Wanaka 'dodged a bullet': Lakes recede after flood fears

Residents of Wanaka and Queenstown are breathing a sigh of relief now that water levels in the towns' lakes have peaked and are beginning to recede. 

Floodwaters in Lakes Wanaka and Wakatipu continued to rise yesterday due to heavy rain in the Otago headwaters on Saturday night, but the Queenstown Lakes District Council advised this morning the level in both lakes had peaked and had started to fall. 

The QLDC said this morning that Lake Wakatipu was currently sitting at 311.34m and receding, with Lake Wānaka at 280.32m and receding.

Lakefront businesses in Wanaka appear to have ''dodged a bullet'' after flooding threatened buildings over the weekend.

QLDC deputy mayor Calum MacLeod this morning said it appeared no lakefront businesses, along Ardmore and Helwick Sts, had been flooded.

The streets were still flooded and closed to traffic, but the lake was reasonably calm and the sun was shining.

The sewerage system in the affected area remains turned off and many lakefront businesses are not open.

The QLDC said that flood waters "won't simply vanish overnight, so please respect any closures or temporary speed limits until we provide further updates on them".

It said wave action from vehicles passing through flooding could still damage properties.

Otago Regional Council Duty Flood Officer Paul Hannah said this afternoon that Rivers feeding into the lakes, such as the Dart and Matukituki River, remained high but were also receding.

He said the forecast for the area through until Thursday was mostly clear, so the lakes should continue to steadily recede.

Downstream, the Clutha / Mata-Au flows are expected to peak later today or tomorrow, and are likely to remain elevated for some time.

Businesses to reopen

It has been estimated it could take 19 days for Lake Wanaka to return to average December lake levels but Ignite Chamber of Commerce and Lake Wanaka Tourism board are expecting businesses affected by the floods to reopen well before then.

Spokeswoman Naomi Lindsay said getting everything back up and running once the warnings had passed was "a priority for everyone", although safety and protecting premises came first.

The Christmas and New Year period was normally the busiest time for tourist operators in Wanaka but rising waters in the lake and roads cut to the West Coast and Christchurch from Otago had resulted in many cancellations.

Glendhu Bay Motor Camp owner Penne Hunt said it had contacted tourists booked to stay today and tomorrow offering full refunds.

Some of Glendhu Bay Motor Camp’s new cabins built for this summer have close-up views of...
Some of Glendhu Bay Motor Camp’s new cabins built for this summer have close-up views of floodwaters.PHOTO: SHELLEY FAIRLESS
The camp was open, although it was virtually isolated as Mt Aspiring Rd was still closed, she said.

"We have some hardy New Zealanders who were already here for their holidays, and have stayed on," she said.

Many of the most sought-after sites had been submerged and a huge clean-up would be needed once the lake started to recede.

She said the camp was "hurting", but so far there had been no cancellations for the Christmas week.

A park bench is submerged in Lake Wanaka. PHOTO: RICHARD SIDEY/GALAXIID
A park bench is submerged in Lake Wanaka. PHOTO: RICHARD SIDEY/GALAXIID

The Edgewater resort reported having several bus tours cancel accommodation in the past few days but had experienced an increase in food and beverage customers due to the closure of lakefront bars, cafes and restaurants.

Duty manager Dave Keimig said the Edgewater was built very high above the lake and even in the 1999 floods the waters did not come near its buildings.

Over the weekend, floodwaters rose to cover large areas of Ardmore St, Pembroke Park and Dungarvon Sts.

Floodwaters have risen so high as to prevent access to the Edgewater from the lakeside track....
Floodwaters have risen so high as to prevent access to the Edgewater from the lakeside track. PHOTO: KERRIE WATERWORTH
The Queenstown Lakes District council advised the public to stay out of the water on the lake foreshore in order to avoid potential hazards such as floating debris and submerged structures.

Contractors erected extra metal fences to prohibit access but that did not stop some people kayaking or floating down Ardmore St on a giant yellow duck.

Emergency Management officer Trevor Andrews said contractors would be conducting a full audit and network check of all roads and bridges today and some may reopen.

He said in the meantime the leadership incident team planned to continue to meet regularly every day, review what had happened overnight, look at the current data on lake levels and identify any issues that could develop.

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