Where: Patuna Chasm, Martinborough, Wairarapa
Distance & Time: Four hours, including tractor ride to + from start
Take: Grippy shoes that can go in water and won’t slip. Water. Anything you really want to take, make sure you don’t mind it getting wet!
Amenities on route: Bathroom + carpark at the start, nothing on route
Cost of the walk: $25. It’s on private land, and this fee includes carpark, and tractor ride to + from the start
Patuna Chasm has to be one of the best kept secret day walks in all of New Zealand. The fact it’s on private land and there is a entry fee involved probably accounts for that – but let me tell you that this walk is absolutely worth every dollar!
Patuna Chasm is 15 minutes out of Martinborough, and you may think you’ve taken a wrong turn as you follow the signs up a driveway to a private house, but I can assure you that you’re in the right place! You park round the back where you meet Alan, who will give you the safety briefing and a paper with the directions you need to follow to make sure you don’t get lost! Following the briefing you jump onto a trailer attached to a four wheel drive. It’s one of those examples of kiwi ingenuity with a row of old seats nailed to the trailor for us to sit in.
After a short ride through Alan’s farm (ducking a few overgrown branches if you’re on the trailer!) we jump off for our last words from Alan before he sets us loose. We all need to make sure we are back here by 2pm (we started at 10), so we should have plenty of time to explore.
I feel a bit sorry for the bush section of this walk as we’re all so obviously excited to get into the Chasm that we don’t really pay it the attention that it deserves. However, Wave Rock gets our attention – you round a corner and suddenly there is this incredible limestone structure in front of us. And not only that, but you’re able to climb up into it to look around further.
Numerous photo opportunities abound here, it’s great if you can get someone else from another group to stay back on the track and take a photo of your whole group in the rock (we didn’t do that this time around – next time!) Looking at the photo above I’m wondering why we didn’t try to keep walking up the hill on the right to try and go to the next level on the rock – again, next time!
Once we’ve explored Wave rock, we head back onto the track where it starts to veer down towards the river. Because there had been a bit of rain before our walk, this part of the track was quite slippery and muddy but thankfully there were ropes for us to grip on to as we waited for our turn to climb down the ladder into the river. You’ve actually got two options to get down into the river: climb down the ladders, or take the more adventurous route and abseil down. I can only recommend the ladder!
When we have all made our way down into the river we turn to head upstream to a pretty waterfall before we make our way back downstream to meet the tractor back to our car. We have a good couple of hours to make our way down the river which we think is plenty of time, but we hadn’t factored into account that walking in a river is slightly slower than walking on land!
The river is gloriously refreshing and at no point on the walk does it feel as though it gets warmer! While the river is rocky, because the water is so clear it’s reasonably easy to see where you are walking (even me with my bad eyesight could see it fairly well), but there are definitely spots where it is easier to see where to place your foot than others. Generally, it doesn’t matter where in the river you go, just as long as you follow the river!
However, there are a few places along the river where there have been markers to show you where to go – this is primarily where it involves having to go up onto the banks briefly, or if the river splits, the marker will point you towards the shallower option.
It’s really easy on this walk to just find yourself looking down the entire time (which makes sense as it would be very easy to injure yourself on the slippery rocks) but make sure you take time to stop and look up and around you, because it is seriously stunning. It almost has the feel of a fairy grotto – it’s quite a magical place, especially when it’s just you and your group of friends there.
Amy’s Advice – Don’t take anything with you that you don’t want getting wet – because it will get wet!
Because I’ve done this walk a couple of times a few years ago, I knew there would likely be a few creatures sharing the river with us. It’s completely up to you whether you want to give your walking buddies a heads up before doing the walk – some like knowing they will more than likely see eels, others hated knowing and it freaked them out a little! The eels are harmless though, they’ll swim away before coming near you.
There are probably fish in the river too, but I think with all our splashing, laughter and chats we probably scared them all off!
This is not a walk that you want to rush – primarily because the opportunity to be injured is high. On the day we were there, a young boy with his family hurt his ankle. The rocks are slippery, so wear shoes that have decent traction on the bottom. You don’t want to injure yourself or end up unnecessarily wet before you have to!
You’re not in the river the whole time, there are parts when you’re up on the banks – when you come across these spots, they are the perfect spots to wait and catch up with the rest of your group if you’ve drifted apart, or to have a snack! Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to take your shoes off and put dry socks on – they’re just going to get wet again and putting wet shoes back on is a gross feeling!
In some places it’s easy to see how high the river can flow – the photo below shows how crazy high it can get during floods (the river is to the left), I would not want to be down here when that happens!
There’s something about telling people that you’ve been on a walk that involves walking down a river for over half of it. Most people think that sounds seriously rad and others think you’re completely crazy. But in a place like New Zealand where you don’t have to worry about scary creatures lurking in the river, it’s an awesomely safe adventure!
What I really like about this walk though is that it does actually feel like an adventure. It’s not just mindlessly following a path – you’ve really got to be aware of your surroundings and where you are placing each foot so that you don’t injure yourself. It forces you to be present – which I know I definitely need reminding of every so often!
When you first start this walk you cross a wee creek that leads into the river, and you end up back at this spot and it’s here where you can choose to leave the river and walk back through the bush. However, unless you really don’t want to get your upper body wet, I highly recommend that you keep going down the river. It’s worth it, I promise!
It’s no surprise that we kept walking down the river, we wanted to get the full Patuna Chasm experience! With every turn in the river we kept asking each other if this was the bit where it got deep but the only way to know was to keep walking.
We’ve been told to look out for an old sack tied to a tree, and that’s where we need to get out and walk back up the grass to the starting point. But before then, it’s time for us to get seriously wet!
You’ll know when it it’s time to get wet as the river is in a canyon, rather than having banks on either side. It’s about now you probably want to make sure that anything that can’t get wet, won’t get wet!
I think this is quite possibly my favourite part of the walk – even though we all knew this part was coming, our inner kids came out in us during this part as we squealed and laughed as it got deeper (and tried not to think of the eels and fish that were lurking below!)
Depending on how tall you are, there will come a point where your feet can no longer touch the ground and you’ll have to swim for a few metres, this is the fun part, especially if you’ve got a pack that you’re trying not to get wet! When your feet can touch the ground again look up at the bank on your left and you will see the sack tied to the tree. Here’s where you get out of the river and follow the grass trail up to where you began the walk. Then it’s time to relax and warm up in the sunshine before Alan and his tractor come back to pick you up!
I highly recommend that you have a change of warm clothes in your car as the feeling of getting out of your wet clothes and shoes to put on dry ones is absolutely blissful. You don’t want to be stuck driving back from the walk in your wet clothes, trust me!
The photos were taken by Paul + Julie, as I left my phone behind on this trip!
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