OPOTIKI JET SKI FATALITY – HAPU CONCERNED WITH RIVER SAFETY
“My profound sympathy and aroha are extended to the family of the young man who died at Opotiki on the Otara river at the New Year. I acknowledge and thank the kaumatua responsible for initiating and lifting the rahui which was placed on the Otara river to ensure the safety of the people and the area known to us as Oama following the tragic death of the jet skiier on 2 January 2021,” said Peter Selwyn, Chair of Ngai Tamahaua Hapu.
Mr Selwyn was anxious to quell speculation following the initial report of the fatality in the Opotiki News of 7 January 2021. No account of the incident or naming of the deceased has been published on the NZ Police website, despite that being normal practice, fuelling local rumours. A Hapu representative has since confirmed with the Sergeant at Opotiki police station that there appeared to be no unusual circumstances surrounding the death and the removal of the deceased was without incident.
Mr Selwyn said: “This unfortunate incident is a reminder to us all to be mindful of the dynamic environment of our rivers and harbours and to approach swimming, boating and fishing with caution as to conditions and awareness of other users.”
“Whilst the Hapu does not agree with the Bay of Plenty Regional Council in their assertion of management over our waterways – and the current exemption of speed restrictions on the adjoining Waioweka river – the basics of their safety bylaw applying to the Otara river and the harbour are not disputed: keep to a maximum of 5 knots (10 km/h) on rivers and the harbour.”
“I would like to thank the public for their observation of the rahui. A notice was originally posted to Facebook – and then a panui on our Hapu website. The several Hapu of Whakatohea having kaitiakitanga responsibilities for our awa and harbour will probably have to co-ordinate more formally in future so rahui tohu/panui (markers/signage) are immediately put up at entry points to alert those such as myself who are not on social media.”
“The Otara river is only partially navigable with shallow rapids, sharp bends and midstream bars and beaches of shingle which can move after floods. Whitebaiters and eelers with hinaki (traps) and herring netters as well as trout anglers and swimmers are regular users of the river which make it unsuitable for powered craft such as jet skis and jet boats.”
“Even the most experienced of us can be caught off guard in an instant – with terrible consequences. The coronial process is underway which prevents a definitive conclusion on all the facts at this time. The Hapu will be interested in the outcome and any recommendations the coroner may make. Ka arohanui to the whanau pani – my sincerest condolences to the bereaved family.”
BACKGROUND: The Otara river’s full name is Te Awa o Tarawa – the river of Tarawa. The traditional Whakatohea tribal legend says he arrived from Hawaiiki on his chest upon a barge board landing at Waiotahe beach below Paerata – just West of the Pakihikura (Opotiki harbour mouth). He then ventured up the river that bears his name. One of his mokos (grandchildren) was Tamahaua. Tamahaua was also a prominent descendant some eight generations down from Muriwai, the ancestress of the Whakatohea Iwi. The Hapu of Ngai Tamahaua thus descend from both epynomous tipuna (named ancestors) and maintain mana whenua over those related areas. [Sources: Ranginui Walker ‘Opotiki Capital of Whakatohea’, and Alf Lyall ‘Whakatohea of Opotiki’]