South Island meanderings…March 2017 … Collingwood (Aorere Valley)–Takaka-Richmond-WOW Museum

March is upon us already and we are still in Golden Bay.  Left Collingwood and drove inland to do some exploring before leaving the area.

First port of call was Aorere where the acclaimed Naked Possum Cafe is located and also the start of the Kaituna Track which leads up and over the hills to Knuckle Hill which overlooks the Wanganui Inlet (where we were a few days ago).

We started chatting to a couple parked there in a bus and ended up setting off together to walk the first section of the track to River Junction.

River view at start of Kaituna Track
Old Mine Tunnel

The path follows the river upstream and was fairly easy walking (however, our younger companions were setting a cracking pace so it wasn’t the leisurely stroll that we had intended).

A side detour took us past an old mining area but the only real evidence left was a small tunnel entrance.

Back on the main path we came across a really tall tree that made us feel like dwarfs beside it.

The track was mostly bush with the occasional view of the river below us.

River Junction

Then our way forward was abruptly halted by a river crossing and this ominous sign.

Come this way!

We had reached River Junction but wondered where the track went from there as there was nothing obvious.

Finally spotted some arrows half hidden on a punga tree across the stream.

We lingered, exploring around the rocks and enjoying the view before heading back.

Considered checking out the coffee at the Naked Possum but as time was marching on and with ‘places to go’ we continued on our way.

Next place to see was the historic Langford’s Store at Bainham.  It’s still operating as a store/living museum, however, we had to content ourselves with just peering through the windows as it was not open due to the owners taking a day off for their wedding anniversary (so said the sign on the door).

Well that was a quicker stop than anticipated, so continued on to the Salisbury Falls further up the road.  Parked and walked down to the river – a family was picnicking and having lots of fun in the pool below the falls which were on a small side river.

Salisbury Falls

Rock-hopped a short distance to the main Aorere River which was a clear green colour, travelling through a small gorge and forming large swimming holes in places.  It was a picturesque area and no-doubt a popular spot at the height of summer.

Aorere River
Road bridge over river upstream

Last evidence of historic swingbridge

Walked back and crossed over the road bridge for more views. Quite a history of the bridges here and extreme floods that washed them away. Originally there was only a small footbridge, built in 1887, that was washed away in 1899.  The replacement, built in 1902, lasted around 108 years before being declared unsafe in the mid 1980’s.  Public lobbying in 2004 saw the footbridge restored as a tourist attraction, however, nature had the final say when a huge 13.75m flood swept it away in December 2010.  The only evidence left is one of the straining supports standing lonesome in the picnic area.  The road bridges have similar stories – one of them only lasting 3 years before the next flood ‘got it’.  The current one was built in 1985 and seems to have stood the test of time (so far….).

Hard to imagine a 13.75m flood raging through here
Downstream the deeper water looks blue

Back in the van we followed the road another 8kms or so, to its end at the start of the Heaphy Track.  We ran out of tarseal and the last few k’s became fairly narrow.

Start of Heaphy Track
Brown Hut

We parked up and walked to the first Hut…which sounds impressive, but in reality it was only a 5min walk!

All was deserted – checked out the Brown Hut and the nearby bridge over the Brown River then headed out again.

Brown River

This time we encountered a tractor mowing the road edges on the narrow part of the road and we had to follow him for quite a distance before he could pull off to let us pass (photo not sharp as it was taken through the windscreen while on the move).

We were on the lookout for a place to park-up for the night and squeezed into a small DOC carpark at the start of the nearby Mt Stevens Walk.  Slept soundly, however, when a couple of cars arrived early next morning, decided we’d better move out so we weren’t hogging the space for the keen walkers.

Drove back through Bainham and Aorere heading to Rockville to have a look at the Devils Boots area.  They’re like upside down gumboots.


A narrow road continued on past the Devils Boots that goes to the start of the walkways to the Aorere Goldfields and Caves.

