Opihi River and Gorge

Sunday 26th March – Opihi River and Gorge

We arrived in Fairlie around 9am and stocked up on coffee and pies, dropping John off there to explore the Opihi River tracks on his way to pick up our car to collect us from the other end of the Opihi Gorge trail.  Parking at the start of the gorge track, trip leader immediately managed to get everyones boots wet for no reason looking for the actural start of the track!  Once back on the well formed track, cut by the Fairlie Lions Club and community a few years ago, the work put in was immediately noticable with bridges and ladder systems through the spectacular first part of the gorge.  It soon got quitehard going with a few ups and downs between the river and the top of the gorge.  

Then we came across the first of what became five recent significant slips across the track, requiring some backcountry traverses and scrambling to get back on the main track again on each one.   Some of these were tricky to get around, at one point the ground I was on slipped away from under my feet down

the slab of rock, and makeshift ropes at other points.  Would not recommend attempting with younger children or inexperienced trampers until these track around these slips are properly repaired.  This was all pretty exhausting and the kilometre markers on the track passed very slowly – took over two hours to travel the first four km.

After these slips, all in the start one third of the track from the Opihi Gorge road end, the trail got a bit easier, although still contending with windfall and slippery rocks and tree roots (and a lot of up and down still!).  Just when was feeling like a normal riverside trail we came across the ‘via ferrata’sections around some river bluffs.  These looked more difficult than they were, but gave another dose of excitement to an already pretty epic day out, considering you are never that far in theory from farmland when you are in the gorge.  The final section was an easy walkout, apart from having to cross a fence into a field for a section where the river track has been washed out – I tested the electric fence and confirmed it was in fact live!

We arrived at the Rockwood Road bridge not long after John arrived with car, who had opted for the less challenging Opihi River Tracks, both upstream and downstream from Fairlie. There remained a challenge, however: how to find the tracks. There was no signposting pointing to the tracks and a write-up described the up-river track as starting to the north-west side of the Allandale Bridge. Wrong: it starts on the north-east side on the true left of the river. Once found, the first 500 metres or so were straightforward – then the track came to an abrupt halt in a clearing with no apparent sign of its continuation. The obvious route seemed to be down on the wide riverbed, only a few metres away. This offered good going for a couple of kilometres until a crossing of the main stream was required – no great problem but it seemed unlikely the walkway would have been routed this way. So, about turn and back to the clearing where a thorough search found a sign and track entrance completely obscured by long grass. The track continued to follow the river, which could not be seen for the shield of tall deciduous trees – beech, willow, poplar, sycamore etc. – mostly completely shrouded in Old Man’s Beard. The other side alternated between more trees and fodder kale. Three-odd kilometres of this and it was time to turn around.

2 1/2 hours after starting off, the fourth tramper returned to the Allandale Bridge, crossed it, and found the entrance to the down-river track on the true right which was not quite as well hidden as the one on the other side. This track was a bit more open, mostly through old willows and notable for extensive native plantings. At one point the entrance to the Opihi Gorge could be seen in the distance. Dead on midday, the forecasted southerly change arrived and the air got damper until rain jacket was donned. Just on 2 o’clock, after walking for 1 ½ hours, the track ended and the vehicle reached. A forty minute drive over a glorified goat track called Rockwood Road took tramper and vehicle to the Rockwood Bridge where the conquering heroes of the Opihi Gorge arrived at 10 minutes to 3.  Here we also saw the track sign advising of the slips – and for sensible people to not continue beyond that point!