17 Aug 2017

Skating the frozen lakes of the South Island

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:37 pm on 17 August 2017

Clive Murphie has been skating South Island lakes for 40 years.  

Every winter, the “mad keen ice skater” keeps a close eye on the weather forecast and when it looks just right, emails the 120 people on 'Clive's Ice Skating List' and a group of them hit the ice.

Murphie was 17 when he first skated Lake Ida. In those days you could get up there on a bus from central Christchurch, he says.

Back in the 1940s and 1950s, there was a 'skating report' of lakes were skatable on the radio, similar to a ski report, he says.

“When you’d get up there you’d find probably another couple of hundred cars and another four or five busloads of people.”

One day there were 3,500 skaters at Mt Ida - the premium spot around Christchurch - but these days it’s around 30 or 40 on a good day.

Lake Ida is the premium spot around Christchurch.

“Mount Ida in the middle of winter completely covers where the lake is, so there’s no sun on it. And also when it gets a little bit of snow on, at night the cold air falls down off the snow and covers the lake and acts like a little fridge.”

He also recommends Lake Evelyn, Lake Lyndon, Lake Clearwater, Lake Camp and the Red Lakes.

Ice is very “vocal” and experienced skaters get a feel for which parts are safe by the different sounds it makes, he says.

“I can put one foot on the ice. If you put enough weight on it and it doesn’t crack and if you stand on the ice and you don’t get wet, that’s usually a good indication that it’s okay to get on and figure out what’s safe and what’s not.”

Beginner skaters often test an area together.

“If two people can stand on it, it’s reasonably safe for you to skate out.”

Over the years. Murphie has fallen in a couple of times, but it’s not that big of a deal in New Zealand, unlike many other countries which have currents under the ice.

“The worst case scenario in 99 percent of the places we skate is you fall in, you get wet and cold, and when your friends have finished taking pictures and videos of you they might throw you a rope to pull you out.”

After a good snowfall and a frost Murphie knows certain spots will be frozen.

He can predict a couple of days in advance and emails the group.

If it’s a weekend they leave town at around 8:30am, but during the week they’ll go at night the ice is strong from the cold.

“I’ve been at Lake Ida at half past ten going ‘Do I really want to go home?’ Such a beautiful night, especially if you get a full moon with a bit of snow around the place you don’t actually need your lights to be able to skate. It’s a really beautiful place to be.”

Murphie invites people to check out his Natural Ice Reports page, where you can also sign up to receive Clive's Ice Skating List.