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On the drive through the Rai Valley the podocarp forest around Pelorus Bridge stands out. This fine remnant of towering lowland trees was once part of a larger tract which fell prey to early sawmillers and farmers. This scarcity of similar magnificent forest makes this pocket even more appealing.
Pelorus Bridge is 9km west of Canvastown and 9km south of Rai Valley on SH6. Tawa Path and Waterfalls tracks are accessed from the parking area by the tea rooms. For other tracks it’s safer to park on the far side of SH6 as this is a busy road.
From the tea rooms take care crossing the road and walk over the bridge. The start of the track is signposted to the right. There’s also a parking area on this side of the road so you don’t have to cross busy SH6.
The wheelchair graded track reaches the suspension bridge over the Rai River, just before it meets the Pelorus river. The deep gorge is way below the bridge but you can still make out a kaleidoscope of colours on the river bed.
On the far side of the bridge the Circle Track commences. The track is a bit rougher with a few steps. The forest is carpeted in crown ferns with tawa and totara rising to a high canopy. The walk is best attempted as a clockwise loop, as this leaves the best to last.
The track passes through fine airy podocarp and totara forest then skirts close to the terrace edge above the river. Fern green waters are far below and in other places the water is sky blue.
Back at the bridge retrace your steps to the tea rooms.
The Pelorus River has incised a deep gorge. It attains a significant volume of water from the watersheds of the northern Richmond Range, which eat into the platy rock. The erosive power has left river terraces stranded high above the present course.
Most forest on the slopes of Pelorus Scenic Reserve is black beech, but on lower slopes and the flats, well-spaced rimu are abundant. Kahikatea, totara and occasional matai are the other podocarps.
To Maori the area was known as Titi Raukawa, where two waters (Rai and Pelorus Rivers) meet. Maori oven remains have been discovered in the area along with evidence of gardens.
The idea for a suspension bridge over the Rai River was first mooted in 1932 and the £380 raised by local appeals. The opening was attended by local dignitaries and The Express described the occasion in glowing terms. “The official party approached headed by the pipers, making a brave show in their gay tartan, while the unaccustomed sound of the pipes in this solitude echoed up the rocky gorges and sent birds and other timid denizens of the forest fluttering into hiding.” This original structure was replaced in 1966.
When Government sponsored explorer Colonel Wakefield visited in 1839, he described the area. ‘So far as beauty was concerned, the river was in a class by itself, a timber of the finest quality covering the magnificent mountains.’
The pioneers here obviously had foresight and realised the destruction of the native forest should not go unchecked. Reserves were set aside in 1866 with plans for traveller accommodation and sites for settlement. Although Brownlees sawmill was responsible for processing 189 million feet of timber in the region, the Pelorus forest was spared. By 1894 the forest here was said to be the only remaining tract of value between Cape Farewell and the Catlins River in Otago.
These proposals for preservation were formalised in 1912 with the gazetting of the scenic reserve. Later additions increased the area and from 1926 a dedicated board ensured development was in keeping with the preservation status, a role passed on to government in 1980.
The original ford, upstream from the present bridge site, often flooded and caused delays. The first pedestrian bridge opened in 1860, replaced by a vehicle bridge in 1885. A 1904 storm raised the river level by nearly 15 metres and washed the structure away. A pedestrian bridge was reinstated using the same piles and a new wooden bridge constructed by Langlands and Co of Nelson. This lasted until 1952 when the present steel ‘Hamilton Bridge’ was opened.
There’s a English-style tea rooms with good tucker and mean pies. A few old photos grace the walls and recall those early days of recreation in the reserve.
South Island ▷ Marlborough ▷ Pelorus
Showing 13 reviews of 17.
06Oct18. Great walk in the bush with a nice long, scary if you don’t like heights, suspension bridge.
Some views down to the river.
The first part up to the bridge is said to be wheelchair accessible but I think very bumpy. After the bridge it is definitely not wheelchair accessible.
Super easy for 5 and 8 year olds, lovely.
Excellent, well marked paths through the forest. Good information provided on boards in the carpark including great swimming spot in the river.
Great spot! Nice clear river. Nice cafe in the area too.
Absolutely stunning place! Very clear water and the view was incredible. Ice cold water but worth it.
Takes about 1 hour, easy to walk.
45 minute return track at the Pelorus River - featured in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit. Nice, easy walk with good views of the beautiful river.
Nice little walk in the morning, water in the river is very clear and with the mountains around it, it is a great view!
Nice and easy walk, beautiful forest, nice view from the bridge. Easy to go to the river afterwards for a swim! Beautiful spot.
Fantastic nature, forest and river, excellent for kids.
Fantastic nature, forest and river.
Nice easy walk after a long drive and dinner, 2 waterfalls, native bush and river views.
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 😍