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March 2013 Issue
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Top 3 high country lakes to paddle

Lake Coleridge is the largest lake in central Canterbury. Photo: Pat Barrett

The Canterbury high country is liberally dotted with lakes awaiting the keel of a canoe or kayak to skim across the surface. Most of these can be reached in little more than 90-minutes from many locations around the province. Just pick your day, be aware of the wind forecast, and make your cruise a memorable one.

Lake Coleridge, Canterbury

The largest lake in central Canterbury, Coleridge is beautifully set between moderately high ranges bordering the Rakaia and Wilberforce watersheds. It is a long narrow lake which should be treated with caution – like all open bodies of water, strong winds can be a danger and this issue is especially relevant here as the nature of the landscape tends to funnel wind onto the lake surface.

That said it is great lake to paddle, especially out to the tiny island which lies virtually mid-length of the lake. A trip encompassing the island, which can be reached in about 30-minutes from Ryton Stream and on which a careful landing and exploration could be made, together with the lake shore south-east of here, which has peninsulas, wetland, and coves, would make an excellent day trip. Best paddled in autumn or winter when calmer conditions often prevail.


Lake Pukaki, Canterbury-Mackenzie Basin

Lovely turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki. Photo: Pat Barrett

Lovely turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki. Photo: Pat Barrett

If the stunning view of Mt Cook across the milky surface of Lake Pukaki on a sunny, calm day inspires you why not paddle this superb lake? Though very large and long at 30km in length and up to 9km wide, the lake has many put-in points and several interesting bays to explore. But the over-riding reason to paddle this lake is its sheer size and those jaw-dropping views of the peaks of Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. To be skimming the surface out on the deep while gazing at the ranges is a fantastic experience.

Watch the wind here as nor’west gales can regularly funnel down the lake from the Alps, turning it into a veritable ‘high country sea’.

The best places to put-in are around the southern shoreline, remembering to keep well away from the hydro intake structures.


Lake Grasmere, Arthur’s Pass Highway

Lake Grasmere. Photo: Pat Barrett

Lake Grasmere. Photo: Pat Barrett

At just 1.5km long and only 600m across, Lake Grasmere offers an intimate and easily manageable paddle but still offers exceptional views of Arthur’s Pass National Park hovering over the lake’s northern shoreline as well as encounters with numerous species of water birds. There are at least six species present here including the endangered crested grebe for which the lake is a wildlife reserve. There is also the option to camp along the southern shoreline.

The lake environment is a delight to explore by canoe and ranges from open paddocks abutting the lake to wetlands and a steep forested ridge running along the eastern side where time could be spent spotting fish (fishing is not allowed from boats on the lake).

When you’re done with paddling you could camp up beneath the poplars and just enjoy the superb view and peace and quiet of this haven in the hills.