Robert Mack, August 26, 2012
During one gorgeous, sunny, summer day here in New Zealand Melissa, Ray and I had just finished work at the lodge and decided that we had to take advantage of this spectacular weather and head out to one of the dozens of amazing sights to see around us. Being that it doesn’t get dark until 10pm here during the summer, we had plenty of time to go out and explore something new.
We had decided on a hike only twenty minutes away from us at the Rakaia Gorge. Melissa had mentioned that she drives by it quite a bit on her way to her other job and that it looked like a beautiful hike, so we said why not, and headed out towards the gorge. We had read that this hike wasn’t going to be nearly as intense as some of the summits we had conquered weeks prior, but would still offer some amazing views and nice beaches along the river going through the gorge. Passing over a bridge, we had our first glimpse at the turquoise river rushing beneath us. It reminded me of the rivers I had seen on my trek to Mount Everest base camp, with the same skew and tint to the water caused by the glacial silt that was being carried down from the melting snow. Such an amazing effect it has on the water.
Beginning our hike along a narrow trail, we began to zigzag up the side of a steep incline, making our way up the side of the gorge. As we were hiking along the steep slope, we couldn’t help but notice our view of the gorge improving dramatically each hundred or so feet we climbed. Up and up we went, opening our field of view more and more. With every picture I took, the view only improved more and more until I was able to capture the entire gorge, valley, mountains and forest in my view. I would soon find out that this was just the beginning of many more incredible views and pictures to be taken.
Hiking along a slightly more level terrain now, we found ourselves above the brilliant river below, sun shining down on us, with the occasional white puffy cloud giving us the perfect amount of shade while the cool breeze that ran through the gorge cooled us off. Many beautiful flowers grew naturally along the trail. One favorite of mine is called the Lupine, which as dozens of small, vibrant flowers encompassing a tall, sturdy stem standing sometimes five feet in height. Often we would find ourselves wading through tall green grass that would hide us up to our chests. Life seemed to flourish so radiantly here. All of the plants and trees were lush and full, exotic flowers dazzled with color, dense fields of grass bowed to the momentary breeze only to return its tall stance, reaching out to the warm rays of sun above. This hike was a sensory overload. Our progress was at a snail’s pace due to the incessant picture taking and gawking at nature’s splendor, but that’s okay because it was well deserved.
Continuing along, we saw how the river took dramatic turns, making large “S” shapes as it found any means necessary to move through the geography and out to the ocean. The river made its way around large paddocks of land that farmers had put to good use with cattle and crops. It had cut through sections of rock and sediment that was clearly caused by a flood one of the previous years. Due to the river’s low water level during this time of year, parts of the river bed below were exposed and had created small sections of beach that Ray Melissa and I couldn’t help but explore. Coming down from the high cliff sides of the gorge, we came out to one of the rocky beaches. Dipping our feet in the water, it was a bit too cold for me, but Ray jumped in without thinking twice. As he started swimming against the current, it was apparent at how cold the water really was. It helped him swim faster though and after swimming in one place for about a minute or so he let the river take him down a ways to a section easier to exit. Luckily the sun warmed our skin pretty quickly, so the glacier waters didn’t have much of a lasting effect on Ray. After realizing how tranquil this secluded beach was, we decided to have a snack and rest a bit under the warm sun. Lying on my back, watching the cotton ball like clouds pass overhead, with the blue sky placing a perfect background on the mountain range in the distance, I couldn’t help but think how amazing this all was, and the hike wasn’t even over yet.
Getting up from my ponderous moment with nature, we all headed up river to see what was around the bend. What we came across seemed to be a tube carved out by the river. The water level must have stayed at that height for a long period of time, because as we walked along what seemed to be half a pipe. In fact, walking through it felt like I was surfing a barreling wave; with one side open and the other side curling over my head. Quite the surreal experience I thought to myself as we popped out of the rock tube into an incredible view up the gorge. We all wanted to just hop in the river and get swept down to where we had left all of our stuff, but we figured that might not be the best idea for safety reasons, so we walked back along the shore, grabbed our stuff and continued the hike. Coming up from the beach, we were led into a totally new landscape of dense forest. It was nice and cool all throughout this part of the trail due to the thick canopy above shading the forest floor. The ground was rich and soft from mulched leaves and plants that had succumbed to the damp environment around us. It was incredible; one minute we were walking through fields of tall grass, the other we were heading up river along a rocky shoreline and now we find ourselves in a wet, shaded forest.
While we were in these damp woods, we noticed a trail leading off of the trail we were on. Curious, we took a hard left and proceeded to adventure down this inexplicable pathway to try and figure out its presence. With the brush and plant life closing in on us, we realized that this pathway was quite unbeaten. While fighting our way through the shrubbery, I nearly fell over as I kicked a large hard root. Catching myself on a tree limb, I noticed that I didn’t just trip over a root, but of all things a metal beam. What could a long, large metal beam be doing way out here? Then as I uncovered the earth around it, I discovered yet another metal beam. Tracks! We then began following the tracks down off of the trail and sure enough they led us to a cave entrance. It was a mine, and unfortunately a closed down mine that was blocked off from entering. We weren’t even able to go in and explore the mine. It was okay though, we probably would have gotten ourselves into some trouble anyways. There was a pretty cool little stream that was coming out of the cave though that we cooled off in though and what was ahead of us was about to blow our minds anyways.
Emerging from the forest we came to what seemed to be a lookout point, because before us was possibly one of my top five most beautiful sights I have ever seen. The bright turquoise water was cutting through the steep gorge covered in lush green foliage thriving along its slopes. The glacial water glimmered against the visible rays of sun that beamed through the white billowing clouds that floated by, looking picturesque against the crystal clear blue sky. The mountain range in the background towered above it all in its monumental glory as it presided over all the beauty beneath it. I tried my best to capture this memorable sight exactly how I saw it, but like so many incredibly beautiful spectacles I have tried to arrest before, it just doesn’t turn out the same as that one moment. We spent a good twenty minutes at this spot, trying to take it all in, but after realizing it was impossible, we began our journey back to the trail-head.
On our way back, we had taken a different route along the plateau, overlooking all that we had just gone through. It was beautiful, and right before we began our journey back down the zigzag hill, I was able to get a picture of probably one of the most beautiful places to share with someone. Two chairs and a large wooden table were set up at the edge of the gorge with probably the second best view I had seen that day. Probably the most romantic spot to take your loved one to. Continuing on down the trail, the sun began to drop from the sky and change the scenery. Long shadows began to cast, the temperature began to drop and the mountain range in the distance was just a silhouette now in the rearview mirror as we drove away from the Rakaia Gorge.