Sunday 19 April 2015

Dorothy Falls, A Memorial & The Blue Gorge

We stayed three nights in Punakaiki and would have liked to have stayed a few more but the weather was too temperamental and Easter was fast approaching so we decided to head straight through to Lake Kaniere and get a good site at the DOC camp before the Easter onslaught.

We did have an unusual encounter on the Cave Creek walk, I didn't mention it on the last blog though as I thought it wasn't quite appropriate to add it to the end. As we were making our way back up the track, David spotted a small dark animal on the track quite a distance ahead of us. I zoomed in on it and could only see a dark ball of fur.

A wallaby? Don’t be funny, there are none of those on the West Coast.  A wild cat? Highly unlikely out this far, but still a possibility. A big rat? Run for your life Shellie! We crept up on it and as we got closer it turned to the side and I could see that it was a possum, grazing on the track grass. Possums are nocturnal and this was about 4pm so either he forgot to change the clock for day-light saving, or more likely it was sick.

We crept up on it and got quite close before it heard us and ran into the bush on the side of the track. We quickly zeroed in on where it disappeared and David poked about in the undergrowth and under a large flax bush but didn’t find anything. As we were walking away I looked to the tree behind the flax and there it was, down low and staring at me with little beady eyes and gripping the trunk for dear life. He stayed put for quite awhile until David moved closer and he shot off up the trunk to the top at full speed. Where he sat and stared down at us again before crossing over to a larger tree and disappearing. That was our first encounter with a possum in daylight (and it wasn’t going to be too long before the second one either). He was just lucky that we saw him and not someone with a gun.

Our last morning at Punakaiki dawned fine and clear and from our vantage point (zoomed in) I could see that a steady stream of people were already checking out the blowhole.

Not far south of Greymouth is the iconic Taramakau single lane combined rail and road bridge over the Taramakau River. I think this is last remaining rail & road bridge on the West Coast, there used to be one over the Arahura River and a very long one over the Hokitika River. I chuckled at the road sign, there wouldn't be too many places that you'd see a sign like that.

We stopped in Hokitika for provisions and headed out to the DOC camp at Lake Kaniere which is 22kms inland and surrounded on three sides by mountains. We arrived mid afternoon to find that we had the large camp to ourselves. And so it was for the next couple of nights and then as you know, all hell broke loose- here are the blog post links from Easter-

A Quiet & Sunny Easter- Part 1

A Wet & Noisy Easter- Part 2

Easter Sunday dawned fine and with the weather forecast for more heavy rain we decided to do a little exploring while it was clear. We’d also just about had enough of all the power boat noise and needed to get out for awhile. The road continued on and turned to gravel just past the DOC camp, it’s a lovely scenic drive to the top of the lake, through thick native bush with the odd glimpse of the lake and  a few small parking areas beside some of the stream mouths.

About half way along and right beside the road are the Dorothy Falls, a multi-tiered 64 metre waterfall that must look impressive after heavy rain….hmm, it has been heavy rain so either they clear quickly or in fact they’re just a trickle usually. You can just see a tiny tier up the top and behind the front tiers. We decided there must be a few more tiers hidden up there.

And this will give you an idea of the height of the falls, David standing on a boulder at the waterfall pool. I took this from the road bridge.

Across the road from the falls is the Dorothy Creek Walk, a short track leads you out to the lake’s edge and, surprise, surprise, there’s the seat we saw from the boat when we explored up the lake a couple of days ago. What a beautiful spot to sit, relax and take in all the wonderful reflections.

At the top of the lake we pass between two ranges and cross over the Styx River which flows from the Southern Alps and joins the braided Hokitika River system further down stream. I now know that there are Blue Ducks/Whio up this river too- captivity hatched & reared ducklings that were released here once they passed their 'stoat-proof’ weight.

The road now enters the fertile river flats of the Kokatahi Valley where dairy farming is the number one industry. We’re heading towards the Hokitika Gorge- the Blue Gorge, and the road zig-zags across the farmland; left, right, left we turn, the road turns at right angles often. Obviously the farms were in place before the road which has had to follow the farm boundaries.

