The Waimakariri Braids leg of the Christchurch 360 Trail runs from Whites Crossing to Mcleans Island Park.
The Waimakariri is a braided river, and that makes it a very special river environment, a home for some of our rarest birds. Check out the BRaid website, which explains in more detail the special ecology of our braided rivers and how we can protect it.
The track is approximately 18.8 km long, and will take a typical walker around 7 – 8 hrs.
Description of Route
You can find a Google Map of the route here.
Start at Whites Crossing, next to the confluence of the Otukaikino Stream and the Waimakariri River. The Christchurch 360 Trail follows the existing Templars Island Track west.
Continue west until Coutts Island Road turns hard left into Haul Rd. Just before this corner, the track leaves the road and goes behind the shingle works, to then rejoin Haul Road. Cross Haul Rd, exercising care as this is used by heavy quarrying equipment.
Templars Island Track is going to be broken at this point for a while. The track as drawn indicates approximately where the track will go in future, but expect that this will have a security fence around it for the next few months. Major excavations are happening replacing flood protection measures, and this is ripping up part of the old Templars Island Track. If there are markers indicating an alternate route, use it; otherwise, you may have to find your own way around the fenced off area as best you can. Look for a way to get onto or near the Coringa Loop track.
Head west next to the Coringa Loop cycle track, until you get to the Ashford Rd walking track, then head north. The track turns left at Waterhole Road, then turns away from Waterhole Road, before eventually joining back up to it. Follow Waterhole Rd west until you get to Main South Stopbank, where you turn left.
About 150m along the stopbank, look for the walking track off to the right. Follow this south, and it will lead you to the sign marking the end of this leg.
You need not tackle the entire leg in one go, if you do not have the time or the strength. However there is a large section in the middle of this leg that does not offer alternative routes of travel, and while access is readily obtained along Coutts Island Road, there are no public transport facilities to provide travel to various points along this section. You will need to arrange your own pick-up and drop-offs. There are plenty of places to leave a vehicle parked along the route.
Here are natural segments for the walk, with approximate walking times between these points.
Start: Whites Crossing. Car parking is available here.
7.25km 3 hrs
The Sanctuary: Find a safe place to park along Coutts Island Rd.
6.7km 2 hrs 45 mins
Haul Road/River Road ATV field car park: There is parking catering to the motorbike and ATV field.
6.2km 2 hrs 35 mins
End: Mcleans Island Park. Car parking is available here.
Things to see
You can find a Google Map of Things To See here.
The first part of this section, starting at the Whites Crossing picnic area, briefly runs beside the Otukaikino Stream. From its source it follows the course of what was once the south branch of the Waimakariri river. Being spring-fed it is noted for its clear waters, which visitors enjoy at The Groynes picnic area.
The trail until it nears McLeans Island follows the Templars Island track. Departing Otukaikino Stream it follows the stopbank before descending to briefly give a first broad view of the Waimakariri River. The river flows for 151 kilometres in a generally south-eastward direction from the Southern Alps across the Canterbury Plains to the Pacific Ocean. For much of its length, the river is braided with wide shingle beds. Braided rivers are characteristic of Canterbury rivers. They have wide shingle beds with many channels, and new courses are cut when the water rises, as it regularly does.
Braided rivers provide unique habitats attracting specialised fauna, such as the world’s most endangered gull, the black billed gull. Another notable resident is the wrybill, the only bird in the world with a beak bent to the side enabling it to find nymphs hiding under rounded rocks without having to move the stones.
Fulton Hogan Crusher
Braided rivers also move vast quantities of shingle downstream, and much of this is removed and crushed into sand. The tops of sand ‘mountains’ can be seen along the trail before a full view of the Fulton Hogan quarry is afforded at the point that the trail turns 90 degrees to return to the stopbank. The extracted shingle is used for concrete to meet the building requirements of Christchurch City.
The trail’s return to the top of the stopbank is a reminder of the flood defences that have been put in place to contain the river. Prior to European settlement, the Waimakariri River flowed unconstrained and had, at various times, reached the sea via Brooklands Lagoon, the Avon-Heathcote estuary, and even Lake Ellesmere. In February 1868 it flooded parts of central Christchurch. The river had also split into two main channels in the lower reaches forming a number of islands about eight kilometres from the coast. Though no longer separated from the plains by water, these still retain the old names: Coutts Island, Templars Island and McLeans Island. At this point of the trail, Coutts Island Road runs parallel to the stopbank.
