Waitaki Lakes & Dams
The northernmost and highest of the high country lakes, Lake Tekapo, is popular for its power boating and water skiing, with regular waterski competitions held in the summer. Fishing is good where streams enter, but the best fishing is in the crystal clear adjacent lakes of Alexandrina and McGregor.
Sightseeing highlights abound in the Tekapo Area. A drive or walk up Mt John offers great views of the surrounding countryside or, at night, the clearest skies in the country as shown by the proximity of the University of Canterbury Observatory. Another ‘must see’ is the picturesque lakeside Church of the Good Shepherd and nearby statue of the Collie Dog.
Tekapo and Dobson Skifields are about half an hour’s drive from the township. Cross-country skiing, tramping and climbing guides operate out of Tekapo and scenic flights are run from its airfield. Tekapo has accommodation, a motor camp, a variety of services and an ice skating rink in the Domain.
Lake Pukaki, a significant part of New Zealand’s ‘Million Dollar View’, is not so popular for recreation because it is cold and has a high silt content. It does, however, have good fishing where streams flow in, several boat ramps and a camping area in the trees on the east side of the dam.
Lake Pukaki is the major water storage for the Waitaki Power Scheme and site of the Tekapo B Power Station. From here, the tar-sealed Tekapo Canal road provides a fast and more scenic route to Tekapo township than SH8.
Lake Ohau, untouched by commercial development and free of glacial silt, has a pristine beauty that must be experienced. Six forests – the Temple, Ohau, Dobson, Huxley, Hopkins and Ahuriri – offer a thrilling network of mountain huts and tracks for trampers. Fishing is excellent, as is the hunting for red deer, tahr and chamois (hunting permits from the Department of Conservation are required).
Ohau Skifield has the longest T-bar of any field in New Zealand and offers great variety, a good atmosphere and wonderful views. Nearby are camping areas at Round Bush and Lake Middleton – a popular swimming, water skiing and fishing lake.
Benmore Dam, four kilometres north of Otematata, is one of the biggest earth dams in the Southern Hemisphere and holds back the biggest artificial lake in New Zealand – Lake Benmore. The dam has an output of 540 MW and is the site of the HVDC link for electricity transfer between the South and North Islands.
The vast earth dam, spectacular spillway and guided tours of the power station are the chief attractions for casual sightseers. For those with more time to spend, there is a walking track above the dam that leads to a ridge with an excellent view of the Alps or, for those that prefer activities nearer the water, there are many sheltered campsites near Loch Laird below the dam.
Aviemore Dam, commenced in 1962 and commissioned in 1968, has a power output of 220 MW. The 29 square kilometre Lake Aviemore is very popular in summer for fishing, water skiing and yachting – some say, the best of any South Island lake. Rugged beauty and good fly fishing can be found at Deep Stream, a tributary on the northeast side of the lake. Below the dam, a spawning race one kilometre in length and capable of holding 3,000 adult trout has been provided to maintain the trout fishery of Lake Waitaki.
Near the top of Lake Aviemore on SH83 is an outcrop known as Parson’s Rock. It was from here Parson John Chapman Andrew, the area’s first European settler, took church services. Parson Andrew’s chief occupation, however, was the farming of the Otematata run from 1856.
Waitaki Dam, the first to hold the flow of the Waitaki and the first dam in New Zealand built without diverting the natural river flow, was the last of the pick and shovel dams. It was commenced in 1928 and, after delays due to massive flooding, began generating power in 1934.
This project, constructed during the 1930’s depression, spawned the trial scheme of the world’s first social security system. Kurow’s Dr D G McMillan agreed to provide free medical treatment to the men and their families if they paid a small weekly sum into a common fund.
Later – when Dr McMillan and Kurow’s Presbyterian Minister, Arnold Nordmeyer, became Cabinet Ministers – they helped instigate a similar scheme nationwide.
Today the Waitaki Dam generates 105 MW of power. Lake Waitaki is renowned for its quality fishery and is a popular boating/camping destination in summer.