The Ashley is a special treat for Christchurch paddlers, it is the closest white water to Christchurch and offers trips with a real wilderness feel to them. It should be remembered that the wilderness feel means that walking out will not be fun and emergencies may require a helicopter. The unfortunate draw back of this little gem, is that the river requires a good dumping of rain from a southerly front to get up to a navigable volume. Watch out for the right conditions and skip work and head for the hills, it is definitely worth it.
Getting there: Head north out of Christchurch on State High Way One. After crossing the Waimakariri River, turn left and head down Tram Road. Drive straight (it is very straight) down Tram Road, turn right at North Eyre Road, then left at Oxford Road. Once in Oxford, turn right at the BP petrol station down Ashley Gorge Road. Turn left at Lees Valley Road to get to the put in or carry on to the Domain and camping ground just before the Ashley River Bridge.
Flows: Low flow is around 5 cumecs (upper section provides a pleasant trip for newer paddlers at this flow), generally paddled above 15 cumecs, above 100 cumecs the grade 3 section becomes grade 4.
Run: Lees Valley Bridge to Middle Bridge Grade: 2 Length: 8km (2.5 hours)
Ashley River Level
Put in / take out: Put in at the Lee Valley Bridge and get out at the middle bridge unless you plan to run the grade 3 section.
Description: A nice gorge with plenty of slightly more technical grade 2 rapids, mainly corner / bluff type rapids with some boulder gardens. A nice beginners trip with plenty of challenges. Warning: There is a wire fence wrapped around the large boulder in the main boulder garden rapid, currently it doesn’t obstruct the rapid but is definitely worth being aware of its presence and staying clear of it.
Run: Middle Bridge to Domain Grade: 3 Length: 12.5km (3 hours)
Ashley River Level
Put in / take out: Put in at the middle bridge and get out at the Ashley Gorge Domain.
Description: Only do this run if you are happy with grade 3 as walking out will be difficult if you are unable to continue. The run starts off fairly easy for the first few kilometres with general bluff / corner rapids and a few boulder gardens. After a couple of grade 3 boulder rapids, you reach Forever Eddy, a large eddy filled with endlessly circling lumps of wood. Then you enter the short, relatively tight gorge that forms the crux of the run. This gorge contains about five grade 3 rapids, the third rapid is the main drop and is best boofed on the hard left.
The second to last main rapid, where the river piles into a house sized rock forming buffers before curving round to the left. The last major rapid is usually run down the chute on the right side of the large rock. After this the rapids ease off and it is a pretty cruisy paddle out with some great scenery. Most rapids have pools at the bottom for recovery of swimmers and gear but in places swims can be lengthy especially if the flow is high. Take care and watch out for wood and trees in the rapids.