Hardwoods Hole Track
We made the most of a lovely sunny Winters’ day to take a day trip from Nelson over to Takaka Hill and Harwoods Hole. Quite unknown to me before now, Harwoods Hole is the deepest vertical cave/shaft in New Zealand. The opening is 50m wide, the entire drop is 357m (1,171 feet) and it is spectacular! The track from Canaan Downs car park is 2.9Km one way and took us around 30 minutes. We combined it with a trip up to the viewpoint overlooking Gorge Creek, a quick exploration of the ridge line and a cheeky run around the 4.6Km Gold Creek Loop afterwards.
To Canaan Downs
From Nelson take the SH60 towards Takaka and at the top of Takaka Hill take the right-hand turn into Canaan Road (signposted to Harwoods Hole). It’s a narrow, winding unsealed road 11Kms to Canaan Downs campsite, but was in great shape on this Winter day. En-route it’s worth having a nosey around the site of the summer Luminate festival which is held here. I was last here at Canaan Downs to explore the Moa Park Track and Porter Rocks back in May. Today was a sunnier day, but mighty chilly – with the temperature showing 3 degrees celsius as we arrived at the car park.
En route we had a wonderful surprise animal experience. A lone highland cow had somehow escaped it’s paddock and was lazily grazing by the side of the road. It looked pretty relaxed, but I wasn’t quite comfortable enough to get out of the car with it.
Harwoods Hole Track
From the Canaan Downs car park and camping area it is only a few Kms along the Harwoods Hole track to the cave shaft. The track was flat and started off through a particularly lovely section of beech forest. About half way along we found ourselves walking through a coridoor of beautiful rock formations.
After about 30 minutes we arrived at a junction which takes you up to the Gorge Creek lookout or straight on to Harwoods Hole. We continued to Harwoods Hole.
It didn’t take us long to get to Harwoods from here. You do need to take care however because on a damp day like today the rocks and roots underfoot are very slippery. We had a bit of ice to contend with too, which made things a little precarious.
Just up from the juntion was a great information board with some details of the cave systems all around this Takaka Hills area. It is certainly a paradise if you’re into getting dirty underground.
I wasn’t quite prepared for the immensity of Harwoods Hole. From the junction we resumed the walk and rock scrambling and all of a sudden there it was! It certainly wasn’t the ‘hole in the ground’ I had been expecting. The pathway opened to a significant rock scramble as the tree-lined cave walls rose up ahead of us. For some reason, I couldn’t help thinking that it would have made a great setting for a 1980’s Bond villan lair, or rocket launching station.
The first descent into the cave was in 1958 (although it was discovered much earlier). It now links up to Starlight cave about 1.5Kms down into Gorge Creek. Just as we got there we met Kieran McKay, local legend, extreme caver and adventurer, who arrived with a bunch of friends to check out the possibilities of going down into an offshoot cave that hadn’t been explored yet.
You must take extreme care climbing around the rocks at the edge of the hole, as there are no tracks, barriers or railings. If you have the kids with you, be sure to keep a close eye on them. You can’t actually see ‘the hole’ but you get the picture… and the wonderful upper area is by certainly magnificent enough to justify the short walk.
Gorge Creek Viewpoint
After 15 minutes and a bit of a wander over the rocks at the cave, we retraced our steps back to the junction. We hung a left up the short climb to the Gorge Creek Viewpoint. At the top there is more rock hopping – or rather rock balancing, on the sharp pointy and fluted weathered limestone at the lookout. It was really beautiful, if a little awkward to negotiate. The limestone had weathered these great pieces of rock into mini mountain-ranges!
It is worth saving your lunch for the Gorge Creek lookout. Again there isn’t a formal ‘lookout’ but you can just find a flat rock, park up and enjoy the amazing view down into Gorge Creek, the Takaka Valley and the mountains of the Kahurangi National Park beyond. We enjoyed a leisurely and luxurious lunch and enjoyed the warmth of the Winter sun.
Exploring Canaan Downs
After lunch we headed back down the pointy rocks to a little to a clump of trees and climbed down to a hole immediately beneath where we had been sitting for lunch. It was just a short climb down, but I was prevented from going any further by my feet refusing to carry me beneath an enormous and precarious looking rock fall. By some miracle of physics, it was holding itself up to form an overhead archway. The braver member of our team of two ventured underneath and through for a look.
We headed off back towards the Lookout track then turned left for a scout around a lesser-marked track following the ridge to another lookout point. We looked down the steep drop into the gorge to where the Starlight cave marks the exit of the Harwood Hole cave system. Kieran had told us about a couple of walks which are possible to Starlight and through the gorge around the area, so we added those to the list.
After about 40 minutes or so we headed back to the car. It was decidedly chilly as we headed back through the forest, and we were glad to get back to the sunshine of the car park.
Gold Creek Loop
Given that we hadn’t actually done that much exercise today, it was suggested that maybe we do a quick run around the 4.6Km Gold Creek Loop mountain bike track. I didn’t take the camera, but if you fancy an hour’s walk or 30 minute run, it’s a lovely short trail, through farmland and forest. There are a couple of stream crossings to get your feet wet and enough small hills to keep a non-athletic runner like me, huffing and puffing.
We got back in time to enjoy a cup of tea and some toffee pops at the picnic table, before the chill of the Winter shadows chased us back into the car for our journey home.
If you’re keen on reading more about Harwoods Hole checkout some articles below:
- NZ Geographic article
- Kieran McKay articles in Wilderness Magazine
- Nelson Speleological Group
- What it’s like in Harwooods Hole – Incredible caving footage – Kieran McKay & Sam Thompson
- That squeeeeeze at 6 mins… yikes!!
- Drone footage of Harwoods Hole
On the way home, our furry friend had made his way back into the paddock somehow. We stopped to admire the herd from the safety of the other side of the fence 🙂