Donald Coutts (1827-99) was an early settler, who set up one of Canterbury’s earliest flour mills near Kaiapoi. Coutts dug a race to bring water from the north branch into a small stream. It was a dangerous plan and the race was widened in 1868 by the flood referred to above, creating Coutts Island. The district had its own post office and a public school. The 1872 school building has been preserved at Ferrymead Historic Park. Upstream of Coutts Island was Templars Island, named after Edward Merson Templer (sic), an Englishman who immigrated here via Australia with his older brother John Arthur Templer, in 1851.
Rock Spur Carpark
Near this carpark can be seen examples of another form of flood control used to contain the river, namely rock groynes. There are good views of the braided form of the river here.
After returning to the stopbank and then leaving it for the third time, the trail passes through a native regenerating area named The Sanctuary. Part of the area is a spring-fed swamp that is also subject to periodic flooding from the Waimakariri River. Two main wetland vegetation types are present: tussock sedge-kiokio swamp with scattered stands of raupō and an open canopy of small grey willow trees in the wettest areas; and taller willow swamp forest over a dense understorey of regenerating native hardwood species. The remainder of the sanctuary is not permanent wetland but floodplain with poplar-willow woodland and patchy native hardwood shrub species. The area is being actively managed by Environment Canterbury as a biodiversity project with the support of the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society. The Forest and Bird Project, with assistance from the Rotary Club of Christchurch, is focused on the area around Englebrechts drain (named for a one-time local farmer). Successful enhancement (planting, weeding, watering and trapping) will see rapid establishment of the native community, supporting the whole food web from invertebrates through to river birds.
At the west end of the final stopbank section, the trail descends down the south side and skirts around the Isaac road metals quarry. Again large ‘mountains’ of sand can be seen. Demand for sand has more than doubled post-earthquake, with the quarry producing 600T of sand per nine-hour day. Leaving the quarry, the trail crosses Haul Road where care should be maintained for heavy vehicles entering and departing the quarry.
McLeans Island Forest
Soon after leaving the quarry, the trail is currently undefined. Beyond a rough open area (where there are trail bike tracks), the 360 trail enters McLeans Island Forest. Under employment schemes in the 1930’s, hundreds of men armed only with shovels, picks and wheelbarrows created a series of stopbanks and groynes along the Waimakariri River in an attempt to reduce flooding through Christchurch. Most of the pine plantations along the river were also planted during this Depression era. The forests generate revenue for on-going river protection works and also provide a buffer to slow flood water before it hits the stopbanks. The forest also provides recreational opportunities. McLeans Forest has three mountain bike loops totalling 17 kilometres and catering for cyclists of all ages and abilities, plus 11 kilometres of walking or running tracks. It is also used for orienteering.
McLeans Island Recreation
The trail exits the McLeans Island forest through a relatively narrow tongue of regenerating forest, which was devastated by a wind storm in September 2013. There are recreation areas on both sides of the ‘tongue’. Clearly visible to the right is that used by Equestrian Sports NZ On the left is the McLeans Island Golf Club. This section of the trail finishes at the main McLeans Island visitors car park, off McLeans Island Road. Besides the areas leased by Equestrian Sports NZ and the golf club, many other groups also lease land from Environment Canterbury along the road. Examples include Steam Scene (machinery heritage), paintball, rifle ranges, and Orana Park (opposite Equestrian Sports NZ). Orana Wildlife Park is New Zealand’s only open range zoo, featuring – among many animals – rhinoceros, giraffes, lions and gorillas.
Thanks to Stuart Payne for text and photos.
Flora & Fauna
Black-billed gull/Tarapuka Larus bulleri: The worlds most endangered gull, endemic to NZ. They nest on gravel riverbeds.
Wrybill/Ngutu pere Anarhynchus frontalis: The only bird in the world to have an asymmetrically, laterally curved beak. The bend is always to the right, and allows the wrybill to seek nymphs and other food from under stones on river margins, without having to move or flip the stones. Wrybills rely on braided rivers for their breeding, relying on the rounded grey sandstone pebbles of the South Island braided rivers to camouflage their eggs. They migrate for the winter to the northern parts of the North Island.
