Phil Palzer, a raft guide from Murchison, competes in the kayak slalom at last year’s Buller Festival. Photo: Barry Whitnall/Shuttersport.

Action packed Buller Fest returns

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Some of the expected 200 white water kayakers will cram into vans and drive from all corners of the country just to get amongst this weekend’s Buller Festival. But what started out as a pretty “underground”, “grassroots” event 20 years ago, is hoping to continue its identity as New Zealand’s premier white water event.

The Buller Festival goes for three days, and includes four action filled events for what the volunteer organisers say is the largest of its kind in the country. “It started off pretty small with one or two events with a big of shindig at the rec centre in town, but now it’s grown over the year to what it is now,” says Sophia Mulder. “It’s gone from strength to strength and it’s become what it is purely from the interest in competitive kayaking.”

The Buller Festival, or shortened as Buller Fest, begins on the Matakitaki River with the popular boater cross, an event which sees multiple kayakers race down the river together. On Saturday the event moves to O’Sullivan’s rapid on the Buller River for an individually timed kayak slalom and the rafter cross. The final day is the cardboard cup, where teams of two construct a vessel of their design from nothing but cardboard and duct tape.

While the slalom event is sure to draw the most competitors, the boater cross is generally the most popular, because of the competitive nature. “It’s a little bit more exciting,” Sophia simply puts it.

Murchison is one of the country’s white water capitals, with up to 20 different runs in the nearby rivers. “Murchison is like the epicenter. They call it the four river plains. It’s not necessarily the hardest white water in New Zealand but there’s so many different variations from class one, class two, and all the way to class four and five if we get the right weather.”

The age of competitors ranges from school age to the most experienced paddlers in the industry, and only ten percent of them are excepted to be from the Nelson-Tasman region.

Going forward, Sophia hopes the Buller Festival can continue to be New Zealand’s premier white water event. “It relies on a lot of volunteer support and at the moment there is a good keen group to have it run each year. I don’t know if it needs to get too much bigger though, I don’t know if Murchison could handle it.”