Patuna Chasm

Looking for the top

In the Wairarapa there is a hidden gem that I’ve been trying to visit for a few years now and last week I finally managed to get the time required to check it out. Patuna Chasm is a natural feature worn out over time by the passage of the Ruakokoputuna River. Situated on private property 17km south of Martinborough it’s possible to book a visit through Patuna Farm.

Keryn and I both took a day off and arrived at Patuna Farm a little early. All up there were 8 punters lined up to walk the chasm and this necessitated a trailer being hooked up to the farm 4WD to transport us all to the starting point which was a 15 minute drive from the farmstead. Our host was Alan and after giving us some tips and handing over a sheet describing the walk we were left to start walking. Alan had picked me as a photographer after lifting my admittedly heavy bag of camera gear into the 4WD and gave Keryn and I some extra advice to maximize the photography opportunities which was appreciated.

The first half of the walk traversed native forest and farmland as we headed upstream. There were one spot where there was a rope to help descend a stepper part of the track but otherwise it was fairly easy going. We spotted and heard korimako (bellbird), tui and miromiro (tomtit) while walking through the woodland and stopped to have lunch at the wonderful natural feature named Wave Rock.

Keryn climbs up to Wave Rock
Keryn climbs up to Wave Rock
A nice spot for lunch
A nice spot for lunch

From Wave Rock it was only a few minutes till we were heading down towards the river and negotiating another somewhat tricky section of track that again had ropes for assistance. Then it was down to the chasm floor via an 8m high ladder. The water at the bottom was cold on first contact but soon was comfortable enough on this warm summer day. It wasn’t possible to have dry feet on this walk so we were both wearing sports sandals. Alan recommends wearing shoes or boots to help prevent getting stones stuck underfoot but we managed OK. We took a moment to read the provided notes and decided to head upstream to a nearby waterfall.

Descending into the chasm
Descending into the chasm
Playing with water
Playing with water
The upstream waterfall
The upstream waterfall

The water got up to our knees as we picked our way upstream which was about as deep as we had to negotiate on the whole walk. The waterfall was very pretty and would be even more impressive after heavy rain. It’d also be easier to photograph on an overcast day but who am I to complain at sunny skies with scattered cloud. Keryn played with the streaming water and investigated the mossy banks while I took photos before turning back downstream.

The chasm narrows
The chasm narrows

The riverbed was rocky with occasional patches of gravel and we walked carefully, picking safe spots to place our feet and making sure not to stand on the larger submerged rocks which tended to be slippery. There were a few sections where we could walk along the banks and at one point labeled split rock we had to climb down another shorter ladder. Split rock was also a good spot to investigate fossilized shells exposed where the stone had cracked apart.

It was well worth reading the chasm notes. For instance at the next large rock in the center of the river we had a choice of left or right paths around the obstruction. The left side was dim and meant walking through dripping water coming down from the walls above while the right side looked much drier. The notes pointed out that the right side path was much deeper so a quick shower was the better option.

Looking back at the "house" rock
Looking back at the “house” rock

The chasm walls reached higher and started coming together past the house rock and we spent more and more time stopping and just watching the play of light across the water sculpted surfaces. Sunlight that reached the water would reflect in lazy moving waves and the water changed colour from black to green and yellow depending on the depth.

Sculptured rock
Sculptured rock
The path ahead
The path ahead

We were becoming aware of the time and that we were meant to be finished by 3pm for our pickup. One of the group ahead of us came back to check on us and the older couple behind us somewhere so we knew we had better get a wriggle-on. Pressing on through the water we passed a large short-finned eel seemingly suspended in the water to one side of the chasm, completely unimpressed by the travelling humans.

Nearly done
Nearly done

We came out of the chasm and there was one more short, rope assisted climb before we were again walking through the forest and uphill to the starting point. Next time I’ll take Alan’s suggestion and skip most of the forest and start in the chasm, I don’t think my photos really do the place justice. Patuna Chasm is a natural wonder that deserves to be experienced in person. I also look forward to the day Alayna can come visit with us, though she’d need to be a bit older (it’s recommended that children be older than 6).

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