Fed up at Lake Wakatipu woes

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Glenn Hardinge has had enough.

The Queenstown kayaking guide is so frustrated with recreational boaties not taking the dangers of Lake Wakatipu seriously enough that he is running a free water safety course.

Hardinge, who has 25 years’ adventure guiding experience, is conducting the course at the Wakatipu High pool this coming Tuesday, from 6pm till 8pm.

Hardinge says too many lake users are unprepared.

“It’s an ongoing problem with tourism and recreation users not taking the lake seriously enough.

“There’s guys on Warehouse dinghies trying to get across to Hidden Island [by Cecil Peak], shooting away from the One Mile carpark. I’m intercepting these guys all the time on my guided trips. I also caught a couple on the lake on Sunday with no lifejackets and gave them a stern talking-to.”

Local harbourmaster Marty Black has been warning kayakers to take commonsense precautions after several recent incidents. 

On one day last month, he issued $300 fines to both an English visitor and a Frenchman for not wearing lifejackets.

In the case of the English visitor, he’d been given a kayak but no lifejacket by his accommodation – and Black noted he’d follow up with the establishment to ensure it didn’t happen again.

Lifejackets are now compulsory for anyone on a craft fewer than six metres long.

Just last Friday, eight visitors and their Glenorchy guide were caught out by a change in the weather nearing the end of their excursion at the head of the lake.

As the wind rose suddenly, the group got spread out, with some needing assistance. The guide used his radio to call on Dart River Jet for help, and all nine kayakers were rescued within minutes of the call being received. 

Black, speaking at the time, warned against being solely reliant on the forecast and to be aware conditions can change quickly.

“Because every person was wearing a properly fitting life jacket and there was a good emergency plan in place, this situation ended well.”

While praising the guide for using good safety systems to avert possibly disaster, Black said the incident was a reminder that “simple precautions save lives”.

Hardinge says: “The harbourmaster can’t be everywhere – it’s up to people like myself who are in the industry to promote water safety as well.”

Hardinge says it’s not just visitors who are getting out of their depth.

“I’ve caught up with a couple of locals out there with no lifejackets, no skills.

“Unfortunately, many locals won’t go on the lake ’cos they think it’s too dangerous.

“It’s only dangerous if you’re in the wrong craft or you don’t know what you’re doing – if you know what you’re doing, it’s a fun place to be.

“If we educate the locals, when they take to the lake they’ll educate visitors in turn.”

Hardinge says Tuesday’s course will comprise water survival skills, including rolling a kayak, and is being organised by his company, Kayak Adventures Queenstown, and Toni Glover’s Kayak Kinloch.

The main instructor will be Hardinge’s son Luke who’s also a professional kayak instructor.

People also need to have a few clues about interpreting the weather, Hardinge says. 

“Have a look ahead, are there white caps on the water? Well, get off.

“If there’s a big grey cloud coming from Glenorchy, get off. It’s obvious, but some people don’t have common sense,” Hardinge adds.