We headed there but were almost biting our nails before we arrived…the road became nothing more than a farm track…the grass almost brushing our wheels and absolutely no-where to turn around or pass an on-coming vehicle.  Neville was not a happy chappie!  But we reached our goal without incident and even found a widened area for parking and turning.

Donned our walking shoes and set off along a 4WD track for about 15mins before reaching the caves and goldfields walkway.  Then it was a 45min uphill slog all the way to the caves.  A nice view looking back over the Aorere Valley.

View over Aorere Valley
Nice ‘arched’ part of the walkway

Found the Ballroom Cave, down a little side path, which from a smallish entrance opened up to a large cavernous area with stalactites and colourful walls.  The cave was so named as reputedly it was used by the miners as a venue for dances (though that is a bit hard to believe – considering the uneven floor and the distance uphill to get there).

Ballroom Cave entrance

Tunnel entrance at the back of the cave

Another 20 mins further on is Druggans Dam so figured we may as well carry on.  The track from this point levelled out as it was following alongside the old water race that took water from the Dam down to the gold sluicing operation at the bottom of the hill.

Track alongside overgrown water race channel

This part of the track was really nice, views across the valley and shrubby trees full of noisy cicadas that were bombarding us as we scared them off their perches when passing by.

Reached a tunnel below the dam which fed water into the water race and then climbed up to the top of the dam.

Control for opening gate for water to flow down the water race tunnel


The lake was a lot bigger than we expected. From the Dam end we could see that the lake had other arms towards the east and west.   We stopped for a breather, enjoying the view across the lake.

Druggans Lake viewed from the dam

Stafford Cave entrance

From the lake we could have followed the 4WD track back to the start but ended up going back along the water race path to the caves, as we hadn’t looked at the second cave on our way in.

Another short side track took us to the entrance of the Stafford Cave.  It was a steep clamber down into the cave – a couple of girls had entered just before we got there and we could see by their lights that it was a long way down. You can just see one of the girls in the photo below entering the dark triangle area (click on photo to enlarge).

Down the hole


Another section of the Water Race

Apparently there is a way through to the Ballroom Cave and we could feel a strong draft of air coming through so presumably you could follow that to find the way.  But you would definitely need more gear than we had with us so we gave it a miss and continued back down the hill to the van.


Sluicing claim

The walk took us 3½ hours all up – an interesting area and well worth spending the time going there.

Drove back along the narrow ‘track’ – didn’t meet any oncoming vehicles thank goodness and somehow it didn’t seem so bad on the way out knowing what was ahead of us.

Arrived back at Collingwood for the night and in the morning tried to get down to the river but the tide was right in so that foiled us.

Bridge over Aorere River at high tide

Headed into Collingwood township to get some supplies and took a photo of the Estuary side of the town before leaving.

On the way back to Takaka we stopped to have another look at Milnethorpe Park, where the Parapara Inlet exits to the sea. This time to go for a walk around the Aboretum Reserve. The little concrete causeway we walked over last time we were here was uncovered when we arrived but the tide was coming in fast and by the time we got back from our walk it was completely underwater.

Parapara Estuary

The Aboretum was planted out with Eucalyptus and Acacia trees around 40 years ago to form a canopy and enrich the soil so that Native trees and flora could re-establish.  As an experiment it has certainly worked with many native trees now flourishing alongside the exotics and the forest floor is covered with multitudes of ferns and shrubs.

There are many paths around the Reserve so we picked up a leaflet from the Information Box at the entrance and set off. The paths were also named and signposted, matching up to the ‘mud map’ which was most helpful.  Being quite a large area, without these it would be easy to get a bit lost.

Figures in the woods

In one area there were quirky picnic settings and sculptures lurking in unlikely places.  We also walked out to the beach and later came across a pretty pond area.

