Leave it to the Kiwis to build the world’s first raftable waterfall at a play park facility. Vector Wero Whitewater Park in Auckland, New Zealand, opened in March 2016 complete with a 15-foot waterfall gushing at 140 cfs.
Inspired by the iconic Okere Falls, an all-natural point of pride for whitewater enthused New Zealanders, the Vector Wero park is the only self- contained course in the country and one of only two play park facilities across Oceania.
With a class II and a class IV run, the park rivals the Rio Olympic Slalom Course—and it should. It was built by the same team at Whitewater Parks International.
When tasked with the prospect of building a waterfall, WPI’s managing director Bob Campbell said he was first concerned that they’d be pushing the safety limits too far. But he says the response to that was, “Hey, we’re Kiwis, this is kind of what we do!”
It took 15 years to raise the $40 million necessary to build Vector Wero. During that time the park’s general manager, Ian Ferguson, says he grew restless as he noticed a very similar course crop up for the London Olympics, modeled on their two-course design, minus a waterfall.
The team knew their one-of-a-kind waterfall had to be thrilling but safe. They built a to- scale prototype at a glass testing facility at the University of Prague, which allowed an underwater side view of the hydraulic. It proved to be a challenging build that required rounds of tweaking.
“Our goal was to make a hydraulic that could assist on the landing, giving paddlers the best chance to stay upright and have a smooth ride,” says Campbell.
From the start pool, paddlers can choose to go down one of the two courses or run the drop. Many of New Zealand’s top paddlers, including Luuka Jones and Mike Dawson, have already taken a turn at Vector Wero.
“It’s an evolution of all the courses that have been built around the world,” says Dawson, anOlympic slalom canoeist, who has been on the Vector Wero course six times and counting.
“The whitewater feels almost the same as a natural river.”
From the outset, the course was built in the hope that it would host international paddling events, the first of which will be the multi-sport World Master’s Games in 2017. Campbell says both this course and the Rio Olympic course have an important characteristic in common: great care was taken to centralize the current and keep water moving from top to bottom. This avoids the bathtub-surging effect that occurs when too much water doesn’t have anywhere to go.
“Some of the athletes that have paddled it already have dared say it might be better than Rio,” says Campbell. With over a million people in Auckland and surrounding area, and no natural whitewater runs nearby, Ferguson estimates a low-ball number of 15,000 per year will paddle through Vector Wero. The class II course should also attract legions of school kids. At Vector Wero, anyone who is at least 14 years of age is permitted to run a course or take the drop. Ferguson says he hopes more young New Zealanders will catch the paddling bug through the school programs the park is offering for both rafting and kayaking.
“When the kids come off the waterfall they’re bubbling,” Ferguson says. “You can hear them squealing as they go over it and laughing like hell at the bottom.”
This article was originally published in Rapid, Volume 18 • Issue 3. Read this issue.