Charming Creek Walkway
If you’re heading to the upper West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island it’s definitely worth stopping in at the little seaside village of Ngakawau to walk the beautiful Charming Creek Walkway. The full 9.5Km (one way) riverside trail follows an historic railway line to the Charming Creek coal mine near Seddonville. The trail passes through an impressive river gorge, railway tunnels, old railway and mill workings, over bridges and past the spectacular Mangatini waterfalls.
The trail is pretty flat, and suitable for the whole family. It can also be mountain biked – although it’s pretty bumpy along all those railway sleepers!
The Charming Creek Walkway is approximately 25 minutes drive North of Westport on the SH 67. If you’re heading to Karamea, it is a must-do en-route. If you’re coming from the South turn right into Tyler Road heading inland, just before the Ngakawau River bridge. The car park is just up the road. The trail is one of the gems of the West coast, and is well signposted. There are decent toilets at the car park but none on the trail itself.
Just across the river from Ngakawau is the equally tiny settlement of Hector, where there is an awesome Council-run freedom camping area just off the main road (for self-contained vehicles). Opposite, there is a little store selling all the basics if you need anything for your overnight stop. I left my van here for the day while I walked the trail.
The Charming Creek Walkway
I started the trail on a beautiful Autumn day at around 10.30am. The car park was full, so bear this in mind if you want to visit in the height of summer! The first thing that struck me was the smell of coal, from the Stockton plant near the car park. It is a fitting reminder to the rich history of the area and sets the scene for the trail.
The private railway line which the walkway follows, was built in 1912 to transport timber out of the valley. Bob Watson, one of the owners of the line, susbequently established the coal mine at Charming Creek and extended the line. Coal replaced timber on the line until 1958 when the road was built.
The full walkway is 9.5Kms to the coal mine, but many people choose to walk the 3.5Kms or so to Watson’s Mill via the Mangatini Falls before returning. This first section is definitely the part worth seeing. For the first couple of Kms the trail is very easy and flat, through the forest along the Ngakawau river.
There are some nice information boards along the trail detailing the history of the area, and I arrived at the first one ‘The Bins’ loading hub after 10 minutes or so.
Tunnels and Bridges
From here the river becomes more of a gorge. If you’re walking with the family, keep an eye on the kids as there are some drop-offs in this stretch. There are some cool tunnels and bridges along this section. You don’t need to bring a torch, but it’s a bit damp and slippery underfoot, so you’ll probably want to use the flashlight on your phone in the tunnels.
After about 30 minutes (3Kms or so) of walking I came to the first big waterfall. It’s very pretty – but there is even better one at ‘the’ waterfalls a little further on.
About 5 minutes or so after the first falls, I arrived at a suspension bridge. There was a nice information board detailing the construction of the bridge. Crossing the bridge you get a fantastic view of the Mangatini Falls to the right.
The 25m high Mangatini falls are definitely worth seeing. A local lady I met on the bridge told me that you can get down to the base of them. I didn’t see an obvious path down (not that I was looking for one) but apparently it’s steep and slippery. She had tried that morning and had fallen, so watch out with the little ones.
There is an even better view of the falls from a viewing area just over the bridge before the tunnel.
To Watson’s Mill
From Mangatini Falls it is another few hundred metres along a marvellous section of track, to Watson’s Mill. There is a great 50m tunnel to head through first, which brings you out on a section called the ‘Verandah’ which overlooks the river gorge. This section was a little muddy in places.
I reached Watson’s Mill (3.5Kms from the trail head) after a leisurely 50 minutes of walking, stopping, chatting and taking photos. There is a nice shelter and more great information boards – but it would be even better if there were toilet facilities here. It seemed to be the place where most people were stopping for a break before heading back. Bring the insect repellent though, it was heaving with sandflies.
Watson’s Mill to Charming Creek Mine
It was another 6Kms to the Charming Creek coal mine from Watson’s Mill, and although lovely, there isn’t too much excitement compared to the initial part of the walkway. The vegetation changes as the walkway follows Charming Creek, and there were a couple of nice bridges. After a Km or so, the railway sleepers were less bumpy, and the mountain bikers were certainly enjoying this flatter section.
Just after midday (1.5 hours or so into the walkway) I reached the site of Mumm’s Mill, where there were a couple of shelters housing some of the old railway vehicles.
Charming Creek Coal Mine
The Charming Creek coal mine is about 15 minutes up from Mumms Mill. It had taken me just under a couple of hours from the start of the walkway. There were some information boards and relics to nosey around. I enjoyed my lunch there and got chatting to some ladies who had arrived by road to this (Seddonville) end of the track. They were taking a trip down memory lane – as their father used to work at the mine when they were children. Both were visiting from afar. It was lovely to hear about their personal history of the area.
After lunch I headed back. I was feeling prettty fresh, so I jogged some of the flatter sections. It took me just under an hour an a half to get back to the car park in Ngakawau. I really enjoyed the full distance of the walkway, but if you don’t have too much time you may prefer just to go as far as Watson’s Mill before returning.