Minor flooding possible

Residents around Lakes Wanaka and Wakatipu appear to have survived heavy rain over the past two days unscathed but with peak levels now due around noon today, the threat of minor 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.

River and lake levels continue to rise in the Wakatipu, Wanaka and Hawea lakes catchments, and lakes Wakatipu and Wanaka are expected to peak late this afternoon or early this evening.

Lake Wakatipu had reached 311.12m this morning and is expected to peak at 311.2m, while Lake Wanaka had reached 279.3m and is expected to reach 279.4m.

The ORC said although the rising waters were ''not going to flood townships'', localised flooding of low-lying areas of the lakefront was possible in both locations.

Queenstown Lakes harbourmaster Marty Black said the owners of Lake Wanaka's marina had recommended boat owners remove their craft yesterday, and 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.

Queenstown Lakes District Holiday Parks general manager Greg Hartshorne said the four campsites in Queenstown, Arrowtown and Wanaka had suffered, with domestic travellers choosing to stay at home.''

People will only put up with rain for so long, and even if it's a case of them shortening their holidays ... and I guess a few people sitting at home, if they're watching the weather, might delay or not even come.''

The Queenstown camp was not quite as badly affected. It catered for a lot of international visitors, who could not easily change their plans, he said.

Tourism operators on Lake Wakatipu were open yesterday, but those operating on rivers were closed. Shotover Jet marketing manager Nigel Kerr said boats had been off the water since noon on Wednesday because of high water levels.

Mr Kerr said although the Shotover River had dropped, he was unsure when jet-boat rides would resume.

''Who knows; we could be off for a wee while yet.''

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

Dart River Safaris and Queenstown Rafting also suspended business.

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

Clutha River flows at Balclutha are expected to peak at about 1700cumecs by late afternoon. Flows were 1470 cumecs below the Roxburgh dam this morning.

Clutha District Council communications officer Jamie Shaw said yesterday 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.

• 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 places.

One slip, at Pivot Creek, 10km north of 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 there were two further washouts, at Pipson Creek and Boggy Creek.

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

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

• In parts of Westland, 400mm of rain fell in 48 hours.

The Department of Conservation has already shut one West Coast track and others are strewn with boulders after recent storms. The Roberts Point Track, above Franz Josef Glacier, is closed due to a washout.

Staff plan to check tracks in the Wanganui and Whataroa valleys today. Parts of the St James Walkway are badly damaged. Large slips wiped out the track in the vicinity of the Cannibal Gorge Hut, and the side streams between Cannibal Gorge and the road end are badly scoured, making access difficult. A bridge 20 minutes below the hut is badly damaged but passable, and the Billy Goat bridge below Ada Pass Hut is covered in boulders.

- Additional reporting APNZ, Greymouth Star