Lifesavers have maintained a rescue service at Karekare Beach since 1935. The beach is regarded as one of the most dangerous in the country and the club has a significant record of dramatic and outstanding rescues.
In today’s modern environment with rescue boats, quad bikes and modern training methods it would be easy to think that providing a rescue service has become easier in terms of the work on the beach. Well not at Karekare.
The club and the public for that matter have always accessed the beach via the stream that cuts the beach in two. The clubs patrol base of the last 75 years requires two stream crossings and a further one when taking equipment onto the beach.
Over the last several years there has been a build up of sand on the seaward side of the club and an increasing stream level (200-300mm previously) has now reached over one metre making normal vehicular and pedestrian access virtually impossible.
This year in particular the club has had to develop a whole new operations plan just to get lifeguards and equipment onto the beach. The situation is now having an impact on the membership and the clubs junior surf program and has created a lot of frustration amongst the membership.
As opposed to a 200 metre walk from the car park with several calf deep crossings of the stream members are now faced with a waist deep wade or face a one kilometre trek to the beach via the Pohutukawa Glade and the southern end of the beach just to get to patrol.
Getting equipment to the club and onto the beach where the club patrols from a tent over the summer months (there is no permanent patrol tower on the beach like other clubs) is now a major logistical mission adding 100’s of hours of extra work for the patrols and club management.
The club has now resorted to floating equipment across and up and down the stream or using quad bikes to drive it out through a council track at the southern end of the beach. They are also considering purchasing a large high wheel base tractor if funding allows. There is no longer effective emergency access to and from the beach which is of considerable concern to the club and even public access is now mostly restricted to very able bodied people.
Club spokes person Andy Shaw makes the point “lifesaving at Karekare has always been a labour of love”. “We endure far more than lifesavers in any other part of the country and have been happy to work this way because of Karekare’s unique location but this situation has now got us working double time and is placing the club under real operational and financial stress”.
The Karekare club also undertakes a significant number of after hours rescues and emergency responses. The real concern Shaw says is “this current situation is making it harder to patrol and in particular provide after hours emergency rescue responses”. “We can expect delays in excess of 15 to 20 minutes caused by the access issues and in lifesaving terms those minutes could mean an unnecessary death”. “The fantastic work the club has done to keep Karekare drowning free for the last 10 years could be about to change”.
There is however some good news on the horizon through the representations the club has made to the council. “We have had meaningful discussions with the Council including outlining some short term necessities”. We feel that our needs as lifesavers have really been listened to by the Council and that we have their full support” says Shaw.
The council has responded by undertaking a review of the beach access and in particular the clubs needs to provide the best lifesaving service possible. “We are now at a stage where the solution that has been identified is probably the only viable short term option and will mean the club can operate effectively without any major interruption for the rest of the season”. “Without this we have genuine concern for the safety of the public using Karekare Beach” commented Shaw.
The Council’s proposal is to undertake works on realigning the stream to lower the level of the stream to approximately 200 – 300mm and restoring the traditional club and public access to the beach. This move is strongly supported by the club membership, including many local residents who provide up to 40% of the clubs membership. This will provide a window for the club to work with the council on a longer term solution.
The club believes there is a general understanding of the need for some action and that this solution will be well received by the vast majority of the local residents, public visitors and beach users.