January 26, 2021

Kawarau River Fun Facts you didn’t know!

KJet’s Jet boat trips take you down the Kawarau and Shotover Rivers.  The Kawarau River is much different to the Shotover in that it’s fed by a large lake and is much deeper and aqua in colour. We’ve dug out some more interesting facts on the Kawarau River!

1] An ordinary river begins as a mountain stream or spring and gathers other rivers and streams on its way before flowing out to sea. The Kawarau river is different as it begins as an outlet of NZ’s third largest lake, Lake Wakatipu (fed by 5 rivers) which then gathers the waters of other rivers and streams (including the Shotover River) before joining the mighty Clutha river and eventually flowing out to sea at Molyneux Bay. [1]

2] There is evidence that a massive earthquake 18,000 years ago thrust land upwards at the top of the lake in Kingston (where the lake drained into the Mataura River) forcing the lake to drain instead through Frankton opening up the Kawarau river outlet. [2]

3] Kawarau is a Māori name meaning many shrubs.

4] The Kawarau River meets the Shotover River at a place called the confluence.

5] The historic Kawarau Suspension Bridge (world home of bungy) crosses the rivers sheer rocky gorge which is prone to high winds, proving to be an engineering feat of its time. The suspension bridge was built in 1880, winning a world’s top engineering award in 1882. In 1963 a new bridge opened and the original bridge was retained for its historic value. [3]

6] The Kawarau River featured as a setting for the ‘Gates or Argonath’ in the 2001 motion picture, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. To create the Argonath, the filmmakers used two large and highly detailed models which were combined with live action footage of the Kawarau River to create the gates.

7] For many early settlers living on the banks of the Kawarau River, daily travel from one side of the river to the other (to visit friends, go to work, take children to school or even go to the pub) was by way of a ‘Flying Fox’ a simple contraption made of a wire cable and a large box like structure attached to the cable with pulleys. [4]

8] In 1866, local business man James Robertson and Bendix Hallenstein joined forces to construct a flour mill using the Kawarau Falls to drive the mill turbine. The Brunswick Flour Mill was four stories high and powered by a huge water wheel 5m in diameter x 4m wide. Even though it operated with only 45cm of water, in 1896 the lake levels were so low, production at the mill halted. It was never profitable since then. You can see a nod to the past where the old turbine was salvaged and erected as a monument adjacent to the northern entry to the Kawarau Falls Bridge. [5]

9] The site of the Brunswick Flour Mill was also the site of a centuries old Ngati Mamoe Maori Pa, as several greenstone chisels, axe heads and a number of stone implements were found a metre below the surface when mill excavations began. [6]

10] The Queenstown Lake District Council water monitoring of the Kawarau River at Chard Road, show the highest recorded flow in 1999 (Queenstown floods) of 1197 cumecs, where mean annual flow is only 84 cumecs. That’s a lot of water!

[1] The Banks of the Kawarau River Tales of the Past; Singleton, G; 2017; P 3.

[2] The Banks of the Kawarau River Tales of the Past; Singleton, G; 2017; P 4.

[3] https://tohuwhenua.nz/otago/kawarau-suspension-bridge

[4] The Banks of the Kawarau River Tales of the Past; Singleton, G; 2017; PP 126-127.

[5] The Banks of the Kawarau River Tales of the Past; Singleton, G; 2017; PP 35-39.

[6] The Banks of the Kawarau River Tales of the Past; Singleton, G; 2017; P 35.