Kayaker drowns in raging waterfalls

By Mike Dinsdale

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The unnamed waterfall on Wairoa River pictured on Saturday shortly after a man from the Czech Republic died when he kayaked over the falls.Photo/Supplied
The unnamed waterfall on Wairoa River pictured on Saturday shortly after a man from the Czech Republic died when he kayaked over the falls.Photo/Supplied

A man from the Czech Republic is dead after he went over a raging Whangarei waterfall in a kayak during torrential conditions on Saturday.

The 29-year-old kayaker was with three others, one from Whangarei and two from Auckland, when the four went over the waterfall on the Wairoa River, off Puketitoi Rd, about 25km west of Whangarei about 1.30pm on Saturday.

Whangarei police Sergeant Craig Burrows said the four kayakers were equipped with safety gear, including lifejackets, but the man's three colleagues were unable to save him when they recovered him from the raging water.

Mr Burrows said the four attempted to go over the waterfall when the Czech national struggled at the bottom of the falls and got caught in the rapids.

"He got into trouble and was pulled under many times," Mr Burrows said.

"His friends managed to reach him, pull him up a cliff and perform CPR, which was unsuccessful."

He said the river was wild at the time with floodwaters from heavy rain swelling the watercourse.

Access to the waterfall is not easy, with kayakers having to go across private land to get there.

The man had been living in New Zealand and Mr Burrows said his next of kin in the Czech Republic had been informed of his death. They had yet to make a decision whether to fly to New Zealand or await the return of his body.

The man's name is not being released at this stage.

Puketitoi Rd residents spoken to by the Northern Advocate yesterday said the waterfall would have been raging on Saturday after the large volume of water that has fallen on the catchment area in recent days.

Jim McGrath said the river would have been "very, very full and very, very swift" on Saturday.

"It's got a huge amount of water going through there after the storms like we've had and those falls would have been wild. You'd have to be nuts to go over in weather like that," he said.

Chairman of the Northland Regional Council Bill Shepherd said plenty of people had kayaked over the falls that he was aware of, so it was not a rare event.

But the falls, that he has heard referred to as Old Jim's Falls after a man who once owned some of the land, can be dangerous after a storm.

"You have to be a bit careful, but a number of people have been over the falls, though I haven't seen anybody going over in conditions like it would have been [on Saturday]," Mr Shepherd said.

"It's a bit risky. There's been a huge amount of water over them and there are whirlpools at the bottom that are horrendous at the best of times."

- Northern Advocate

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