Mt Harper Ice Rink
17th July 2013

Aardwolfs Ice Hockey Club

Mt Harper Ice Rink
Lat: 43'41'15.30S Long: 171'01'53.99E Elevation 413M
Go to Natural Ice Reports  
Mt Harper Ice Rink Contact Details: No longer operating

MT HARPER ICE RINK From ASHAN Newsletter 39-2 2009
Compiled by Rick McGovern-Wilson
The Mt Harper ice rink is a remote ice rink in the high country of Canterbury and is purported to have been the first manmade outdoor ice rink in the southern hemisphere (if anyone has any information to the contrary, I would be grateful to know). Even today the ice rink takes at least an hour to reach from the nearest town and requires a jet boat ride (or wading across the Rangitata River) ? to drive the whole way there takes much longer. As such, it is amazing that the rinks busiest day was when some 3000 people visited the rink in 1939.
Construction of the first rink began in 1931-32, but this rink proved to have been poorly positioned as the wind rippled the ice. A new rink was built closer to Mt Harper and was fully operational by 1934 (although some skating took place in 1933). The rink was the brainchild of Wyndham Barker who, along with his wife, Brenda, lived year-round at the rink. To deal with the rigours of winter, the house (a timber-lined corrugated iron building) had a central heating system. The original rink (of six acres) was gradually subdivided into smaller rinks, used for hockey, figure skating and practice. Another notable feature of the complex was that several of the rinks were under lights, with the power generated by a Pelton wheel. Public use of the rink ceased in the 1950s but private use of the rink continued until the early 1970s.
Today the remains of the rink are on land owned by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and an archaeological survey of the rink was carried out in April of this year. The complex that remains is remarkably complete, a testament to how recently the rink was used and its remote location (Figure 1). The rinks are all clearly visible, including the rink built in 1931-32 (even on Google Earth). The concrete ?walls? used to demarcate the ice hockey field are still present, although mostly buried in the long grass. As well as the rinks, there are the remains of nine buildings, including the Barkers? house (Figure 2), two toilet blocks and the remains of a refrigeration unit used for one season in 1948. One building (known as the White Hut) remains habitable. Plantings, in the form of poplars, survive and the original pattern of the planting can still be discerned. Much of the line of the water race that supplied the Pelton wheel is still intact, and the track up a scree slope to maintain the race can still be followed. The embankments of the first rink remain intact, as do the two water races that filled it. The means of filling the later rinks appears to have been a reservoir and water race system. Together, these remains are a fascinating complex that illustrates the importance of such places to rural communities in the pre-World War II era. The subsequent demise of the rink is indicative of how those communities changed following the war.
Source document pdf download:

Exerts from an interview with Ruth Smith:
The Mt Harper ice rinks were built by a Mr and Mrs Wyndham- Barker, who with their own hands dug out the peat bogs, drying the bricks and storing them for the rink house later on. They dug drains, erected a powerhouse and other buildings and installed their own hydro- electricity supply. In the summer they crossed the river by boat and in the winter a drum-floated punt was used. Mrs Barker, usually arrayed in leather coat, sou'wester and gumboots, welcomed people with a megaphone as she propelled the punt across the river with a long pole and then drifted back to the waiting crowds.  On one such occasion an expert swimmer from Timaru having possibly acquired a little too much "Dutch courage" on the journey, whilst impatiently waiting his turn and dared by his companions, suddenly flung off his outer garments and dived into the icy river. On reaching the other side he, no doubt, was completely sober, but won his bet. A swing bridge was erected later, but the vagaries of the river meant it had to be removed each year prior to the spring floods. Other skaters recall that if you were prepared to cart a bag of coal over to the Mt Harper rink, skating for the day would be free. For some time in the early 1920s Mt Harper was the only club in the area and many and varied means of conveyances headed towards the Ice Skating Mecca at the head of the Rangitata Gorge, the once-popular Mt Harper rink on on the northern banks of the Rangitata River above the gorge is all but forgotten today. Now all that is left are the old pipes from a generator, large shallow area and scrapings in the riverbed which once held the ice and collections of dilapidated buildings that possums have made good use of. For many, ice skating was an adventure that took a up the weekend or at best a full day. Mt Harper was not a rink to be used by the faint-hearted. It involved a rough ride across the riverbed and the crossing of the Rangitata River by a wire rope bridge, or raft. While Tekapo and Mt Harper were considered the main rinks, there were others at Mt Cook, Lake Ohau, Albury, and Mt Nessing, Speed was considered the hallmark of the champions in those days, with leaping over barrels or chairs a close second. And hockey, also; everybody played hockey, believing the hockey stick to be a good support as much as anything, The girls wore jodhpurs or skiing trousers at first, quickly graduating into the much- coveted short but not too short skating frock, usually adorned with fur around the hem, cuffs and neck, with matching pill box cap. People found books full of information, but trying to put it into practice without a guide, was a different matter. Although the roads were wicked people merrily set out with spades, sacks and chains and towing ropes, and always taking a raw potato with which to defrost the windscreen. When that had no effect the driver was obliged to drive with his head out the window. There was one occasion when a bus was stuck fast on one of the hills in the Rangitata Gorge on the way to Mt Harper. Having come from Christchurch the skaters just settled and stayed the night there. Anyone who visited Mt Harper would no doubt have heard of the battles with the river. Sometimes I have wondered if the spirit of Erewhon had set itself out to defeat all those who ventured into its realm.

Recommended reading James Maxwell's book:  Discovering the Legends of Ice Skating. It's a collection of reflections on an era past that many would not be aware of today.

Source Article:

More Information here from the DOC website

Sunday 00th July 0000

Photos from the DOC website

  Crossing the Rangitata River on the pontoon bridge. Photo: Geraldine Museum.
  Crossing the Rangitata River on the pontoon bridge
  The hockey rink, c.1949. Photo: Geraldine Museum.
  The Hockey Rink in use c1949
  Video of the Mt. Harper Ice Rink
Video from the The Mainland Touch News Programme
(courtesy of Jack Lyttle) from the NZIFSA



Google Location Map
Google Maps JavaScript API Example
Above: Mt Harper rink is unmarked on Google maps and is about the middle of the map
Below: You can still see the lines that split up the rinks for the different activities at Mt Harper

Some Photos Of the Old Mt Harper ice Skating Area as it is now:

Looking down onto the Mt Harper ice rink from the water race for the Pelton wheel.
Photo: M. Craddock, DOC.

The Barkers? house. The left-hand end functioned as skate hire and repair.
Photo: M. Craddock, DOC.

The views expressed on the page above, may not reflect the views of the Aardwolfs Ice Hockey Club
All graphics and written material (c) Aardwolfs Ice Hockey Club 2004
If you would like to be added or removed from our email list please email Aardwolfs Ice Hockey Club