Lake Clearwater, Canterbury, New Zealand

A WEEK AT LAKE CLEARWATER

The Perfect Adventure Playground

In anticipation of joining the CWA Womens weekend at Lake Clearwater end of February, we topped up on food and water to be able to survive a few additional days (or more than just a few) off grid no problem. For those of you who don’t know Lake Clearwater, let me set the scene:

Lake Clearwater is one of the Ashburton Lakes, in the Haketere Conservation area. It is surrounded by tussock land and high country farmland. After leaving the main road at Mount Somers village, it’s about a 30 minutes’ drive along a dusty gravel road. You first pass the turn off to Lake Heron (a wildlife refuge), then you drive past Lake Emma, before arriving at Lake Camp on your left and finally Lake Clearwater and Village on the right, next to the lake with the same name. Lake Clearwater Village consists of about 150 classic kiwi baches, all off grid. There is no electricity (except for private solar panels), nor is there a public water supply (the baches have their own rain water tanks). No shops or restaurants, only a small basic campground right at the edge of the lake, where kiwi families keep coming back for generations to make memories. In brief, it is a very special place, where the skies are still dark at night and kids can roam free during the day.

Camping at Lake Clearwater
Breathtaking scenery!

On Friday afternoon, when we arrived at Lake Clearwater, there were already a few keen windsurfers and wingers camping. We were stoked to meet a few old friends we didn’t expect to see here. However, the Easterly thermals kicked in and there was no time to chat – we all wanted to get in the water and make the most of it! Though there was plenty of time to catch up in the evening over dinner and a few drinks. 

For Saturday the wind forecast was for a Northwesterly, getting stronger during the day. And “strong” on Lake Clearwater can mean up to 50 knots. This made the wingers go out early, before the wind really kicked in. The women were definitely outnumbering the men on the wingfoil! Some already proficient, others just starting their wingfoil journey (often with a strong windsurfing background). Around midday, the wind picked up to more than 35 knots, and it was mainly windsurfers with small sails on the water. Yes, there were some blokes, but there was an amazing group of Wahine absolutely rocking it on the water. So much fun, to sail with other women for a change!

Flying the wing....
Sue and Heidi - great sailing with so many other women for a change!

Later in the afternoon, the wind died down again and the wingfoils came back out on the water. Most toys did get wet that day, and there were happy smiles all around. Us ladies, we retreated to very civilised pre-dinner drinks in Nickis big tent, before gathering in the hall for a fantastic pot luck dinner. A great evening, making new friends, listening to the rain and thunder outside! As the night went on, the clouds disappeared and the full moon lit the place up nicely. As on cue, a 15 knots breeze picked up, and Babs and Debbie talked me into a moonlight session. None of us has sailed under a full moon, and the setting was perfect (not too cold, safe spot, ok breeze), so we just felt like we had to go. Babs and Debbie went winging, I took the windsurfer (I must admit, I wasn’t keen to battle through the weeds at night – there might be eels?!?). The biggest risk was hitting each other, as it seemed wings were coming out of nowhere! Next time, maybe we should use glow sticks or something similar as navigation lights…. Good fun nevertheless, though the breeze didn’t last long unfortunately. But we did it!

Sunday we woke to a moody misty morning. The lake and the surrounding mountains were hidden in thick fog, and there wasn’t a breath of wind. Then the sun started burning the clouds off quickly and the lake looked spectacular, appearing between the mist and the clouds, still like a mirror.

Lake-Clearwater-2-1

With clear skies, the Easterly wind kicked in early and kept on building during the day. Fantastic conditions for everyone, windsurfers and wingers alike. Alas, being the end of the weekend, most people had to start packing up in the afternoon, heading back home.

We enjoyed the conditions until late, to finish them off with a few drinks in the sun with some of the remaining locals.

Monday morning we joined Darryl and Terry for a bike ride up to Mystery Lake. We already attempted this ride a few years earlier but turned around too early as we doubted, that we were on the right track. This time we were determined to make it, and with Darryl and Terry as company, there was no chickening out. I found the climbs pretty hard, especially so shortly after breakfast, but arriving at the lake made it all worthwhile. Such a great spot! And the downhill back to the campsite was super fun!

The Easterly had picked up again throughout the morning, but we gave watersports a miss that day – those legs needed a rest after the last few days and the bike ride!

Bike-Lake-Clearwater-1
Climbing up the saddle with Lake Clearwater and the village in the background

The next few days were a matter of rinse and repeat: Calm in the morning, perfect for a bike ride or just reading a book, easterly winds in the afternoon to get us on the water. Topped off with good company and a glass of wine in the evenings (Thank you Terry!), there wasn’t anything to complain about. We camped a few nights at Lake Camp (just for a change of scenery) and enjoyed meeting various people.

On Saturday morning we decided to climb Mount Guy (for the views and to check if we missed any important emails). With no internet connection, we were relying on the weather forecast what other people tell us, in combination with our own observations. It looked to us like a Northwesterly was likely to blow in, but all of the fishermen we asked assured us that it would be a calm day. So off we went. By the time we were half way up Mount Guy, there were whitecaps on Lake Clearwater. We pushed on regardless, checked our email on the summit (the only spot with cellphone reception, unless you log into the local WiFi network) and made our way back down again.

We had a great windy session in the afternoon – my 3.3 did get another outing! Who would have thought that I’m getting to use that sail so much!?!?

Some of the local legends: George - more tape than sail
More of the local legends: Mike and Terry

More biking and windsurfing was on the schedule for Sunday, followed by a very windy night. Fortunately we parked our van nicely between 2 caravans, nose into the wind, so it was’t too bad for us at all.

Though all good things come to an end eventually: On Monday we were finally running low on food and drinking water. Time to leave, back to civilisation. With a heavy heart we said goodbye to the remaining locals at Lake Clearwater and headed off towards Mount Somers. It was a fantastic week and great to get to meet and know a few of the local legends. We will be back!

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