South Island Wanderings – Motueka River Valley

We were sitting in the library in Greymouth accessing the free internet to find accommodation for the next 7 days of our trip. We didn’t have anything booked and it was coming up to Easter. We quickly settled on two days at the Misty Cove Winery in the Wairau Valley because, well, why wouldn’t you, but the following 5 days were proving to be difficult. We wanted to stay around the Takaka area so that we could get to Abel Tasmen and Fairwell Spit but we were going to be there at Easter when every man and his dog plus mountain bike and motor boat wanted to stay there.

We came across a listing for a nice looking place in the Motueka River Valley and at first dismissed it because it wasn’t that easy to get to and it didn’t have a full kitchen, just a microwave, an electric frying pan and a bbq. But we kept coming back to it and the idea grew on us that maybe we should just take a flyer. The place was available, the price was good and it was somewhere we’d never remotely visited before.

So we went for it and what a find it was. Richard and Sue call this place The Haven and a more appropriate name you couldn’t come up with. Only half an hour out of Motueka yet a world away up a gorgeous valley, the Haven is a self-contained unit set in a 20 odd acre smallholding up a steep hillside.

To get there you have to pass through three gated paddocks where rare breed sheep are kept. The Arapawa and Karakul flocks were being kept separate to prevent cross breeding, otherwise there’d only be one gate to tackle. The Arapawa in particular are nice looking sheep with their dense, chocolate coloured markings and they’re a friendly bunch so driving through and making sure they don’t squeeze through the gate in front of you is quite a challenge.

The views from the cottage were quite wonderful. You could see down into the Motueka Valley with Mount Arthur forming a backdrop. Sunrise was a time when the mist would rise out of the valley and we never tired of watching the ever shifting clouds change with the light. And at night the moon would rise over the eastern escarpment and light up our deck area like a giant torch. It was magical.

The countryside hereabouts varies from steep, tree clad mountain to river and stream valleys and rolling farmlands dotted with small settlements. We took a ride around the country lanes to the east and ended up in the lovely village of Moutere. This area was first settled by German emigres and had a Lutheran church.

It also has what is claimed to be New Zealand’s oldest Pub, the Moutere Inn. It’s run by an English couple and I have to say that I had the best pint of beer I’ve tasted in the whole of New Zealand there. It was a lovely hoppy, malty brew and was obviously cellared properly. At first I thought it might be imported from the UK but it comes from a craft brewery in Christchurch. Micro breweries are popping up all over New Zealand now, just like at home, and the beer is becoming so much better. In fact, all around the Motueka area there are hop fields – it’s the latest horticultural growth market, apparently.

Just a few klms down the road you can also find a pub which hasn’t had the same fortune as the Moutere Inn. Called The Plough Inn at one time and later Wyperserfontein (the meaning of which name no-one knows) it has a very interesting history but is now sadly derelict. In the UK such buildings would be done up and sold as a weekend cottage but New Zealand abounds in tumbled down cottages and sheds which I love to photograph.

We also drove much further afield to the very far north of the South Island. The journey to Farewell Spit was probably a little longer than we had anticipated. It was not helped by the extensive roadworks which are taking place on Takaka Hill following landslides which closed the road completely back in February. The views from the road as you drive up it, very slowly, are tremendous and there is no other route you can take so we just had to accept the delays.

Once you are over the hill the views continue to be impressive. At Collingwood you start following the coast all the way to Port Puponga and then to Farewell Spit.

It was so named by Captain Cook as he was leaving New Zealand. The Spit itself is a 34 klm long, low lying protuberance which sticks out into the Tasman Sea with extensive mud flats on the Golden Bay side and flat, pristine sand beach on the other. In the middle are wonderful sand dunes you can run up and down going ‘wheeee’ like children.

You can’t walk the whole of the spit even if you wanted to. It’s a nature reserve and I guess they don’t want people getting stuck way out on the sand spit. It’s a pretty inhospitable place. But the skies are so big out there it’s a wonderful, quiet place to be.

Both the sand and the tidal flats are a magnet for wading birds of all kinds but the tide was out in Golden Bay so we couldn’t see much and the Godwits and other migrants have left now. Someone told us it was possible to see 10,000 black tailed godwit here in the Spring.

It was a long and tiring drive to get to Farewell and we had a lovely day out but we decided that for the rest of our time we would concentrate on exploring the area we were staying in rather than go too far afield.

The rivers in the area are wonderful examples of swift mountain waters and provide some great fishing , according to my friend and fly fishing expert, Thomas Klapper who lives in Switzerland. He takes guests out on fishing tours and makes videos about the sport of angling but also does a lot of travelling himself which is how we met him in Chile. I think his aim is to get me fly fishing again but it’s many a decade since I’ve had a rod in my hand (no smutty jokes, please). Mind you the rivers here are glorious enough to make you want to take up the sport.