Black-backed Gull/Karoro Larus dominicanus dominicanus:
The black-backed gull is New Zealand’s largest gull. It has a white body with black upperparts, yellow legs and a yellow bill. Chicks peck at the red spot at the tip of the parent’s bill to stimulate regurgitation. Fledged offspring are mottled brown.
Black-backed gulls scavenge from human populations and are more aggressive than the red-billed gulls they are often seen with.
Fantail/Piwakawaka Rhipidura fuliginosa:
This friendly native is recognised by its long tail, acrobatic flight and tinny cheep. Fantails feed on insects in bush and shrub and are found in many different habitats. If you walk through bush and there are fantails nearby, they will come and check you out. Photos are difficult, however, as fantails seldom stay in one place for more than a moment.
There are two morphs. The most well-known, the pied morph, is dark brown, with a cream-coloured belly and black and white bands. The black morph is dark brown all over, with no banding and a white spot behind each eye. About a quarter of South Island fantails are black.
Silvereye or Waxeye/Tahou Zosterops lateralis:
The silvereye is slightly smaller than a sparrow, with an olive head, grey and buff body and a distinctive white ring around each eye. Young birds do not have the white rings. They have a quiet, high-pitched call.
The silvereye was first recorded in New Zealand in the 1830s and has since spread throughout both islands. Silvereyes tend to flock in flowering bushes. They eat insects, nectar and fruit.
Grey duck/Parera and Mallard Anas superciliosa (grey) and Anas platyrhynchos (mallard)
Grey ducks and mallards are found on many New Zealand lakes and rivers. Both male and female grey ducks are similar in appearance to mallard females. Because the two species interbreed, the plumage of male mallards varies considerably.
Mallards are larger and more dominant, and as a result grey ducks are critically endangered.
New Zealand scaup Aythya novaeseelandiae:
This small diving duck can be found in waterways around Christchurch. The male has bright yellow eyes and both male and female have dark brown plumage.
Paradise shelduck/Putakitaki Tadorna variegata:
The Paradise shelduck is large and goose-like and can be found in parks and along waterways throughout Christchurch. Often found in pairs, the female is the more striking bird, with a white head and chestnut-coloured body. The male is darker, with a black head.
In flight, the male gives a low honk, while the female answers with a higher-pitched call.
Ducklings are brown and white-striped, and fledged young resemble the male.
Pukeko Porphyrio porphyria:
Pukeko are often seen alongside waterways and in paddocks. It has blue and black plumage, a red bill and shield and long red legs. Pukeko eat mostly vegetation, but will eat eggs, invertebrates and other small animals.
Pukeko chicks are black and fluffy, with their parents’ large feet.
There are toilets at Mcleans Island Park at the end of the leg.
Food & Refreshments
Belfast Tavern, cnr Main North Road and Dickeys Rd
There are no buses to Whites Crossing. The nearest bus stops are on Main North Rd just south of Dickeys Rd. The buses using these stops are 95 and the blue B-Line buses.
Bus 95 runs bi-directionally between the central bus exchange and small towns north of the city – Woodend, Pegasus, and Waikuku.
The B-Line bus runs bi-directionally between Princess Margaret Hospital in the south of Christchurch, through the central bus exchange, and on up to Belfast and sometimes Rangiora. Not all services run as far as Rangiora. At times when the service does not extend out to Rangiora, the bus also turns back before the bus stops near Dickeys Rd, and you may need to use bus stops further south on Main North Rd, south of Richill St for the return to the city, or when heading north, where the bus turns around at the intersection of Factory and Tyrone Streets.
No buses run to Mcleans Island. You will need to make your own pick-up or drop-off arrangements.
Nearby Points of Interest
Coringa Loop MTB track and other cycle tracks
Mcleans Island Golf
Motorcross and ATV park
Orana Wildlife Park: Found on Mcleans Island Road, near the leg end point for the Waimakariri Braids and what should be the start point for the Avonhead Gardens. Orana Wildlife Park is the only zoo in New Zealand to feature open-range enclosures. There are giraffe, kiwi, a white rhino, gorillas, cheetah, zebra, hyena, gibbons, Sumatran tigers, and lions. An adult’s annual pass is only $69 and a child’s is only $19. It is open every day except Christmas Day, 10am to 5pm.
Isaac Conservation Heritage Village (Under development, not open)