Rock circles in the stream – about to be covered by the incoming tide
Walkway circling a pond area
Cicada shells by the thousands
Milnethorpe Beach

We spent well over an hour exploring some of the paths before heading back to the Van.  Stopped to have another look at the estuary before hitting the road.

Causeway now covered by the tide

Drove onward to Takaka and spent another 3 nights at the Club Park beside the Tarakohe Wharf.  Now a favourite camp of ours being such a picturesque area and always something worth taking a photo of.

Early evening and the moon above
Tranquil morning
Future Americas Cup stars maybe!
Different view of the Boat Harbour
Local resident of the Boat Harbour

A feature of Tarakohe is the road tunnel carved under two enormous rock faces.  It doesn’t look very big but is high enough for trucks (that didn’t stop us ducking our heads as we drove under it though).

06 March we said goodbye to Takaka but not before completing another walk in the area that we wanted to do.  Saved the most strenuous one till last!  Going to find the Rawhiti Cave.  Parked in a small carpark down another farm track and set off following the Dry River upstream to the halfway point and where it started climbing uphill quite steeply.

River crossing would not be ‘dry’ in winter
Track alongside Dry River
Start of the uphill section

Luckily the day was overcast so it wasn’t too hot. On the last section we were having to pull ourselves up large steps and over rocky bits…a tough climb but it was all worth it in the end.

The cave was quite awesome – an enormous entrance at the top and then it descends down under the overhanging cliff-face into a deep cavern. It is estimated to have been formed over a million years ago when the Dry River was flowing at this height.

Top of cave opening
Cliff-face above opening

There was originally an entrance into underlying passages but the cave ceiling has collapsed forming the curved shape as seen today. Presumably the passages are still in existence but there is no access into them.

The path continues to a viewing platform about halfway down.  No need for torches as the light from above illuminates it. Above us are thousands of phytokarst stalactites of all shapes and sizes, so named for the mosses and algae that grow on them and assist in their formation – deposits of calcium-carbonate continually flow over them and they become part of the structure of the stalactites.

Viewing platform over deepest part of cave
Wall view from lookout point

Photo of early tour group

The cave was originally privately owned and guided tours were conducted here around 100 years ago but they ceased a long time ago, so today it’s not very touristy and quite unspoilt (tours discontinued in 1929 after the 7.8 Murchison earthquake).  Only evidence of those days is a round ‘stump’ where the owner used to collect drip water to fill the carbide lamps and ‘boil the billy’ for the visitors to have a ‘calcite-flavoured’ cuppa (yuk).

Weird shaped stalactite
Old water container now calcified and ‘welded’ permanently in place


The stalactites around the entrance are curved and don’t grow straight down…this is caused by the plants growing faster on the sunlit side, causing the stalactite to grow towards the light.

These days the area falls under DOC’s care who presumably built the viewing platform and maintain the track (occasionally?).

In awe of the cave and surroundings we were almost reluctant to leave – photos just don’t capture the overall spectacle – it’s a ‘seeing is believing’ kind of place. Eventually we headed out and clambered down the steep track section to the riverbank and back to the van.  We were away just over 2 hours so that was about the time listed for the return walk so we obviously weren’t that sluggish.

Stopped in Takaka township and browsed in the ‘arty’ gift shops along the main street and topped up our fuel and groceries.  Had already decided to stop beside Lindsays Bridge again, which was only a short distance out of town.

Next day it was back over the Takaka Hill and headed for the Moss Reserve near Riwaka, for a couple of nights.  While there, we collected bucket-loads of water from the river and cleaned most of the dirt and dust from the bikes and the outside of the van.  It was absolutely plastered after our trip to Anatori River, even though the job wasn’t perfect, it was a big improvement.

We arrived back in Motueka and parked up again beside the Salt Water Pool Domain. We had another couple of very wet days there – I found a chunk of broken concrete to put outside our door so we could get in and out over a large puddle that surrounded us.  Eventually we moved to a drier site at the Public Wharf carpark (beside Talleys) and stopped there for another couple of nights.  By that time we had used up our allotted free camping time so thought we’d better move on.

