson says flatly.

“Secure public access” is preserved by a ‘paper’ road along most of the property’s Kawarau River boundary,’’ he says.

“In essence, the unformed road is a riverbank reserve,” Watson says – but apart from one walkway, public access to the riverbank is limited for about 14km.

“That lack of access to the river is surprising, given the property’s been through tenure review when secure public access should have been provided.”

Watson says the restricted access is “a serious oversight”, denying anglers and other river users the opportunity “for a range of recreational activities”.

“It’s obviously not sufficient to have a riverside public reserve if you can’t get to the river,” Watson says.

Realtor Bas Smith sees things differently.

He agrees the original paper road runs along the riverbank but maintains the existing dirt road doesn’t follow the paper road.

“There are parts of that [dirt] road which are on the legal [paper] road but they’re in portions,” Smith says, “not one continuous road.”

That’s why public access “is no longer viable”, he believes, “because [the paper road] doesn’t run the whole length of the property”.

The realtor volunteers to call Watson and ask if he’d like auction bidders to be told F&G feels the public is entitled to access.

If the big spread sells tomorrow, F&G will be on the case, Watson says, seeking discussions with the new owners about improving public access “without encroaching on their farm operation”.

“It’s really a question of how people get to the river to enjoy the riverbank.”

The station’s 1999 tenure review – freeholding leased Crown land in return for surrendering high-country portions – resulted in “a poor outcome”, Watson says.

“Public access always seems to come last in the considerations.”