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Little lake punches above its weight The Upper Waitaki Water Zone Committee recently held a meeting at Lake Middleton and discovered its value for recreation and biodiversity.

Lake Middleton may look like a tiny duck pond beside its neighbour, the large glacial Lake Ōhau, but this little lake is valuable for recreation and as a habitat for rare species, the Upper Waitaki Water Zone Committee recently discovered.

The Upper Waitaki water zone committee, along with local community members and stakeholders – visited Lake Middleton in May to identify any issues relating to the management of the lake and its margins.

What they found was many groups valued the lake and aspired to look after and enhance its environment.

Water Zone Committee Chair, Simon Cameron, said:

“Lake Middleton – with its comparatively calm and warm water – is such an important local waterway for recreation and as habitat for native species.”

“We wanted to check in with key stakeholders in the area to discuss the lake’s water quality, see what’s being planned for the future and how it’s coping with increased tourism.”

“Encouragingly, with ongoing careful management, the consensus was this waterway is doing well – with stable water quality, many species benefiting from its unique habitat – making it a popular recreation spot for swimmers, boaters and wildlife enthusiasts.”

The Upper Waitaki water zone committee, local community members and stakeholders.

About the lake

The lake is popular with visitors for swimming, fishing and boating and there is a DOC campsite next to the lake at its north end. An educational retreat leased by Waitaki Boys’ High School is located at the lakeside, as well as a few private homes. A nearby farm uses the creek that flows into the Lake Middleton as a water source.

The Alps to Ocean (A2O) cycleway and Te Araroa Walking Trail pass the lake on its eastern side. The number of people using the A2O and Te Araroa is increasing. In addition, Ōhau Village residential area is close to the lake.

Lake Middleton and its margins, located about 20 minutes’ drive from Twizel, is public land managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC). The small lake has less than 2 km of shoreline and is only about 4 metres deep.

It provides a valuable freshwater habitat for six species of fish, including native galaxias and common bully and a great variety of bird species including kakī (black stilt), pārera (grey duck) and the kāmana (southern crested grebe).

Field trip provides chance to share issues

Road to Lake Ōhau

Monitoring water quality

Environment Canterbury gave an overview of the water quality of Lake Middleton. Its science team summarised that recreational water quality has improved since 2011/12 and monitoring over summer showed it was generally safe for swimming.

A key focus for ongoing lake health will be continuing to manage levels of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus entering the lake, as this can impact the growth and profusion of aquatic weeds and algae.

Environment Canterbury’s monitoring showed a decline in native aquatic plants and an increase in exotic species like oxygen weed, which poses a risk to the ecological health to the lake. The lake’s ecological condition will continue to be closely monitored.

Members of the public can help by checking they are not introducing and exotic plants or animals into the lake and ensuring they are not disturbing native vegetation.

In addition, new farming regulations for sensitive lake catchments across Canterbury are now in place and are expected to help with managing nutrient levels.

Read the reports:

Protecting rare native birds

The Ōhau Conservation Trust talked about its work and plans to enhance Lake Middleton and protect rare birds. Viv Smith-Campbell, Chairperson of the Trust, said in a report for the event that the lake “is a little treasure that is just a bit unloved at present.”

“We have a project about Middleton in our Strategic Plan that you can find on our website. We'd love to see a formed walkway around the lake and riparian enhancement such as planting, removal or thinning of willows and pine trees and making sure that activities in the reserve and surrounding land are not impacting on water quality.”

“The lake’s rich wildlife population also needs consideration - we've had grebes breed and raise chicks three times in the last two years - after many years of no success at all. All with some small floating nesting rafts. It’s great that something so simple is so successful.”
The Water Zone Committee held its regular meeting at Lake Ōhau Lodge in the morning of the trip to Lake Middleton and shared lunch with the community members who came along.

Rūnanga representatives from the water zone committee gave feedback on the importance of protecting native species and welcomed the interest in the lake’s well-being.

Agencies and local groups sharing their knowledge

The Department of Conservation, which took over management of the reserve from Waitaki District Council three years ago, summarised its initial plans for the lake and campsite, with tourism on the rise in the region.

DOC would be encouraging campers to use the areas close to toilet facilities over summer and checking that people are taking their rubbish with them, as there is no longer a daily collection. DOC would also be looking at controlling trees around various parts of the lake”

Central South Island Fish & Game reported that that lake remained popular for trout fishing, although rainbow trout were becoming more abundant than brown trout due to the timing of their spawning.

Local residents talked about the management of boats and water skiers– which was being ‘self-policed’ with good results, as well as the pros and cons of developing a more established walkway around the lake. They also agreed that the willows were changing the natural environment and should be controlled.

Waitaki Boys’ High School highlighted how the lake provides a valuable recreational experience for students staying at the lakeside lodge, which is well-used by schools from all around the lower South Island. Kayaking, orienteering, swimming and learning about the natural environment were all popular activities.

The Water Zone Committee will consider all the information gained from the field trip in its future decision-making processes.

Lake Ōhau lodge

Lake Middleton – did you know?

  • It’s much warmer to swim at Lake Middleton than most of the other southern lakes – getting up to 22 degrees Celsius in summer
  • Special floating rafts have been placed in the wetlands area so southern crested grebe (kāmana) can nest in the lake
  • Lake Middleton started life as part of Lake Ohau before the gravel bed shifted to create a separate lake – this is called an ‘embayment’.
  • A gravel barrier that is only 50 metres wide in places separates Lake Middleton from neighbouring Lake Ohau.
  • At least 43 bird species have been recorded on, or around Lake Middleton, including 27 native species.
  • Lake Middleton is very shallow – the deepest part is only about 4 metres to the lake bed.
  • More than 40 plant species have been recorded in and around Lake Middleton including introduced pine trees and native tussocks.
  • In the 1980s there were more than 20 boats using the lake at once in summer! This has reduced down to about five or six vessels in recent times, which is much more manageable.

Want to find out more about Lake Middleton?

Lake Middleton from the south end.

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