14 Mar – Picked up some fresh fish and more salmon cakes from the Talleys Shop then headed off in the general direction of Nelson.  Turned down the Tourist Drive towards Ruby Bay and then along a side road to check out Kina Peninsular….a huge park area on the other side of the Motutere Inlet.  But ‘no camping’ signs everywhere so we stopped for a lunch break and moved out.  Inlet was quite pretty whilst the tide was in but otherwise it’s just a view of mudflats.

We drove into the nearby Kina Beach Camp and decided to stay there – it was only $5 p/person for a night.  Ground was pretty muddy in places after all the rain but we managed to find a reasonably dry spot OK.  It’s quite a small camp right beside a stony beach and looks across Tasman Bay towards Nelson, no doubt it’s a very popular place in the school holidays.

View of Nelson across the Bay

Next day at low tide we went for a walk along the beach and below a high cliff-face that follows the shoreline.  Came across a gate by a small paddock with a roadway heading up the hill and the biggest picnic table and bench seating we’ve ever seen.  We were told afterwards that the land belongs to the Talley family and they hold large BBQ events there.

Walked for some way before U-turning back towards camp.  We also passed a small deserted-looking house on a little area of flat land and got a surprise when a woman appeared and came over for a chat.  Her family has owned the house for a few generations and it was originally built by bringing in all the materials along the beach at low tide.  Nowadays they can park vehicles on the clifftop and walk down a pathway to the house but they are not allowed to build a road down.  We mentioned the road we saw earlier by the BBQ area…hmmm she says…”but I am not of the Talley family”.  That was interesting!  She loves the complete isolation of the house which is self-sufficient running on solar power but doesn’t live there all the time as she also travels around in a small motorhome.  We sure meet some interesting people in our travels.

Packed up next morning and drove to Ruby Bay for a look around – quite a good selection of shops for a small settlement. Then back-tracked to another beach camping area we’d passed earlier…McKee Domain.  This Council ‘owned’ camp covers quite a large area and has a gated entrance with a permanent camp custodian who comes around on his bike every morning to collect the camp fees of $6 p/p.  Stayed there for 3 nights and noticed that a lot of the young campers in cars/vans crept out very early in the morning and we figured they were trying to avoid paying.  However, the camp ‘host’ told us they don’t get far as they have to line up at the closed gate until he gets up to collect their fees and let them out!

This camp also lines the stony shoreline overlooking Nelson and at low tide it’s within walking distance back to Kina Beach where we were before.  It was busier here and is more set up for large numbers of summer holiday-makers – numerous loo/cold shower blocks, rubbish collection points, dump station, town water supply taps throughout and a large children’s playground.  A couple of bush walks nearby too.   All in all a great camp for a bargain price!

We drove into Richmond on 19 March and felt like we were in the ‘big smoke’ again.  A long main street lined with shops and the first Shopping Mall we’ve seen since leaving the Christchurch area at the end of October last year!  We decided to stay at the Richmond Motorhome/Caravan Park for a while.  It’s part of the Showgrounds & Trotting Track – available for self-contained campers @ $10 per Van or an extra $5 to hook up to power.  But it’s the best priced place around being per/van rather than per/person.  It also has a loo block, laundry and a water tap at each site.  We booked in for a week so that we could have an ‘address’ to have our mail forwarded to us by courier from Christchurch.  Also just a handy 5 minute walk to the start of the town shops and the bus stop into Nelson.

After a few days catching up on chores I decided to head off to go and see the WOW Museum – a 15min bus ride and then a 10min walk to get there.  I left Neville at ‘home’ as I didn’t think wearable arts would interest him very much, but discovered when I got there that the Classic Cars Exhibition is in the same building, providing somewhere that the menfolk could amuse themselves too. Oh well…too late now!