We stop to view the Kowhitirangi Incident Memorial along the way, a huge rock mounted on a plinth with memorial plagues and cast bronze description plates at the side. This is the site of New Zealand's first mass-murder. In 1941 an unstable farmer, Stanley Graham, shot dead seven men -including four policemen, two home guardsmen and a civilian before he was shot 12 days later and died of his wounds, after one of the biggest manhunts in NZ’s history.

Beside the memorial is this plaque explaining the events as they happened (click to enlarge if you would like to read them & excuse the patch job!)-

This part of the memorial is rather unusual but makes you even more aware of what took place in this peaceful farming countryside a long time ago.

There’s a lot of traffic passing the memorial as we read, and it’s all heading towards the back of the valley on a dead end road. The Hokitika Gorge is one of the top tourist attractions in the district and really is well worth visiting even though it’s 33kms from the Coast road and Hokitika township.

The glacial water (aka glacial milk) that flows through the magnificent granite Hokitika Gorge is a vivid turquoise blue and is caused by rocks, high in the mountains, being ground into a fine powder by the movement of glaciers. The suspension of white powder- known as rock flour- in the blue water creates an intense turquoise colour.

From the car park (it was full so we had to park down the road) there’s a short 2min walk to a viewing platform where you first catch sight of the beautiful colour made more intense and contrasted by the deep green forest that surrounds the gorge.

You’ll have to forgive me, but there are quite a number of gorge photos-

A swingbridge is suspended across the middle of the gorge and there’s a continuous file of people crossing back and forward over it.

On the rocks behind more people are clambering about.

Five minutes further on the track leads onto the swingbridge where only 6 people at any one time are allowed on the bridge. A group of children raced ahead of their parents and past us as we approached the bridge. One was very concerned to count seven after they entered the bridge, he quickly ran back shouting to the others he couldn’t follow because the bridge might break. It was good to see that he was taking note of the signs.

This is looking up stream from the middle of the swaying bridge.

And a further 5 minutes on and we arrive at another platform looking upstream and over a small pool that has formed at the side of the river. The rocks below are covered with people taking photos, there’s a gate in the fence (with a child-proof catch) that allows people down to explore.

There’s also a life-saving ring in case somebody falls in.

Which isn’t surprising when you see some of the places people are posing!

I catch David up at the swing bridge where he’s patiently waiting for me, and watching…

A fisherman on a rock downstream, there’s actually two guys, one is tucked in behind the rock out of view. I’m not sure how they got there but it looks like an awesome spot to be, even if there are no fish.

Back in the car we follow the road further into the hills; it’s a rough track but we’re hoping we might be able to check out the river somewhere along the way before it enters the gorge. After 5-6kms it ends on a gravel patch and it’s a surprise to see so many cars parked up. There are a number of multi-day tramping tracks that leave from locked gate so maybe there are a few people spending their Easter tramping in the mountains.

There’s also an overgrown and boggy walking track that leads down to the river which is quite a distance away, we decide to back up a side track and sit on our tailgate to have lunch while enjoying the birdsong and the distant rumble of the river. Just as we’re leaving another car arrives and a guy gets out and, with a whole heap of gear slung over his shoulder, heads off down a different track through the trees; his gear consists of a shovel, a pick, a gold pan and some other gold finding paraphernalia. Now that was not what we were expecting at all.


  1. There's Gold in them thar hills......I'm embarrassed to say I panned for gold in the Greymouth Camp Laundry building......I managed to stumble over a piece of coconut matting (at least 40 years ago) while walking!!!???...and found some colour in the stainless steel tubs back at the campground.....the cheek of some people!
    Perhaps the Possum had been chewing on some "happy backy" hense his abnormal anti nocturnal behaviour!
    Cheers J

    1. Perhaps you're right Jimu- whacky backy it is! Especially after our second encounter (still to come). That's a very original place to pan for gold I must say! Doubt anybody else could lay claim to that. :)


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