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Riwaka Resurgence

Riwaka Resurgence
 
 

A CORAL reef straddled the equator some 360 million years ago. The reef was eventually buried beneath layers of deposit so thick the limestone coral turned to marble. Only recently with the formation of the Southern Alps did this ancient coral reef re-emerge forming the Arthur Range to the south and the Pikikiruna Range to the north. In between the ranges lies the Takaka Hill, rising to about 800 metres above sea level.

Forest near the resurgence
Forest near the resurgence

In recent history water has dissolved some of the marble to create the Southern Hemisphere’s largest cave system, with some caverns over a kilometre deep. The streams that run over the Takaka Hill suddenly terminate in sinkholes where they run through the caverns to eventually re-emerge from caves around the bases of the mountains.

After following the Riwaka River upstream, the road ended in a large grassy picnic area where the river tumbled around. A wooden Maori carving entrance gate marked the start of the trail into the dark forest draping the steep gorge.

Riwaka River
Riwaka River

The pristine beech forest immediately enveloped us. Although the trees were fairly small, they were hundreds of years old. A strong smell of honeydew from the black beech filled the air. The rushing sound of water projected from the river running along the bottom of the valley. The trail was of a high grade with fine grey gravel laid on its surface.

A few minutes into the walk a small grassy clearing appeared to the left. The river ran swiftly around the far edge of the clearing. The water was crystal clear and running almost to capacity even though it had not rained here for a long time. Most rivers show signs of significant flooding from permanent vegetation not starting for several metres up the bank. Here it was just centimetres.

Staired trail
Staired trail

From the clearing the trail started ascending a gentle slope following the river upstream. The bush became thicker and a large number of tree ferns formed a sub canopy darkening the forest. Small ferns covered the ground. The terrain suddenly steepened as the granite gave way to marble. The air was cold and humid, perfect conditions for the temperate rainforest sheltered by the steep mountain walls on either side.

Ahead the trail rose steeply up a flight of stone steps, but there was a small side trail heading across to the river to a place called Crystal Pool.

Crystal Pool
Crystal Pool

As the name suggests, Crystal Pool is a large pond of water set in a large hollow in the grey marble. The crystal clear blue water is about ten metres deep. The pool was about twelve metres long and eight wide. It appeared to be fed by a small stream tumbling in a short cascade out of the rock. The river flowing out of the pool was substantially larger. Most of the water flowing into the pool must therefore come from underground springs through a cave system below the rock at the head of the pool. A rocky ledge with a gnarly tree leaned over the edge of the pool from where brave swimmers jump from into the icy cold water. Even though it was the middle of summer, the water was only about twelve degrees Celsius.

Crystal Pool
Crystal Pool

Beech forest surrounded the pool in all directions, encompassing it in a most idyllic setting. A small fantail twittered on the tree nearby just audible over the sound of the small cascade plunging into the pool and the water bubbling out of it.

From Crystal Pool we returned to the main trail and followed the stairs climbing steeply over a bluff that hung over Crystal Pool. Once at the top I could see the deep blue of the pool through a gap in the thick forest foliage.

The resurgence
The resurgence

The trail continued climbing across the steep forested bluff until reaching a small platform at the end of the trail. We were only ten minutes’ walk away from the car park but we could have been millions of miles away from civilisation.

The valley suddenly ended here, rising into a very steep slope for hundreds of metres unseen through the forest canopy. There was a large dark pool at the bottom of the cliff emerging from a cave. The water wasn’t bubbling but there was a large outflow heading downstream. The river was coming out of the cave.

The resurgence
The resurgence
Riwaka River
Riwaka River

Several streams flow across the top of the Takaka Hill some seven hundred metres above. These streams flow into sinkholes to seep through the caverns combining into a single river that re-emerges at this cave. The alpine water is purified as it passes through the cracks and caverns deep in the mountain to emerge as the crystal clear water of this large cold spring. The water is a constant 11.8 degrees all year round.

The resurgence
The resurgence

A steel stairway dropped steeply down to the waters’ edge. Divers enter the pool and are able to dive some distance into the cave passing several air pockets to about 800 metres to a 20 metre high underground waterfall. This is part of the southern hemisphere’s largest cave system, much of which remains unexplored. Beyond the waterfall the river travels through cracks too narrow for explorers to pass through.

There were no divers here today, just crystal clear water silently emerging from the mysterious cave. It left the cave bubbling past the moss covered rocks downstream down the steep gorge I had walked along. The cliff towering over the resurgence was covered in moss and filmy ferns. The humid gully kept them thriving regardless of the climate experienced in the surrounding countryside.

Riwaka River
Riwaka River

From the resurgence there was a steep climb back up the steps to the viewing platform before heading back along the trail and stairs back down the gorge through the forest. Below us the river bubbled down the gorge to completely disappear before re-emerging at Crystal Pool at the bottom of the stairs. From there it was an easy walk back to the grassy picnic area where the river emerged from the heavily forested gorge to meander down the valley towards the sea.

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28 December 2011

 

Riwaka

New Zealand

 

41°01'S
172°55'E

70m ASL

 

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