An Alexandra farmer whose first-ever descent of the Nevis Bluff rapids in a jet-boat a year ago spawned a viral internet video, has been slapped with a $1500 fine.
Timothy Dermott O’Sullivan was sentenced in the Queenstown District Court yesterday on a charge of entering a prohibited area on the Kawarau River, near Gibbston, on December 11 last year.
O’Sullivan was prosecuted by the Queenstown Lakes District Council for breaching its Navigation Safety Bylaw 2018, which prohibits powered vessels from a section of the river that includes the rapids.
A dramatic five-minute YouTube video of O’Sullivan negotiating the rapids has had more than 46,000 views.
The council’s summary of facts said O’Sullivan launched his jet-boat at the end of Rafters Rd about 2pm.
A sign at the site said that section of river had a 5-knot speed limit “which effectively prohibits the use of powered craft”.
Before entering the rapids, he was in radio contact with friends “spotting” for him from either side of the Nevis Bluff to ensure there was no-one else using the river.
Another friend had flown a drone with a live camera feed up and down the rapids to check the area was clear before the defendant made his run.
Cellphone videos and drone footage were compiled and uploaded to YouTube the same day under the account name of Paul McBreen, a committee member of Jet Boating New Zealand’s Otago branch.
However, O’Sullivan was unaware the video would be uploaded.
The council’s website and brochures were explicit that powered vessels were not allowed in that part of the river, yet O’Sullivan did not seek an exemption, the summary said.
After being contacted by the council about the incident in February, he admitted his actions in a formal interview in April.
He claimed to be unaware of the restrictions on that part of the river, and thought he could do so provided he did not exceed five knots faster than the water flow.
Counsel Tim Mackenzie said the defendant was an experienced jet-boater who had descended the rapid in a “very competent way”.
He had spent 18 months planning the trip, and taken measures to ensure other river users, such as rafters and kayakers, were not in the area
Unfortunately, the video of his exploits had “achieved some notoriety”, ultimately resulting in the council’s prosecution.
Although the meaning of the sign at the launch site was “contentious”, the defendant accepted he should have checked the situation with the council, Mr Mackenzie said.
Speaking to the Otago Daily Times after sentencing, O’Sullivan said the sign was old and its meaning “a little bit grey” following an update of the bylaw in 2018.
However, he accepted “in hindsight” he should have checked with the council first.
He declined to comment further.
The maximum penalty for breaching the bylaw is a $20,000 fine.