Murchison Action Travel Guide

The South Island is the island of action and adventure and here where the northern tip of the Southern Alps meets the Murchison & Nelson Lakes region visitors have two choices: relax and soak up the beautiful scenery, or break personal boundaries and enjoy a new activity in the great outdoors.

From snow sports such as skiing, snow-boarding and ice-skating; to mountain biking; jet boating; kayaking; fly fishing; or even riding the comet line – an activity unique to this region – there’s no lack of adrenaline pumping activities to choose from!

During the winter the Rainbow Ski Field near St Arnaud provides a range of skiing and boarding trails for the novice through to the more advanced. Access to the top of the range is provided by chairlifts, while skiers at Mt Robert Ski Field must take a stiff two hour hike up the aptly named Pinchgut track to the slopes, or catch a ride in a helicopter for around $40.

However it’s the year-round whitewater rafting and kayaking opportunities that provide the greatest drawcard to the region. Murchison is fast earning a reputation as the kayaking capital of NZ as it has a wide range of accessible paddling on offer from steep creeks to big volume rivers and runs. Reliable river flows ensure excellent paddling year-round and the region is becoming a popular destination for experienced international paddlers.

Ultimate Descents offer kayak expeditions ex- Murchison for first-timers aboard inflatable or sit-upon kayaks and no previous experience is necessary. The guaranteed ratio of one guide to every four paddlers ensures everyone gets the most out of their kayaking experience.

Murchison is also the base for The New Zealand Kayak School which runs residential kayak courses for beginners, intermediate and advanced paddlers, with coaching provided by some of NZ’s top professional instructors.

The crystal-clear upper reaches of the mighty Buller River provide some of the best stretches of white water in NZ. There are plenty of thrills and spills for both first timers and experienced paddlers alike.

Whitewater rafting expeditions with tour operators such as Ultimate Descents depart daily from Murchison. The awe inspiring journey down the Buller River begins with a float on peaceful waters where the only sounds are the gurgling current and the rhythmic splash of paddles slicing through the water. There’s plenty of time for each whitewater rafting crew member to get a good grip on their paddle before hitting the big stuff: the granite canyons where roaring white water carves its way through deep gorges. The training certainly pays off when the raft is perched precariously at the crest of a towering bottle-green wave, about to take an 80-degree dive down into foaming whitewash! All this action is spiced up even more with challenging waterfalls such as Ariki, a formidable fall dubbed Freaky Ariki by the locals!

As well as adrenaline-pumping water sports the local rivers also provide excellent fly fishing opportunities. Lake Rotoroa and Lake Rotoiti are internationally renowned for fly fishing and many visitors choose to hire guides who know the region well. On the upper reaches of the Buller River visitors can enjoy the challenge of stalking brown trout in waters so clear you can see them – and they can see you, which makes it a real hunting experience.

During the summer months jet boating on the Buller is an option, and at the ‘Swingbridge’ over the raging Buller Gorge, riding the comet line provides a whole new way to get across! A word of caution however: if you find the 110-metre long swingbridge challenging, don’t even consider a Supaman comet ride as you will find yourself strapped in, tied up and swinging like a puppet at the end of a string, ready to fly off the platform across the gorge in no time at all!

Not quite so ‘on the edge’ is the comet line, a 160-metre flying fox with a seat. But those who do make it across the river in one piece whatever their mode of transport can try their luck panning for gold or stroll along the banks of the Buller to Ariki Falls and the Whites Creek fault line, the site of the 1929 Murchison earthquake.