4. Sawcut Gorge and the Kaikoura Peninsula

We’ve done two more interesting walks to Sawcut Gorge and the Kaikoura Peninsula and will soon head off to meet up with family and friends around the Christmas and New Year break.

Sawcut Gorge was spectacular and scary and actually we didn’t get all the way to the most spectacular part of the gorge that leads through a narrow chasm of 2-3 metres wide with high walls on either side. It’s actually officially closed at present by the Department of Conservation (DoC) due to activity from the 2016 Kaikoura Earthquake which was magnitude 7.8, and we could see why. We crossed screes that were reaching well into the river on both sides, making the river challenging to cross in places (it was also raining and we were conscious of rising water levels), and we were sinking into the loose, unsettled scree rock up to our ankles. Also, in the cliffs that were beginning to close in around us we could see cracks that looked ready to break off in big slabs. At one point, we watched a decent-sized rock come flying down a scree we had already crossed, followed by two or three more pebbles. We waited before crossing back over that scree until we were sure nothing else was coming down. You get to Sawcut Gorge along the Waima River. Waima means white water, and is named that way it really does look white with the clear water rushing over white limestone. I filled a couple of drink bottles to make tea back at the caravan – yummy fresh water! The river and valley is really lovely and both Kevin and I would like to get all the way in one day when the screes have settled more, and when they are more cleared away by river floods and there’s a bit more of a verge to walk up.

The Kaikoura Peninsula Walk was one I did on my own. Kevin often doesn’t like to come walking as it hurts his knee too much – he’s at the high end of his 50s! I nearly always use walking poles on long walks as I can put a good amount of the impact into my upper body and I’m hoping this will make my legs last a long time.

The Peninsula Walk had so much in it that I can’t do it justice here, so if ever you can spare a few hours it’s a great walk on a very well-formed track. You have to climb onto the Peninsula and back off again, but it’s not very high and apart from that it’s all flat. It goes in a big loop so you can start anywhere on the loop that you like. I started at the i-site (information centre). There were many boards to read giving the human and natural history of the Peninsula and I found a lot of my time was just taken up reading those. Keeping it brief, there were hundreds of years of Maori occupation before Pakeha (non-Maori people) arrived with practices for living off the land and sea refined and developed, then once Pakeha arrived they added whaling to the mix right up until it became uneconomic in 1964. The deep Hikurangi Trench lies like a deep underwater river not far off the coast of Kaikoura where whales love to live, so today a lot of tour boats and flights go out so tourists can spot them. Also on the walk, you can see where locals have started making a new colony where the local muttonbirds can be safe. Once there were five colonies but these have been knocked back by human occupation. As muttonbirds don’t return to their birthplaces for the first 2-3 years of life (they go to Australia during this time) it may take a few years to establish this new colony properly. This was quite interesting to me as one of the cleaners in my old workplace let me borrow a book made a few years ago by the children of Hapuku School in Kaikoura, about the muttonbirds living in the mountains behind one of the children’s farms.

2 thoughts on “4. Sawcut Gorge and the Kaikoura Peninsula”

    1. Sorry for the late response Uta, yes, we were a bit like “should we really be doing this” but the temptation was big and it was perfectly okay – we were watching and very tuned into what was going around us so hopefully would have noticed any falling rock in advance!! It really is a lovely place.


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