Patuna Chasm

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).

South Island: Hokitika to Arthur’s Pass

Our last few hours on the West Coast started by heading north from Hokitika towards Kumara Junction where we turned eastward. At Kumara we stopped to have a look at a photo gallery. The work was very good and I bought a print, I’ll have to have a look at it later to get the photographers name as I can’t find it on the Internet right now (found, it was Carey Dillon and the print purchased is called “Totara, Te Kinga, Lake Brunner“).

From Kumara we took a diversion from SH73 towards Lake Brunner where we had a couple of walks planned. We had been warned at the gallery that the first walk we were doing, the Bain Bay walk, might be truncated and this turned out to be the case. Recent bad weather in the previous weeks had washed away some of the track or boardwalk. It was hard to tell where the track was meant to go, it just ended at a lagoon. Before reaching the premature end we had walked over boardwalk and lakeside track amongst tall Kahikatea and large flax in the bright sunlight. It was another beautiful day and we could see clear across to the lake to distant townships. The print I had bought showed silhouetted trees against morning mist, we’d have to come back on a colder day much earlier to get a similar sight.

MG 8109Photo by Brendon & Keryn

Walking the boardwalk at Bain Bay.

MG 8118Photo by Brendon & Keryn


MG 8129Photo by Brendon & Keryn

The lagoon at the end of the walk.

Our next little adventure was just down the road, the start of the Carew Falls Walk. We had a weka welcome us as we got ready and were soon hiking the gently rising track. It was only a quarter hour or so to the Carew Falls and while I took photos others relaxed and had more of the West Coast slice. The waterfall was fairly impressive and did its best to defy the unphotogenic nature it had been given at our gallery visit earlier.

MG 8150Photo by Brendon & Keryn

Carew Falls.

Getting quite hot in the sun while sitting on rocks we didn’t hang around for too long and heading back on the track, arriving at the car fairly quickly. It was now nearing lunchtime so we get off on the road looking for a nice spot to have lunch. This we found at a little bay on the lake side and we sat on the stone beach eating lunch, keeping an eye out for a couple of curious weka and enjoying the continued good weather. Being a stone beach with flat water I tried my hand at skimming a few likely looking stones. I started well and then quickly faded away, I should have quit while I was ahead.

Not far down the road we stopped again near the point a stream left the southern end of the lake and I took a few more photos. Again some nice morning light with mist would have been wonderful, the afternoon shots not so great.

MG 8173Photo by Brendon & Keryn

More Kahikatea on Lake Brunner.

MG 8184Photo by Brendon & Keryn

You’ll never guess what type of tree this is.

MG 8186Photo by Brendon & Keryn

High water.

The road left the lake and we were soon back on SH73 following a wide braided river through valleys with snow covered peaks surrounding us. We had a few more stops, checking out a bridge leading to Deception Valley and the river flowing below.

MG 8196Photo by Brendon & Keryn

Deception Valley Bridge.

MG 8202Photo by Brendon & Keryn

River and mountains.

As the road climbed towards the Arthur’s Pass township there was the possibility of seeing some unique New Zealand wildlife and sure enough just around the bend from Reid Falls we interrupted four kea feeding on scraps on the road. Someone had either thrown out or accidentally dropped a polystyrene container of fast food and the kea were munching away, grudgingly flying off whenever a car came by. Not much further along the road we passed over a bridge through the valley and then stopped at a lookout above the bridge where there was another kea happily checking out all the vehicles as they came by. The kea seemed happiest with a campervan piloted by a single man why had a blow-up companion in the passenger seat, and another visible through the campervans side door. Taking his friends for a holiday?

MG 8207Photo by Brendon & Keryn

Reid Falls.

MG 8217Photo by Brendon & Keryn

Not what you really want to see a kea feeding on.

MG 8238Photo by Brendon & Keryn

About to launch.

MG 8264Photo by Brendon & Keryn

The road through the valley.

From here it wasn’t long to Arthur’s Pass and our accommodation at Arthur’s Hotel & Chalets which were actually rooms attached to a pub. It was obviously a quiet time of year as there didn’t seem to be many people staying and the complimentary jug of milk we received joined another jug of very past due date milk already in the small fridge – this was quickly returned to the staff. I don’t think we would have lasted more than a couple of days in our self catering family room, the beds were uncomfortable and it all looked a little dated. The cooking facilities were minimal, matched by the minimal cutlery. One of the drawers next to the fridge was falling off. Many people on trip advisor don’t have much good to say either (though others had a good stay). We cooked our own dinner and had desert in the restaurant area of the bar and while the service wasn’t great the food desert was good (though some of the menu options weren’t available because the regular chef wasn’t there that night which was a little strange).

