Thursday 24 August 2017

Lake Coleridge Loop


One of the reasons we wanted to stay at the Rakaia Gorge campground was so we could do some exploring in the Lake Coleridge basin.  Now that we were back in Methven is was just a short drive back through the gorge, up to Windwhistle (don't you love that name) and then onto the lake road; 30km of lovely sealed road through to Lake Coleridge.

I took this photo at the top of the road out of the gorge, the gorge is tucked around the corner of the hill, middle left. You can see the road leading down to the gorge in the background. And that is Mt Hutt behind.

We pass the entrance to Terrace Downs Resort and championship golf course along the way; I'd always wondered where it was. That's two extremes in accommodation just a few kilometres apart; camping down in the dip or top notch luxury up on the terrace! I know where I'd rather winter anyway! Just joking.

The road follows the Rakaia River inland, all the way to the Lake Coleridge village, but unfortunately there are only a few places that you catch a glimpse of it across the farmland.

There's an excellent information board on the side of the road with a map and listing accommodation, activities and walks that can be done in the area (click to enlarge).

Like the Ashburton Lakes, there are also quite a number of smaller lakes up this valley too. We'll have to come back and explore more in the summer, today we're only going to be touching the bottom end of Lake Coleridge.

Another photo opportunity presents itself at Dog Box Corner, I have no idea of the origins of the name but the 'box' looks like it could be used for the pickup or dropoff of supplies. Perhaps it's a take on the historic Dog Kennel Corner in the MacKenzie Country.

Lake Coleridge was the New Zealand Government's first hydroelectric power station, it was in an ideal location because of it's proximity to the growing city of Christchurch. There's a good display of historic items from the station and also a excellent information board on the reserve at the entrance to the carpark. 

Lake Coleridge is 170 metres above the Rakaia River, so only gravity is needed to bring water from the lake through to the power station and then emptying into the Rakaia River below.  Construction started in 1911 and with over 400 employees at its peak, it took 3 years to complete in what was a wild and bleak landscape. The station was built on a glacial moraine (shingle) which had never been achieved before. The winters were harsh, and a small village of permanent huts was built for the workers and then once they had moved on, power station staff and their families moved in. Today, with most of the power station automated, the village's permanent population is small and the residents are mostly there for the lifestyle and recreation in the area. 

Harry Hart, a power station superintendent, was interested in New Zealand's forestry potential and experimented with planting exotic trees, particularly conifers, around the village. The collection grew large and was diverse enough to be called an arboretum. Many trees are still standing and visitors can learn about some of them on the Harry Holt Arboretum tree trail. 

We drove past the power station, over the outlet canal, down an overgrown track and through several deep ice covered muddy holes until we found the edge of the river where we sat on the tailgate and had our lunch.

Here's a pano of the view up river (click to enlarge)- I've said this before; we certainly find ourselves some awesome spots to have lunch.

After lunch we wind our way up the hill above the power station, passing through the arboretum and stopping to take a photo of the view out over the river, half way up.

The pine forest gives way to farmland and this expansive view down the Rakaia valley and the backside of Mt Hutt. 

I zoomed in on the river here where you can clearly see the how braided it is before it narrows down to pass through the gorge.

We headed over the hill and down towards Lake Coleridge, passing several road repair vehicles on the way. The road has just been graded and several trucks and a roller are filling in potholes on a connecting road. 

And what do you know? We cross the Te Araroa Trail once again! 

It's a surprise to see divers in the lake, I bet they have super heavy duty wetsuits on, the water is freezing! It would seem that a Christchurch dive company use the lake for their dive courses- that's my type of diving; no chance of sharks!

Nearby a small fast inlet whirlpool takes water from the lake into the penstocks and off down the hill to the power station.  

The power station is moderate in output by today's standards, feeding the national grid with a maximum of 40 megawatts. Water stored in the lake is also used for irrigating farms on the Canterbury Plains.

I was a little disappointed that we couldn't explore further up the lake (on both sides)- there is a lot more you can't see from this small area- but it was getting on and we wanted to take the back country road over to Lake Lyndon. It exits onto the main highway over Arthurs Pass to the West Coast.

The road is just over 14kms long, there are several reasonably narrow sections but nothing out of the ordinary in our opinion and we'd take the 5th-wheeler across it if we had to, and the conditions were right. On this day there were several icy patches and I'm sure the clay base would be a slippery mess if it was wet or raining but in dry weather, it would be fine. 

Eventually we arrived at the bottom end of a frozen Lake Lyndon which, at this time of the year, is in the shadow of the mountain by the same name, Mt Lyndon all day. The only sign of life in this bitterly cold frozen landscape is a car parked at the lodge across the lake and a pair of spur-wing plovers protesting at being disturbed.

We stop further down on the edge of the road and I challenge David to a rock throwing competition. To see who can be the first to break through the ice, we lob huge rocks at the lake and they bounce and skid across ice until eventually David manages to puncture through. And it would seem that we were not the only big kids to try this, the ice is littered with rocks and very few holes.

There's a freedom camping area at the top end of the lake, it's never really appealed due to it's proximity to the main highway and the last time we came through here, the lake was bone dry, the area barren and hot. We stop this time for a quick cup of tea and then headed off, over Porters Pass back through Springfield, Sheffield, Glentunnel and Windwhistle to complete the loop and then back through the gorge and home to Methven.


  1. At last I see you writing about Lake Coleridge. It's still my number one secret favourite. What a pity you didn't go round its north east shore to the northern tip. You just have to go back one day to see the best part (IMO) of Lake Coleridge. Majestic scenery. We spent a night at a campsite next to Ryton River, had the whole place to ourselves. Can't forget the gorgeous sunset over Lake Coleridge with snow capped Craigieburn Range in background. If we had a 4wd , we would have drove up Mt Olympus too...

    1. Yes, unfortunately we couldn't do it all on this trip, we'll just have to return, when the weather is a little warmer and the trout are a biting!


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