High country lakes and rivers a mecca for of all types of outdoor pursuits

The Waimakariri and Selwyn Waihora Water Zone Committees learned about what is being done to protect and enhance opportunities for recreation in the upper Waimakariri river and its surroundings during a joint field trip earlier this month.

The group of around 40 people visited several sites along State Highway 73, including Lake Lyndon, Castle Hill and the Waimakariri River itself, while discussing how this important part of our backyard is being preserved and enhanced for recreation.

High country lakes group

Members of the zone committees view changes to the Lake Lyndon edge on SH73.

Improving opportunities for recreation

The Canterbury Water Management Strategy’s vision for success includes recreation as one of the aspects of water management, in which “opportunities for tourism activities based on and around water will be returning and improving, and the net value to Canterbury’s economy from these activities will be increasing”.

More specifically, the Selwyn Waihora Zone Implementation Programme seeks to “enhance, where possible, contact recreation opportunities at key sites on the Selwyn River/Waikiriri and for sports fishing in the high country”. That means promoting sustainable outdoor recreation is a key goal of the zone committee’s work in the upper Waimakariri basin.

At the same time, increasing recreational opportunities for Canterbury residents and catering for large and growing tourist numbers must be balanced with cultural and environmental concerns.

Upper Waimakariri

The group stopped off at like Lake Lyndon to talk about issues with the area’s high-country lakes. Lake Lyndon is visited by hunters, fishers and recreational boaties. It’s also a popular rest stop on way to Arthur’s Pass. Light fencing around the lake facing State Highway 73 has created a boundary to keep vehicles away from the water’s edge, while maintaining a space for parking. But

Kura Tāwhiti / Castle Hill is an internationally recognised bouldering spot and a mecca for climbers worldwide, as well as a popular rest stop and walking area between the coasts. Environment Canterbury’s Pou Mātai Kō Mananui Ramsden told the zone committees that it’s also an area of special environmental and cultural significance. Kura Tāwhiti l is a spiritual place to Ngai Tahu, and was an important spot to meet and shelter during expeditions across the mountains.

The site’s car park has been extended in recent years, but even so, visitor numbers in peak season more than fill the parking space. It is also home to the Castle Hill buttercup, found only in a six-hectare area directly behind one of the most popular climbing routes. The open nature of the area means visitors’ personal responsibility is necessary to protect the native ecosystem.

The Waimakariri River

The Waimakariri river is born in the Southern Alps around Arthur’s Pass high in the high country of the Selwyn Waihora zone. Below the Waimakariri Gorge it forms the border between the two zones, as well as the Selwyn and Waimakariri District Councils and Christchurch City Council.

For Ngai Tahu, the water of the Waimakariri is a valued taonga. This is shown in the Ngai Tahu philosophy ki uta ki tai (from the mountains to the sea), which recognises that the alps and coast is connected, and a holistic view of ecological health is necessary.

Sport fishing is a popular pastime in the high country, and a particular area of focus for zone committees. Selwyn Waihora Zone Committee member Paul Hodgson told the group that improved access points and shelter in the areas where the main road runs close to the river had creating an ideal spot for fishing.

Improved access is not just a benefit for fishers – it's also aiding increased river usage by recreational boaties, kayakers and rafters.

While the downstream Waimakariri remains a hotspot for boating, upstream use is increasing too. And kayakers continue to brave the rapids near the Waimakariri gorge, inspired by the annual Coast to Coast adventure race. In addition, the growing popularity of pack rafting, in which trampers carry an inflatable kayak and mix walking with paddling.

Committee members finished their bus trip at Castle Hill Village, a growing residential development bringing more people to the high country more often. The alpine village is becoming a gateway for the larger basin and represents a near future in which greater numbers of tourists and locals visit or live in the area, making greater use of the natural resources for recreation.

Next year, both Zone Committees will use the knowledge gained from the field trip to further support projects that support the zone priority outcome, that “Alpine rivers and high country values are protected”, while maintaining high-quality recreation opportunities.