This historic bridle track ascends through some of the most memorable forest in the region.
800 metres north of Rai Valley on SH6, turn into Opouri Road, signposted Okiwi Bay and French Pass. 600 metres from the junction turn right into Opouri Road and keep going 25 km. Opouri Bridle Track is signposted on the right. The Duncan Bay turnoff is 300 metres further on and Duncan Bay 2 km beyond that. It is best to park at the Harvey Bay DoC campground 500 metres up the road from the track, as there is only a narrow grass verge near the start.
The Opouri Saddle, where the track exits, is 6.4 km up the road from the start point. There is off road parking by the information panel.
Head straight up the grassy hill, looking for the large orange triangle. Shortly after a signpost and orange triangle point to the right. Large rimu, obviously original and probably 500-600 years old, tower through the beech canopy. Luxuriant nikau palms and abundant tree ferns take advantage of the shade below. Supplejack, rata and astelias festoon the trunks. Branches are clothed with other liana coating everything in green. Occasional whiffs of the pungent Easter orchid Earina autumnalis carry through the air.
It’s a steady climb, without relinquishing the gradient, to where the track meets the road.
The land around Opouri is still clothed in a jungle-like forest. The variety of vegetation types from luxuriant mosses, entwining lattices of liana, dense understoreys and towering podocarp canopies are reminiscent of more tropical forest types. In the heat of a Marlborough summer, the shade is pleasant and necessary.
Coastal forests are dominated by the podocarps such as totara, rimu, kahikatea, matai and miro. These forest giants pierce the canopy, which is generally formed by large leaved species like kohekohe, pukatea and karaka. Tawa, mahoe, titoki, putaputaweta and kamahi are also common. The sub canopy tends to be full of seedlings and pioneer species such as fuchsia, wineberry and kawakawa. Shady gullies are often lines with a plethora of tree ferns including the ‘Big Mamas’, mamaku. The tree fern’s penchant for moist gullies is especially evident from outside the forest when breaks in the vegetation allow examination of the forest composition. This verdant assemblage is furthermore woven with liana such as supplejack, kiekie and rata. Mosses, liverworts and lichens colonise bare surfaces to complete the picture of green.
In 1890 the settlements around Opouri were still effectively cut off except for boat transport. The local paper the Pelorus Guardian wrote in 1890 “Hitherto we have existed un-noticed and un-cared for except for the tax gatherer and the fixer of fictitious land values….” To compound the problem many early farmers were running stock on their recently cleared land and had no way of transporting them to markets.
In 1890 their plight was brought to the attention of A.P. Seymour, the Minister of Lands. Delays in the construction of a bridle track was hindering the passage of stock to the Rai Valley. They proposed that the track would also facilitate the mail run.
Work began in 1891 on the construction of a 4 foot wide track, costing around £200. By May 1893 Havelock residents were able to walk the track and receive fine hospitality from Mr Turner, the local runholder in Opouri. Visitors were suitably enamoured with the scenery, describing the Opouri Valley as containing “about 10,000 acres of magnificent pines and rimu, with different tinted foliage reflecting 10,000 rays of sunlight and the long straight barrels combining value and beauty.”
The monetary value is now gone but the beauty is priceless.
South Island ▷ Marlborough ▷ Picton / Marlborough Sounds
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Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