South Island, Pt. 11: Kawarau Gorge

If you happen to be driving from Christchurch to Queenstown (as one does), as you approach it you will notice something:

A beautiful, dark green river winding through a deep rocky gorge.

This is the Kawarau Gorge, and it’s famous among two very diverse groups of people: fans of the Lord of the Rings movies and adrenaline junkies. You see, the Kawarau Gorge was used as the filming location for when the Fellowship were rowing the elf-boats down the Anduin river to Amon Hen. Remember when they reach the Argonath, known to non-Tolkien fans as “those big statues with their hands out”? That was the Anduin. Sadly, the statues themselves were added in post-production.

This is the Roaring Meg dam (local legend has it that Roaring Meg was a particularly feisty barmaid at a popular tavern and the stream which feeds the dam was named in her honor. I have no comment one way or the other).

In any case, this dam is used for hydroelectric power generation and flood control.

But we’re not going there. We’re going to Peregrine Wines (no relation to Mr. Took). Why? Because Peregrine Wines is where this trail starts:

Yep, we’re going to walk down the Gibbston River Trail to the Kawarau Suspension Bridge.

(Can I also mention again how beautiful New Zealand is? Even the two establishing shots above are still completely fantastic, not because I’m a fantastic photographer but because wherever one points one’s camera in New Zealand is a fantastic shot.)

This trail is very well-maintained, and its many crossings are all bridged.

More importantly, as it follows the gorge the trail provides access to some amazing views.

I have about a thousand photos which all basically look like this. I’ll spare you the repetition, but believe me: when you’re there, it doesn’t get old.

About halfway down you encounter this bridge. Crossing it takes you to a museum / tourist destination that talks about the gold mining history of the area and also provides some activities. We won’t be doing this (I will explore some of the more historical parts of the region in my next post, though!), but there is one thing of note I want to point out.

This is the view from the bridge. Quite lovely, and I encourage you to take a moment and admire it.

Done? I’m sure as you were admiring you noticed that cable running along the top of the photo. What could that be?

Why, that cable is to support this little trolley, of course. This platform, suspended on a single steel cable, was used to shuttle goods and, urp, people across the river before there was a bridge. No thanks.

Keep walking along the gorge through the farmlands, and in the distance you’ll see our goal: the suspension bridge!

This bridge services foot traffic across the gorge, but it’s more famously used for something else: bungee jumping (or, as it’s spelled here, bungy jumping). New Zealand claims to have invented bungee jumping, which I think says something about the country and the people who live in it. We won’t be exploring that any further, but I invite you to do so on your own time.

Anyway, speaking of nope, I will definitely pass on this. (That little raft down at the bottom is used to retrieve the corpse jumper after they’ve finished bouncing).

There’s also a much sturdier bridge used for motor traffic over the gorge.

So that’s a brief look at the Kawarau Gorge! The hike is about 10km there and back, and there’s a lovely picnic area along the way where I stopped and had lunch. Definitely worth doing!

As mentioned above, next time we’ll be checking out some of the history of the Queenstown area!


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