Lees Valley - Okuku Pass

The Lees Valley - Okuku Pass is a route through the cuff of the High Country foothills that is well worth doing. It holds some fantastic scenery as you wind through 75 km of gravel roads including native forest, wild rivers, gorges, farmland, with the majority of the route exposed to the Southern Alps Mountains as a backdrop. It is a relatively easy and safe route that includes many small stream crossings that are more fun than technically challenging, however the Okuku River does present a crossing dependent on river flows (full details below).

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Photo preview

The photo documented trip below starts from the Ashley George Road and Lee's Valley Road intersection heading out through Okuku. Refer to the Google map above for directions

Heading up the start of Lees Valley Road

Lees Valley Road, looking back across the Canterbury Plains

Dropping down to the first Ashley River bridge. There is a picnic spot 30 meters on the right after crossing this bridge

Dropping down into Lees Valley

Looking up the Ashley River from the first bridge

Crossing the Ashley River for the last time from the Top Ashley Bridge

Dropping down to the first glimpse of Okuku River

Looking up Okuku River

The Okuku river crossing at 5 cm3/sec

The Okuku river crossing at 1.5 cm3/sec

The Okuku river crossing

Important river crossing information

The Okuku River normally flows at an average of 1 ½ cm3/sec through the low rainfall months surrounding summer (December to May) making it easy to cross as it is only approximately 1 to 1 ½ feet deep. Through the higher rainfall months surrounding winter the average river flow climbs but still regularly offers low and safe fordable flow rates of 3 to 5 cm3/sec. Be aware that this river can rise at an alarming rate, it frequently floods to 25 cm3/sec+ and in a heavy storm it has been recorded to flow at over 260 cm3/sec! If the flow is up you can often still find shallow paths to cross in some of the braided sections downstream of the ford keeping in mind that floods often change these braided locations and they may not be available all of the time. Admitting defeat and turning back may be your only option in cases when the river unexpectedly rises and/or flood water has removed braids and cut channels too deep to cross. Where to draw the line is entirely dependant on your comfort level of water crossings, here are some rough guidelines for safety:

Rough guidelines for safe crossing

  • 1 to 3 cm3/sec : Easy and safe to cross
  • 3 to 5 cm3/sec : Safe to cross, may get a little deep/swift in sections
  • 5 to 8 cm3/sec : Can be challenging, you may need use braids to get across
  • 8 cm3/sec + : Potentially unsafe to cross

The above recommendations may be a little conservative for those that are comfortable with big river crossings, but better to keep this on the safe side.

To find the Okuku flow rates visit the Ecan website and use the Okuku Fox Creek flow report. The flow station is situated at the end of Taaffes Glen Road by the Fox Creek tributary spilling from the Okuku Range.

Other attributes of the Okuku river

  • The river base is often lined with large boulders brought down in floods
  • When the flow is high it can be discoloured making the bottom hard to see and hard to avoid boulders
  • Due to the valley gradient the river can often be quite swift above 5 cm3/sec

Flow rate of the crossing I did in this article (photo above) at approximately 5 cm3/sec

1 year period showing the summer time stability, frequent winter floods, and the massive 260+ cm3/sec spike

There are numerous small streams like this from 1 metre to 3 metres in width ranging from a few inches deep in low rainfall up to 2 1/2 feet deep in heavy (recent) rainfall.

One of the final gravel descents through a forestry block before hitting the tarmac

Vehicle and Track Information

GPS information

Camping and General Facilities

Cautions and Safety Information

Author of this article: ADVGD(366)