We took a car trip up to an area of the Arthur Range called Rolling Rivers. This area is another of those former goldmining places and at one time there was a fairly substantial settlement here, though all that remains is a pile of stones. The creeks here are gorgeous. Set beneath the discouragingly named Mt Gomorrah there are abandoned stamper batteries, pistons, sluices, and all kind of machinery dotted about. There are still small quantities gold to be found here and we met a young family carrying shovels and pans setting out on a fossicking trip up one of the creeks.

Thankfully, instead of the noise of heavy machinery stamping rocks to crush the precious minerals from them you now have the sound of cascading water and birdsong, particularly the unique sound of the Bellbird which echoes far through the forest. Tiny Tomtits hop onto a sign in front of you and the wonderful, green jacketed Rifleman can be glimpsed gleaning for insects.

And the black and white South Island Robin will hop almost up to your shoelaces.

But, lovely as all these birds were, what we really wanted to see was the Whio or Blue Duck. Like all ‘torrent’ ducks, the Whio lives in fast flowing rivers and streams. Unfortunately, like all of New Zealand’s endemic birds, it has suffered from hunting and predation by non-native introduced species such as the rat and the stoat. The Blue Duck is now critically endangered but is slowly making a come back in areas where it is protected. Sue and Richard at the Haven had told us that we should be able to at least hear and probably see a Whio (named after the sound the male makes) around about the first swing bridge after the car parking area. So we walked to the swing bridge and looked around but could see nothing. We were about to move on when I spotted something that appeared to be a largish stone in a blue pool of water. But a stone with two eyes and a beak. Creeping closer to the riverbank we discovered not one but five Whio who didn’t seem at all phased by our presence.

You could see why the Blue Duck was so named but also why it was well camouflaged. The rocks and the water pools around here are often blue tinged and so the duck blends in very well. The journey to Rolling Rivers had been superb but icing on the cake was definitely to see a bird we have searched for every time we’ve been to New Zealand. And Jane got her first experience of driving through a ford to get there.

She also got her first experience of some serious back country driving. Richard had told us we should take the road up to the Flora car park on Mount Arthur and from there we would have a choice of several walks. Some easy, such as to the Flora hut and others far more challenging such as up to the top of Mt Arthur – 8 to 10 hours according to the map. You can also take long distance bike rides but you need to be pretty tough to tackle this terrain.

It was tough enough just driving up there in the first place. The ‘road’ is steep, twisty, corrugated, washed out in places and not for the faint hearted. It was a good job that we had a 4×4 but even so Jane did an incredible job of getting us to the top. The views of the coastline were superb.

It was surprisingly cool up the mountain despite the brilliant sunshine. The trees, which were mostly native species, kept the temperature down and we were more than 1,000 mtrs high. We decided that tramping up Mt Arthur wasn’t for us as much of it is through trees, even though they seemed rather magical.

So we took a short walk to the Flora Hut, one of the basic huts dotted on mountains throughout New Zealand. This one, recently renovated, had bunk beds with mattresses and open fires. There was even a pile of logs and an axe for splitting them.

It was here that we met a man from my own neck of the woods – Nottingham. He lives in New Zealand now and was a volunteer hut warden, spending his Easter break going from hut to hut in the area, checking everything was ok and collecting hut fees, where they were payable. The Flora hut was free but some of the popular mountain huts have to be booked well in advance. Some even have food for sale, though that is rare.

The descent from Arthur was less challenging than the ride up but we were pleased to get back to level ground and to travel on sealed tar roads instead of the dusty, gravelly tracks we’d been on.

Back at our cottage we had Sue’s home made hot-cross buns to look forward to. Sue was an amazing host providing us with fresh home baked bread, eggs from the hens, home made chutneys and jams, including a grape jam made that day. We had grapes on the vine, a marvellous deck to sit on, a big bbq to cook on and an amazingly comfortable, peaceful place to stay.

We chose to stay in the Motueka River Valley on a whim and we thought we were taking a bit of a chance booking The Haven. But it turned out to be one our best finds in the whole trip and we truly were rather sorry to leave; except that we knew that we had an extra special place waiting for us four hours down the road. Of which, more next time.

5 thoughts on “South Island Wanderings – Motueka River Valley

  1. Annie and I have just caught up on all your blogs and are thoroughly enjoying our trip to New Zealand with you.Xx


  2. I love the photos, especially the water and magical reflections on the pebbles, though the blue duck got in the way a bit 😉
    What a wonderfully serendipitous place you stayed…
    Safe journey home xxx


  3. enjoyed your blog can’t wait to see it all myself when visiting my daughter in December, margaret guy


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