At times a mere trickle, at others a raging torrent, the Selwyn-Waikirikiri River is a waterway of many moods.

Known originally to Maori as Waikirikiri, the river was renamed in the late 1840's in honour of the country's Anglican Bishop, by the Canterbury Association's surveyor, Captain Joseph Thomas, and now proudly wears both names.

Photo of a portion of the riverStarting in the Canterbury foothills above Whitecliffs, it snakes its way across the patchwork farmland of the Canterbury Plains to enter Lake Ellesmere. It's flow is very seasonal - high and flood-prone in winter and early spring, but low (and often bone-dry in the upper reaches) when summer drought conditions prevail.

The Selwyn River is fed from two sources - rain in the foothills and small springs in the lower plains. The spring-fed lower reaches keep flowing throughout the summer, making the lower reaches of the river a popular swimming, camping and picnicking destination during the hot months.

Particularly popular are Chamberlains and Coes Fords about half way between Lincoln and Leeston, both named after long established farming families. Chamberlains Ford is no longer a ford, having been relieved of its duties by the nearby Irwell Bridge, and Coes Ford might now be better named Coes Culvert.

The river also has other fords criss-crossing it at various places and, fortunately for road travellers, four bridges:

  • at Glentunnel in the foothills
  • at Bealey Road in the upper plains
  • at Selwyn on the main southern highway, and
  • the Irwell Bridge near Lake Ellesmere.

The river is prone to violent flooding in the winter.