The famous Tuapeka Punt hardly plied its trade last summer because of dry weather.
‘‘Crossings are down massively, just one and a›half days out of the last couple of months. Last year we were running about 10 times that,’’ ferryman Tom Jones said.
‘‘The Clutha catchment is huge, it runs all the way up the rivers and lakes back to the Southern Alps. I think we had a dry winter with low snowmelt followed by low rainfall over the summer.’’
The dual›hull ferry is the last of its kind in the southern hemisphere.
Restrained by its cable system, its rudders angle the hulls to traverse the river using the energy of the current.
The punt needs a minimum flow of 350 cubic metres of water per second (cumecs) while up to 470 cumecs is ideal.
Mr Jones estimated an average of about 250 to 270 cumecs daily during the dry period.
‘‘It’s basic physics working 126›year›old technology. Not enough water means not enough energy to propel the punt. It could get stuck mid›river and be a challenge to get back. There are also two big rocks entering the equation when the water’s low,’’ he said.
River levels have been low enough to make the tip of one of the rocks visible for the first time in years.
Mr Jones keeps abreast of regional council river monitoring stations to plan whether the vessel will be working.
‘‘I mainly keep an eye on Roxburgh. The dams build up a head of water then release it to generate electricity and that water surge reaches the punt about nine hours later. Wind is also a big consideration. There are a lot of factors and the only one we control is the decision to operate or not.’’
Mr Jones has been the Tuapeka Mouth Ferry operator for about three years and said hopes were high for improved conditions in the future.
‘‘The ferry has become more popular in recent times with Kiwi tourists unable to go abroad. I think either discovering attractions which combine tranquility with unique heritage features like Tuapeka.’’