Ashley / Lees Valley to Middle Bridge, II (III)
5cu or more
This run has a west coast feel – on the east coast, an hour from Christchurch. A narrow, isolated gorge with foliage down to the river’s edge.
This upper run is a grade easier than the Gorge run. I’ve paddled it at 5 cumecs and even then there’s water in the main channel, but some very shallow braids make it hard work in places. Plenty to do from 10 cumecs up.
The run starts open and braided until the Townsend comes in along the foot of the hills on river right and adds more volume, and then the river starts to narrow as the foothills climb on either side.
Generally the rapids are tight chutes which push onto bluffs, and may also have rocks in the flow to create a need to manoeuvre.
The hardest rapid is about a quarter of the way into the trip. A large midstream rock allows passage either side in other than low flows, and then there’s an extended boulder section with a fairly clear path before the river takes a sharp right turn above a bluff at the bottom. The whole rapid can be viewed from a rocky outcrop on the road above – look for power poles alongside the road once the road starts to drop back towards the river. At flows around 60 cumecs this rapid approaches grade III.
Watch for willows in and alongside the river, particularly once the valley starts to open out again.
This run can be done in conjunction with the Gorge trip where the gorge paddlers can drop the upper paddlers at the start, and then leave cars at the Middle bridge for the upper paddlers to take to the campground. The upper and gorge sections can also be done in a day – allow at least 5 hours at flows above the mid-20 cumecs.
The run is isolated - there’s a farm track up to the road from the river about 30 minutes paddling, but otherwise there’s no practical way out once on the river. For that reason the Whitewater Canoe Club typically doesn’t use this as a beginners’ trip.
To get to the put-in: per the Ashley Gorge run, but keep going up to Lees Valley where you cross Gillespies Bridge. From the start of the Lees Valley road it’s the second bridge. Put in below the bridge on R through the angler access gate. Avoid the put-in above the bridge as there can be exposed fencing wire under the bridge.