I really enjoyed seeing the amazing costumes up close and trying to figure out what sort of ‘materials’ were used in their creation (one was made from colourful plastic buckets).

There was also a Theatre showing a 40 minute movie of the actual show that the costumes on display were featured.  This made the static display ‘come to life’ so I actually went round a second time to have another look.

Afterwards I checked out the classic cars and took some photos so I could show Neville what he missed out on.  There certainly was a good selection on display. Don’t ask what they all are – I forgot to take photos of the placards. But I know that the one on the right is Renault and the one below is a Messerschmitt.

The next few days were wet so we didn’t stray far from camp but first fine day we set off to the big hardware stores to buy some things to do some maintenance on the Van…mainly some long strips of s/steel piano hinge so that we can renew the hinges on our outside hatches.  The original system is just a long flexible plastic strip that is starting to split badly so if we don’t do something we could risk the a hatch door falling off one day and spilling the contents out along the road somewhere.

We also had a ‘sign maker’ measure up the coloured strips along the side of the van to replace them on one side where they have shrunk and bubbled since we purchased the van.  The guy was attracting good business – he’d come to do some work on another van and got ‘accosted’ by people staying in the camp to do signs for them also.  He came back the next day to fix our stripes and also put a ‘name’ sign up along the front.  We chose ‘CODDIWOMPLE’ after much deliberation because it is different and the meaning: “to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination” seems to fit us to a T!  We found the word by chance on the Internet and it’s an old English slang word.  At least we are pretty certain we have the only motorhome in NZ with that name!

29 March, while the weather was fine again, decided to go for a walk up the Aniseed Valley Road to the Whispering Falls. We went there many moons ago and remembered it as a nice walk and it was nearby in the forested hills behind Richmond.  It really must have been a long time ago as neither of us remembered the track as it is today or the steep climb we had to do on the last section to see the falls.

Parked the Van in a nice picnic area, crossed a bridge and then started following the Hackett Creek upstream along a forestry road.  We then crossed the stream again over a substantial swing bridge onto the walking track ‘proper’.

Upstream from swingbridge

It was a scenic gentle meander beside the Hackett Creek but in a couple of places the path has been eroded away so it was a bit narrow at times.

Bridge has gone!

Came to a fork in the track and went left towards the Falls.  Shortly after arrived at the 3rd bridge…that is no more!  Looks like it’s been down for a long time, probably flood damage.  So there was nothing for it but to paddle across to continue on.

After the last bridge the track climbed uphill to the Falls area.

It’s a pretty sight with the water gently cascading down over colourful mossy banks in trickles.

Mossy stream

It was very wet and slippery at the bottom of the falls after the recent rain but we crossed over and decided to climb up to the top where there is a clearing and another picnic area.  Not an easy task as we tried to find places to step that weren’t slippery – just as well there were some small trees to use as hand holds.  Unfortunately the promised view was obscured by overgrown trees and it had started to drizzle too.

Getting down the steep drop was just as hard as going up unfortunately…Neville ended up slipping and landing on his rear-end in one place (I did not laugh..honest).

Luckily the drizzle cleared up and we were able the enjoy the views of the river and pretty undergrowth on the return journey as well. The 2-3 hour walk took us the full 3 hours as we took our time and lingered taking photos etc.  Glad we went as the falls are ‘different’ and scenic but the track certainly needs some work done on it to bring it up to the advertised “easy family walk” again.

On the last day of the month we headed out to get some more supplies and ended up at Tahunanui Beach where there is a large park area.  Ornamental lakes, miniature train track, swimming, mini car racetrack etc – again, it would be booming here in the summer holidays.  We went for a long walk around the gardens looking across at the Holiday Park across the water and along the beach. Hungry work…so we decided to refuel at the nice Cafe before heading ‘home’ again.

Tahunanui Beach

Van park across inlet

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