Anyway, we weren’t staying to spend time in the accommodation. Before dinner we took a walk from the Chalets to the nearby Devil’s Punchbowl waterfall, accessed from a carpark a few hundred meters from the pub. There were kea in the carpark happy to pose for a few photos before we crossed the river and started uphill to the falls.

MG 8312Photo by Brendon & Keryn

Carpark kea.

MG 8397Photo by Brendon & Keryn

The top of the falls from across the river.

The track was quite steep with plenty of stairs, thankfully it wasn’t that long. At the end there was a wooden viewing platform with good views of the main fall of water and also the stream dropping away down the valley.

MG 8441Photo by Brendon & Keryn

Closer to the falling water.

MG 8485Photo by Brendon & Keryn

Zooming in.

MG 8495Photo by Brendon & Keryn

close up to the top.

It was almost busy at the viewing platform with more people coming an d going than we’d seen on a track in a while. Once I’d taken plenty of photos we started back and I hung at the back to keep an eye out for bird-life and any other photo opportunities. There were excellent views to snow covered peaks and there were some interesting atmospheric effects occurring with lines of clouds in the sky. I had heard the high pitched peeping of birds on several occasions and finally looked in the right place at the right time and spotted a rifleman looking for food on a tree, staying still long enough for me to fire off a few photos.

MG 8517Photo by Brendon & Keryn

Looking to the snow covered peak.

MG 8532Photo by Brendon & Keryn

Lines in the sky.

MG 8548Photo by Brendon & Keryn

A rifleman stops long enough to be seen and photographed.

Back river side looking back at the falls the afternoon sun was creating rainbow colours in the falling spray so more photographs were taken, the last of the day.

MG 8565Photo by Brendon & Keryn

A hint of rainbow.

East Coast Holiday: The Kaituna River

Leaving Whakatane we had one last leg to the holiday, driving to Hamilton. Camping now done with we decided to eat out and had the unfortunate experience of eating at a place called Cafe Surfside. My pancakes were ok (if rather too much for me to finish) but Keryn’s french toast was terrible, a case of tasting as bad as it looked. Not the nicest way to leave the coast.

We were driving around the outskirts of Rotorua on the way to Hamilton and when we were planning the trip I had noticed a few places on the map that might be good for some river shots. Forest & Bird were running a Wild Rivers photo competition and I had an idea to get some shots people river rafting and the Kaituna River looked like it would be a dramatic place to see such action seeing as it includes the highest raftable waterfall in the world (or so they say on the rafting sites) at Okere Falls.

It was raining, at times heavily, when we arrived near the turnoff to the falls. Luckily we arrived just as two rafts were about to head down the river so I got in position downriver to take some shots as the rafts entered the first small set of rapids.

IMG 3827Photo by Brendon & Keryn

Rafting the Kaituna River

We then headed across the road and parked, guessing that the path from the carpark would follow the river to a viewpoint. Sure enough it did and we waited, soon hearing a whistle and then shouting as the rafts navigated some larger rapids. The passengers looked like they were enjoying themselves, the guides also having a good time on the swollen river.

IMG 3853Photo by Brendon & Keryn

Waving for the camera

IMG 3861Photo by Brendon & Keryn

Holding on

From the signs we’d seen at the carpark it looked like the large waterfall was further down the track and I guessed, incorrectly as it turned out, that it’d be near the carpark at the other end of the river path. So we went back to the car and drove to the further carpark. This was a mistake and by the time we found the waterfall we’d missed the rafts coming through. Still, it was an impressive sight so I took some photos.

IMG 3879Photo by Brendon & Keryn

A waterfall on the river near the second carpark

IMG 3893Photo by Brendon & Keryn

The waterfall we’d come to see

One of the shots I took, the one above, actually won me the “Wild Rivers – Without People” section of the Forest & Bird competition so that was pretty good and was worth getting a little wet. Once again planning pays off. You can see all the winning photos on the Forest & Bird website. One other little bonus was that the competition was judged by well known New Zealand photographer Craig Potton and he had some nice things to say about my photo: “It’s a wonderfully executed photo that kept my eyes wandering over the picture frame, entranced by the details. A nice tension in the composition between thirds and halves. Great full frame feel”.

Once done walking it was back to the car and on to Hamilton. The weather kept things interesting, we passed through some incredibly heavy thunder storms with visibility reduced to a few metres at times. It was good to arrive in Hamilton and get a warm welcome from Bridget, Dean and Adam.