Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Lake Coleridge- Whakamatau- North Canterbury’s own “great Southern Lake”.
Peter Langlands c. Peter Langlands/Wild Capture 2015 Situated west north west of Christchurch, Coleridge is a spectacular glacial lake set amidst a wide range of mountain types, with glaciers and jagged mountain peaks of the spine of the south alps forming a backdrop (up the expansive, wild Wilberforce River valley). With 45 kilometres of shoreline, the Lake is the largest in the North Canterbury high country. Not only is it’s size impressive, but also it’s depth, plunging down to 200 metres. The lake has numerous caves amongst the rocks and giant eels are rumoured to live in their recesses. Much of the lake’s shoreline is stony and accessible. One walk I would recommend is from the Ryton Bay, along the shoreline heading in a northwest direction for four kilometres until you reach an area where beech forest comes down to the lake’s edge with dramatic bedrock formations and fern clad walls. Sturdy footwear is recommended. The lake’s level fluctuates by about five metres, but other than at its highest level, the shoreline walk is an easy option. The shoreline changes dramatically in nature, offering an exciting walk. Steep terraces overlook the lake, clear evidence of the lake’s glacial formation. Fine shingle sweeping beaches offer exciting fossicking for a range of weathered driftwood with some stunning formations. Much of the wood is bleached white, testament of the strength of high country sunlight. The beaches are spectacularly terraced, emphasising the variability of the lake’s level. Coleridge, like many southern lakes has a blue glacial tinge to it’s waters. The lake is also notorious for the size of waves, which crash down its length during northwesterly gales. Waves of up the three metres are not unheard of and over the years several boaties have lost their lives on the lake. The lake is perfectly aligned to capture the northwesterly wind, running on a southeast to northwest axis of some 17 kilometres in length. At times people can be seen windsurfing on the lake, with the Ryton Bay being a popular access point for wind surfers and boaties alike. Care needs to be taken on Coleridge, as the waters are icy, often around 8 degrees. The lake is a good option for the well-prepared kayaker. With it’s 45 kilometres of shoreline offering a full days’ kayaking exploration for the serious paddler. Many people choose to use boats to access the lake’s more distant shorelines, and the pull up on for a secluded picnic, or to fish from. Coleridge is the most popular fishing location in North Canterbury’s high country with a mix of lake locked salmon, rainbow and brown trout being found in the lake. In addition to the Ryton Bay, the lake can also be accessed at it’s north western end from where the Wilberforce Diversion flows in. You can walk down the lake’s shoreline here, along the edge of a large sweeping shingle fan, which projects out into the lake for about five kilometres until a point where the steep mountainsides prevent further shoreline access. The walk also offers stunning views of Mount Oakden. In the autumn red deer had be heard roaring in the beech forest gullies with their sound echoing across the lake. Public access is restricted at the lake’s southern end to the “Intake”, where water is drawn from the lake for a hydroelectric plant situated at Coleridge village. A large vortex of spiralling water can be seen on the surface, and there is no need to mention that there is a 200-metre exclusion zone around the intake! You get amazing views of high glacial terraces, dropping away into the lake. Looking across the lake to the far shore, the large mountain standing out on it’s own is Kaka Hill. (With the kakas now being a distant memory of a time when the lake had more forest cover around it). Nowadays the twisted branches of dead and weathered rata trees are stunning to look at and remind us of a previous time when much of the lake was surrounded by magnificent southern rata trees. Broadleaf, cabbage tree, mountain beech and kowhai forests remain in patches dotted around the lake now. The intake is worth visiting if for nothing else, its spectacularly views of the lake’s expanse. Lake Coleridge is a spectacular location only 90 minutes from Christchurch. The Ryton and Wilberforce access points offer scope for walks of several hours along the lake’s shoreline. The lake itself is a grand foreground to mirror the ever-changing cloud patterns on the surrounding mountains. If you camp out overnight at Coleridge there are often spectacular views of shooting stars, which momentarily illuminate the lake’s waters. If you have some fish guts, or a piece of meat, throw it into the lake after dark, and watch the giant long-finned eels (many from 60-100 years old) come into frighteningly shallow water. For me this spectacle is one of the highlights of an overnight stay at the lake. Coleridge is ideal for a range of day walks along the shoreline. Often for kayaking it is best to go out on the lake after a southerly blow when the lake’s waters will be mirror calm. The lakes expanse is a spectacular mirror .In the winter many of the hills around the lake are snow covered. If you would like to learn more about Lake Coleridge's natural, or cultural history, then I can recommend a book by Rosemary Britten, entitled “Coleridge”. While not as large as the southern lakes of Otago and the Mackenzie country, Coleridge is large enough to offer that feeling of expansiveness to blow away the cobwebs.