Lakes Wanaka, Wakatipu flooding threat remains

Wanaka holiday-makers Brett Gawn and his wife, Fay Paterson, wade through the rising water to remove their boat from Lake Wanaka. Photo / Lucy Ibbotson
Wanaka holiday-makers Brett Gawn and his wife, Fay Paterson, wade through the rising water to remove their boat from Lake Wanaka. Photo / Lucy Ibbotson

Residents around Lakes Wanaka and Wakatipu appear to have come through heavy rain over the last two days unscathed. However, with peak levels now due around noon today, the threat of possible flooding remains.

The Otago Regional Council said yesterday the Makarora rain gauge recorded 176mm of rain in 24 hours, the Upper Matukituki, which feeds Lake Wanaka, recorded 270mm and the Dart River catchment, feeding Lake Wakatipu, received 151mm.

The lakes had been predicted to peak between 3pm and 6pm yesterday. But at 5pm the Otago Regional Council issued a second flood advisory which said levels were still rising and were now expected to peak around midday today.

Lake Wakatipu had reached 311.01m and was expected to peak at 311.4m, while Lake Wanaka was at 279.3m and expected to peak at 280m.

The ORC said while the rising waters were "not going to flood townships", localised flooding of low-lying areas was likely in both Queenstown and Wanaka.

Queenstown Lakes harbourmaster Marty Black said the owners of Lake Wanaka's marina had recommended boat owners remove their craft yesterday, while boaties were being advised to keep off the lakes due to floating debris .

Glendhu Bay Lakeside Holiday Park co-manager Keith Waddell said despite some flooding in the lower parts of the camping ground, no campers had been caught out by the rising waters. Several tents pitched near the lake had been moved to other sites yesterday morning.

"We saw it coming and didn't put people in the areas where it does flood sometimes," Mr Waddell said.

Tourism operators on Lake Wakatipu were open yesterday, but those operating in rivers were closed.

Shotover Jet marketing manager Nigel Kerr said boats had been off the water since midday on Wednesday because of high water levels.

Mr Kerr said while the Shotover River had dropped he was unsure when rides would resume.

"Who knows, we could be off for a wee while yet."

Yesterday morning the beach at Shotover River near the Shotover Jet depot was "completely submerged".

Dart River Safaris and Queenstown Rafting also suspended business.

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Crowds of spectators gathered at the Clyde dam lookout yesterday, marvelling as more than three times the usual flow surged through or over the structure, creating a giant wall of water. The spectacular display attracted a steady stream of holiday-makers and locals.

Contact Energy hydro generation manager Graham Quinn said the flow was unusual, "probably a one-in-five-years scenario" as 1600cumecs went through or over the dam, with about 1300cumecs of that going over the spillways, compared with an average flow of 490cumecs.

"That means the flow is over three times what usually goes down the [Clutha] river."

Downstream, a similar volume of water was going through and over the Roxburgh dam, Mr Quinn said.

The exceptionally high river flow meant "flushing" of Lake Roxburgh, to remove sediment, would continue for several more days, he said.

Flushing was carried out to lower the risk of flooding in Alexandra and could only be done when flows were high.

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Clutha River flows at Balclutha are expected to exceed 1600cumecs by mid-morning today. Flows were at 1470cumecs below the Roxburgh dam at 5pm yesterday.

Clutha District Council communications officer Jamie Shaw said the Pomahaka and Clutha River levels were up and were being monitored.

Operation of the historic Tuapeka punt, between Clydevale and Beaumont, had been suspended. The decision is to be reviewed next week.

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Tourists trying to get to the West Coast glaciers had their patience tested again yesterday. Torrential rain along State Highway 6, the only road link between the Lakes District and the West Coast, caused flooding and slips in more than half a dozen different places.

One slip, at Pivot Creek, 10kms north of the Haast Pass, left gravel a metre deep across the highway for about 50m.

West Coast road crews made their way across that slip yesterday to reach other slips including one just below the Gates of Haast Bridge.

New Zealand Transport Agency acting southern region director Ian Duncan said contractors were on-site from early yesterday clearing the slips and repairing three washouts on the highway just north of Makarora.

A blocked culvert serving an unnamed stream became blocked late yesterday causing the road to flood. And, overnight, two further washouts occurred, at Pipson Creek and Boggy Creek.

Despite an electronic message board at Wanaka warning travellers the Haast Pass was closed, about 100 tourists chose to drive as far as a road block at Makarora.

One family from Sydney, had driven from Christchurch to Hokitika just over a week ago intent on seeing the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers.

However, Tim Hamilton said their way was blocked by the washed out Wanganui Bridge at Harihari. So they decided to take the long detour down the east coast and approach the glaciers from the south. They were at the Makarora roadblock in time for lunch yesterday.

Many other groups of tourists also sheltered in their cars and vans at Makarora as light rain showers passed through.

The road reopened late yesterday but closed again at 9pm. It was due to reopen at 6am today.

- Otago Daily Times

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