South Island meanderings…December 2015 (Part 1) Blenheim-Nelson Lakes-Lewis Pass-Hanmer Springs

Had a good old ‘explore’ around the Blenheim area and the town centre – the place has certainly grown since we last passed through here. Traffic was so busy at times you’d have thought we were still in Wellington!! The cherry season has just started so a box or two were soon demolished…yummm.

Where to next? We have always said we would drive over the Molesworth Station one day so decided the time was right. Except the weather was not playing along and the hills were quite obscured so we wouldn’t have seen much. Instead we set off westward down the Wairau Valley toward the Nelson Lakes area to loop back over the Lewis Pass to Hanmer Springs to drive the Molesworth from south-north instead, in the hope that the weather improves along the way.Cycle

However before leaving Blenheim, a bit of a disaster was discovered during my ‘co-pilots walk around’ in that one of the top brackets of the cycle rack had pulled away from the back of the motorhome and we had to remove the bikes and put them inside. A quick trip to a local metal workshop to buy a square of s/steel to use as a bracing measure, but we decided the rack is just not mounted strongly enough for the bikes. We can’t carry them inside for any length of time so we dropped them off at a local OP shop and sadly said goodbye to them. They were no real loss as they didn’t owe us anything – we’ve had them around 20 years or so. When we get to Christchurch we will invest in a couple of newer and lighter cycles and have a re-think of how and where we’ll stow them. Trials and tribulations!

Arriving at Lake Rotoiti we intended to stay there but the DOC camp wanted $30 night for the pleasure so we thought we’d move on. The Visitor Centre also told us the other camp around the lake at West Bay was not yet open for the season. Nek-minute we chanced upon a ‘free’ DOC area for “Responsible Freedom Campers” just 1.4 km west of St Arnaud. The signage at the site doesn’t even say you have to be CSC. Needless to say there were lots of ‘space-wagon’ type vehicles by nightfall but we were more than happy to park and rest up. You cannot see the area from the road so it is not obvious – the only signage visible indicates that it’s a mountain biking area. It’s beside a little pond that is used for ice-skating during the winter.

S23 Lake Rotoiti
Lake Rotoiti
S24 Eels under the jetty at Lake Rotoiti
Eels under the jetty at Lake Rotoiti
S26 Bushwalk - Nelson Lakes area
Bushwalk – Nelson Lakes area
S25 Outflow of Buller River from Lake Rotoiti
Outflow of Buller River from Lake Rotoiti

Stopped next night at Kawatiri where SH63 meets SH6 from Nelson. Quite a nice DOC roadside picnic/camping area. Traffic was real busy during the day but quietened down overnight. Site is where an old Railway Station and rail line from Nelson was built in the 1800’s. Good photo boards to explain all the history. We braved the monstrous sandflies and barrage of bumblebees to do a short walk along the track embankment, over an old rail bridge to walk through the old concrete rail tunnel. Took our torches but they weren’t really needed. Return was via a loop track through a pretty beech tree bush area.

S27 Kawatiri - old rail bridge & tunnel
Kawatiri – old rail bridge & tunnel
S28 Old rail tunnel
Old concrete rail tunnel
S29 Into the gloom
Into the gloom
S30 Back into the light
Back into the light
S31 Railway bridge relics
Railway bridge relics

On our way to Murchison we detoured to have a look at the DOC camp at Lake Rotoroa. The camp area is actually quite small and no views of the lake. Had intended to stay a night but the hoards of sandflies sort of put us off so we pressed onward. A nice drive following the Buller River into Murchison.

Spent a couple of nights at the NZMCA Park there – it is handily placed to town to walk for supplies and have look around. Had a very nice meal one night at the Beechwood Cafe – I indulged in whitebait ‘butties’ and was not disappointed. Pity the season has just ended.

Moving on, we first called at the Buller Gorge Swingbridge and decided we’d pay our money this time and walk over. Reputedly it’s the longest swingbridge in NZ at 110m and 17m above the Buller River. A few nice walks on the other side which passed areas of land uplifting from the 1929 Murchison earthquake. Not that much to see due to overgrowth but nice to stretch the legs anyway. You can take a zipline back over the river but for a ride of 30-45 seconds, we thought the $30 for the pleasure, was a bit steep. The walk over the bridge was not big deal for us but we did see a photo of the 2010 flood where staff were walking over it with the river roaring below them only 4m below…now that would have been scary!! The road in and out was closed anyway but it is always mind boggling to imagine the scene at the time.

S32 Longest swingbridge
Longest swingbridge
S33 Buller River - from swingbridge
Buller River – from swingbridge
S34 No rocking..I'm not holding on
No rocking..I’m not holding on

Stopped the night in the carpark at Maruia Falls along SH65. The falls were worth a look and a short walk takes you to the best viewing point at the bottom. The falls are popular for canoeists to plunge over but didn’t see any brave souls while there. You’d have to know what you were doing, as just off to one side there was a huge eddy with hundreds of logs swirling around continually. Would be a disaster if you hit one.

S36 Maruia Falls
Maruia Falls
S35 Top of falls & log jamb
Top of falls & log jamb

Next morning we continued south following the Maruia River valley to Springs Junction then turned east on the Lewis Pass Road. Neither of us have travelled on these two roads before so enjoyed the scenery. Spent a night at the Marble Hill DOC camp, a huge area off SH7 not far from Springs Junction. Lovely walks through beech forests and the Maruia River passes through a gut here called The Sluice Box.

S37 The Sluice Box
The Sluice Box

Deer Valley DOC camp on the Canterbury side of the summit was nice too. A lovely clear, fast moving stream runs alongside the camping area.

Arrived at Hanmer Springs on 11 December. Very touristy and expensive but nice to stroll around and window shop. We did a basics-only shop at the Four Square then drove back to the bridge south of town and settled down at the NZMCA Park for a couple of nights. No lock on the gate so observed a couple of hire vans that sneaked in after dark – “we got lost” they cried next morning…yeah right!

Weather forecast is looking good so time is right to head towards Molesworth. Up the steep hill north of Hanmer Springs town, known at Jacks Pass. I could hardly look down the steep dropoffs to the valley below on my ‘passenger side’ of the truck and was very glad when we reached to top. But the views were awesome back over the Waiau River Valley.

S38 View over Waiau River Valley near Hanmer Springs
View over Waiau River Valley near Hanmer Springs

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