Recently I had the great fortune to be able to test drive the latest addition to the impressive Wilderness campervan fleet, their Safari 4x4.The Americans have coined a term “glamping” – a combination of camping and glamour – and this was a good description of our home for a few days. As camping goes this is absolute luxury with everything provided including the kitchen sink.
Our destination was the foothills of the Southern Alps. From tiny land-locked lakes to the headwaters of some of our most iconic rivers such as the Ahuriri, Rakaia and Rangitata it is a region with fishing to meet all anglers’ desires. And the superb fishing is usually located in vistas that will take your breath away. After all, sometimes it is really the beautiful surroundings that you most enjoy – the fishing is often a bonus, right?
After picking up the vehicle from Christchurch, my daughter Anna and I headed for the hills. First stop the upper reaches of the Rangitata – Lord of the Rings country. We decided to visit and fish as many waters as we could and this involved some rugged cross country driving. Something neither of us was particularly practiced in, but we looked forward to the adventure!
Our first stop was Lake Heron, the biggest of the Ashburton Lakes. We caught some small fish and saw some very large ones (who also saw us it would appear). But the sheer beauty of the area was worth the time spent there. A small stream flows from the lake at the northern end which allows salmon to run up from the Rangitata River. These salmon then move across the lake and enter another small inflowing stream to spawn.
While we were at the right time to target salmon (late summer/autumn) and saw several fish, were not able to entice one to take a lure. But with growing confidence we decided to drive to the remote Lake Emily. A sign at the start of the track (a road would be far too grand a title) stated that it was only suitable for 4 wheel drive vehicles. This was one sign to take seriously!
The “road” almost immediately became a muddy rutted track and we were quickly down to low ratio as we bounced several kilometres through beautiful tussock country to reach this remote windswept water. Lake Emily is one place that is best fished in calm weather. Holding a smallish population of brown trout and an even smaller population of American brook trout – one of the very few such waters in the country – it is a lake for those who do not like fishing in crowds.
After a brief stint on the Maori lakes we decided it was time to try some river fishing and where better than the upper reaches of the Rangitata. This took us past Lake Clearwater (the only lake in the area with a permanent settlement) and into the stunning upper Rangitata Valley. Anyone who has seen Lord of the Rings will recognise many of the landmarks, most notably Edoras which rises from the wide valley floor. But of much more interest to us was the river that meandered across the valley to join the Rangitata in the distance. This was Deep Creek, a small clear spring creek that holds a small number of rainbow and brown trout as well as being a spawning stream for salmon that move in from the Rangitata.
Time spent on Deep Creek is a unique experience. It feels remote with mountains surrounding the wide scrub and tussock covered valley. While we were there were subjected to a range of weather conditions from cold wind swept showers through to bright calm sunshine. And we were only there for a few hours. Knowing we had good reliable transport (and shelter) to get out if things did turn rough was a comfort. That night we decided we would travel back to one of the lakes to set up camp.
After a few nights in the wilderness we decided we deserved a good coffee (and we were running low on gas) so headed to Methven. Once we and the campervan were replenished we headed towards Lake Coleridge and the upper Rakaia River. What an extraordinary rich fishing region this is. As well as the large lakes such as Coleridge and the impressive braided Rakaia River, those with the means and time can explore an extraordinary number of diverse waters such as the Glenariffe Stream and Lake Catherine.
Anyone who loves to explore and find new waters to fish, this high country region west of Christchurch holds a huge range of opportunities. Some of the waters are very well know and relatively heavily fished while others are remote and only accessible by a good hike and/or a 4 wheel drive. But the chance to catch some very special fish from large browns in small spring creeks, to salmon moving upstream to spawn or rare species such as brook trout, makes this an exciting fishing destination.
Many of the fishing waters are easily reached by roads but others are remote and on private land. It is therefore important to get permission from the landowner before accessing these waters. Most farmers are only too happy to do so though there may be times when it is not suitable (when lambing is in progress for instance). It is also very important to check the regulations as a lot of the waters are fly fishing only and several have odd seasons opening much later than other waters.
Being high country the food sources for the fish is different to what you might find in lower regions and generally I fish smaller size flies. Many fish feed on or near the surface and so careful stalking is recommended and dry flies are an important part of the angler’s arsenal.
Be warned that while you will likely see plenty of fish and some that will impress you with their size, they are not that easy to catch. So if the fishing has not been as successful as you would have hoped this is one region where you can truthfully say that the spectacular scenery more than made up for it – so take a few photos to support your claim.