As he paddles down the clear, swift Mohaka River, Greens co-leader Russel Norman looks more like he's in the middle of a holiday than in the thick of a campaign trail.
"I wish it was like this every day," he says to the small group of reporters sharing his raft.
Norman flew to Hawke's Bay to go for a short and relatively sedate paddle, but mostly to make a point.
The Mohaka has its headwaters in the Kaweka and Kaimanawa ranges and drains a basin of 2350 square kilometres as it winds 170km to the coast between Napier and Wairoa.
It's long been popular for recreation and in 2004 it became protected with a Water Conservation Order, the highest level of protection for any water body.
But it's the potential sale of Lochinver Station, on one of its tributaries, that brought Norman here.
The 14,000 hectare station is being sold to Shanghai Pengxin in a $70 million deal that still requires the approval of the Overseas Investment Office.
The company, which bought the neighbouring Crafar dairy farms, intends to convert part of it to dairy.
That makes the river a flashpoint for two key planks of Green Party policy: freshwater protection and foreign land ownership.
And in this case the potential buyer is from a nation that values food products from "clean, green" New Zealand, yet may end up polluting the very thing it treasures.
"The clean, green and safe brand is incredibly valuable to New Zealand, both the agri-food sector and the tourism sector. If you lose that it's going to be tremendously expensive economically," Norman said. "The first step to cleaning up our rivers is to stop adding more pollution".
The Greens intend to strengthen national policy statement for freshwater management, which they believe was made weak by the Government.
Their aim is to ensure rivers like the Mohaka remain healthy enough for swimming.
"We can't keep expanding the dairy sector forever."
Norman won't say the Greens would block Lochinver's sale, because "the problem for an incoming government is that the application to sell the land was made under the existing [Overseas Investment] Act so would need to be processed under the existing act".
Owner of Mohaka Rafting, Norm Brown, says intensification at Lochinver would spell the end of his business.
He took 1620 people down the river last summer, and hopes to take 2000 down next summer.
But having seen the impact of nutrient loading and water extraction on other rivers in the region, he doubts the business would survive if Lochinver was converted to dairy.
- The Dominion Post
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