On our second full day in the Wairarapa, Jayne, Ian, Andy and I had a leisurely breakfast at our bach in the olive grove before heading off on our big adventure. We packed all our gear in waterproof bags and piled into the car for the short drive to Patuna Farm. Higgs stayed behind to guard the house from errant sheep. While he’d love to spend a few hours on a working farm, I don’t know if the farmers or livestock would feel the same.
About 20 minutes out of town, amongst rolling hills that seem nothing if not ordinary, we turned off at the sign for Patuna Farm Adventures. Our chosen adventure was Patuna Chasm, an epic hike that follows a river through beautiful rock formations and under massive archways. While the clay pigeon shooting is lovely I’m sure, we had planned to visit the chasm for months and couldn’t wait to explore.
We weren’t the only ones! The parking lot situated behind a beautiful farmhouse was nearly full when we arrived. You can see why they’ve made a business out of this. We grabbed a seat and got our gear all packed up as we waited for the tour to start.
The farmer showed up and passed out waivers for us all to sign, along with some instructions about how to stay safe in the chasm (watch out for stinging nettle, be careful on shaky ladders etc.). A Kiwi experience at its finest, this type of thing would probably never exist in the USA. If it did, there’d be reinforced walkways, an admission booth and big fees. Here, you give the farmer some cash, hop onto a rickety trailer and just embrace the experience.
Yeah, I did say rickety trailer.
We clambered on, along with the others in our group. Since there were more people than seats, a couple stood and others joined the farmer in the truck. Like I said, very Kiwi!
The truck set off and we bumped along the farm track for about twenty minutes, past fleeing sheep and unfazed cows, up and down gullies and through streams. Finally, it was time to start the trek down into the chasm. The farmer again explained the hike and pickup time (three hours later), and he was off. Oh yeah, and we were told to avoid two dead cows who fell into the gorge… nice.
It was about a thirty minute hike to get to the starting point of the walk. Along the way, we got our first glimpse of the Ruakokoputuna River, the force that has carved this epic canyon. This would also be the spot where we’d ultimately exit the river once we’d finished our watery trek.
Climbing back uphill, we got a great view of some incredible rock formations, and we hadn’t even reached the main attraction yet. Thanks, photographer Andy!
Those little specks are me, Jayne and Ian.
Continuing along the trail in the final stretch before the chasm, a long-departed sheep showed us the way.
Entry to the canyon is down an eight-meter (26-foot) ladder, so there was a bit of waiting involved, as others descended. There were ropes to grasp on the steep slope down, as Tarzan here is demonstrating.
Of course, I don’t have any photos descending the ladder itself. While it was very wobbly, it was secured to the chasm walls with ropes, and all went well. We ended up at the back of the group, which proved perfect once we were in the chasm. When the various parties of people separated out, it felt like we had it all to ourselves. Ian decided to head back the way we came to meet us at the end of the hike rather than continue through the cold river water (it was frigid!), so we said our goodbyes.
We first headed upstream to see the waterfall the farmer had mentioned, which was well worth it. This was after my feet stopped hurting and went fully numb.
I’m glad we did this on a warm day, since the water, I believe we were told, was 13 degrees C (55 F). They stop doing the tours in the end of March when colder weather rolls in.
After some more photos, we turned around and headed back downstream.
The shallow river almost looks like a street in some photos, if not for the light reflecting off its surface.
It’s amazing that so much of the gorge is walkable. I can only imagine the excitement of the people who discovered this wonder of nature, tucked amidst inconspicuous rolling hills.
Looking up, the view was incredible, as greenery formed a lush canopy over the chasm.
NZ’s native longfin eels call the chasm home, and we had a couple close encounters. They’re incredible creatures and can live as long as 100 years. I don’t blame them for choosing this spot, minus the pesky humans who disturb them from time to time.
Here’s a view of the ladder we descended to get into the river. Yup, just a regular ladder!
Further downstream, the water got a bit deeper. The limestone sides of the gorge were worn away, covered with holes and crevices.
Some spots had little caves, which obviously called for photos. Serious spelunker, right here!
Around every bend, you couldn’t help but gasp “Wow!” as the view got better and better. I lost count at how many times this came out of my mouth during our journey.
These rocks look like a geological cake, with icing dripping off the bottom.
Some incredible rocks also studded the riverbed.
This was around the deepest part of the river on our hike. Andy and Jayne are putting on brave faces, despite how chilly it was.
We didn’t end up needing our full waterproof bags, but it was good to have them just in case, especially for cameras and phones. In some places, water dripped from above, and you never know when you might slip.
There were also some spots where you could swim if you wanted to, but we chose to take the alternative route in those areas. It was a little too cold to be fully submerged!
As we continued on deeper into the gorge, we passed under rock arches that perfectly framed the lush greenery up above.
The rocks themselves were works of art, sculpted by the elements over more years than any human will ever see.
Like I said before, something even more amazing beckoned around each bend in the river. The best was truly saved for last, though, as we entered an almost pitch-black tunnel through the rocks. It’s hard to truly do it justice in photos. It took my breath away, with the vibrant light filtering through a narrow gap amongst the stones.
Looking up, I felt like I was walking through the pages of a National Geographic article.
It’s incredible to think how long the river has been slowly burrowing into the rocks that now tower overhead.
If we didn’t have to be back by a certain time for pickup, I could’ve stayed here for hours.
We really got lucky with the weather, as late summer sunlight bounced around the cavernous passageways of the chasm like a giant prism.
The icy water was incredibly clear.
Slowly trekking onwards and looking around us on all sides, we noticed the walls begin to resemble the inside of a cave, with hundreds of stalactites dripping into the river below.
All that moisture leads to some incredible moss and ferns.
Time for a mother-son photo op!
Just a couple of travelers, bravely wading into the unknown.
Passing some limestone-turned-swiss-cheese, we soon came to the end of the watery road.
Well, of course the Ruakokoputuna River continued on its serpentine journey, but it was time for us to warm our numbed legs and trek back uphill to meet Ian and our ride. Back at the head of the trail, we had time to relax for a few minutes before the trailer pulled up and bounced us back to the farmhouse.
And that’s only half of our day! After picking up Higgs at the bach (he would’ve loved the chasm, but maybe not the ladder), we hit the road to Castlepoint. Another post to come on that soon. 🙂