The father of a woman who died kayaking the Kaituna River says his daughter would be devastated her death could lead to the closure of parts of the much-loved river.

Adrian Jull, father of professional kayaker Louise Jull who died in March 2015, said he would be fighting the Bay of Plenty regional harbourmaster Peter Buell's intention to close the lower gorges of the Kaituna River from May 1.

Buell announced on Tuesday he would hold a stakeholders' meeting to discuss his intention to close the Awesome, Gnarly and Smokey gorges to prevent further tragedy.

His action comes following the deaths of American tourist Matthew Stidham in 2007 and Jull in 2015.


No commercial whitewater rafting companies use the gorges and recreational users were unable to access the gorges, so the closure only affected kayakers capable of paddling the area.

Regional harbourmaster Peter Buell. Photo / File
Regional harbourmaster Peter Buell. Photo / File

Buell's announcement has been met with firm opposition from the kayaking community who have come out saying he was taking his authority too far and a closure wasn't necessary.

Whitewater NZ president Nigel Parry, Olympic slalom canoeist Mike Dawson from Rotorua and Olympic kayaking hopeful Zack Mutton have all expressed their concern, saying mountains, roads and beaches weren't closed when people died on them, so the river should remain open too.

They said closure would see them lose something special in New Zealand - the right to adventure in the outdoors.

Adrian Jull told the Rotorua Daily Post he hoped to come to Rotorua for a stakeholders' meeting to put forward his views, on behalf of Louise's immediate family.

Louise Jull, 26, a physical education teacher at Western Heights High School, became separated from her two companions while kayaking on the lower gorges of the Kaituna River.

A year after her death, Coroner Wallace Bain recommended following an inquest that a forum be held for all interested people and users of the Kaituna River, as well as those involved in extreme sports.

He recommended this could be organised by Environment Bay of Plenty in liaison with Whitewater NZ.

Adrian Jull said his daughter had kayaked the river several times without incident.


"While we recognise it is distressing to have things go wrong, it is part of risk-taking and management. There are things could be done to mitigate those risks.

"People still climb Mt Cook even though it is dangerous and every time there is a car accident we don't close a road.

"Louise would be devastated to think one of her actions or because of her a river is declared a no-go zone."

Adrian Jull was confused why it had taken four years since his daughter's death for there to suddenly be an urgent need to close the river.

"It would have been good to sit down and talk about it. If he is really concerned, why has it not been a decision made earlier? ... This has come out of the blue."

The Rotorua Daily Post asked Buell more questions about his intentions and he replied in a written statement.

Buell said he appreciated and could understand the strong opposition from a small group of very experienced recreational kayakers.

"Regional council has been engaging with Whitewater NZ and provided an early indication of my intention to close those sections of the river."

He said a meeting would be held in the coming weeks but under legislation he was tasked with ensuring people were safe on the water.

"On balance, I see the only way to ensure safety is through closure."

He said authorities stepped in for safety reasons all the time.

The Kaituna River in Okere Falls, just out of Rotorua. Photo / File
The Kaituna River in Okere Falls, just out of Rotorua. Photo / File

"We closed river bars so that people don't try and cross if conditions are dangerous. We close roads when bridges collapse or mark detours. We have fishing restrictions, hunting seasons, closed skifields and all sorts of other actions we take.

"Unfortunately with those sections of the river, there is no possible marking of hazards or detours that are possible to reduce the risk far enough. The only way I can see of ensuring safety is to close those sections of the river."

He said harbourmasters could use several tools to prevent danger, including restricting access, enforcing speed limits, providing navigational aids and excluding zones.

"My judgment as harbourmaster is that none of these options sufficiently reduce the risk to recreational users on those sections of the Kaituna. My duty under law is to make sure I am using all powers available to me to save a life."

When asked what it would take to change his mind, he said he had been very clear with his intention.

"However, I am also open to having the meeting and talking it through with those that feel differently."

Buell said following Coroner Bain's recommendation, they tried to facilitate a forum involving Sir Michael Cullen to discuss safety issues with the kayaking community.

He said towards the end of 2016, the first forum meeting was arranged but the kayaking representative was unable to attend at the last minute so it didn't go ahead.

Buell said it was their understanding from correspondence at the time that the kayaking community did not want to engage with that process.