The road from Nelson to the west coast of New Zealand weaves through some spectacular mountain and gorge country. The road follows and falls with the river the scenery draped in a veil of verdant green foliage and murky mists.
At over 100 metres in length near the uninteresting town of Murchison is New Zealand’s longest swingbridge. Spanning dramatic Buller Gorge carved by energetic aquamarine green waters, the bridge sways and bounces with its human cargo. Not for sufferers of vertigo photographers nervously snap a memory from the centre of the bridge balancing their camera in one hand while clinging grimly to the cable with the other.
The area has witnessed some exciting events. A brief gold rush in the mid 1800s oversaw a speedy population increase, hopeful miners panned and dug seeking their fortunes with a lucky strike. A short damp circuit walk from the swingbridge through primeval ferns and moss-encrusted trees holds memories of the harsh conditions in which these miners laboured. Primitive labour-intensive mining equipment and deep shafts line the path while meagre shacks with little more than a large fireplace and small bed offered refuge from the regular rains and harsh winters.
The circuit passes a small cliff-face where in June, 1929 a major earthquake (7.8 on the Richter scale) lifted land upwards some 4.5 metres. Across the river a small waterfall cascades into the river on the fault line. In 1968 a second earthquake reminded Kiwis of the unsteady land of the area, the main road requiring reconstruction in parts.
The gorge is a major centre for water sports Kiwi-style, including white-water rafting, kayaking and jetboating. For those seeking more dry land adrenalin than the swingbridge, a zipline offers a return journey in either the seated position (flying fox style) or a flying position for those with superhero tendencies.
Buller Gorge provides a wonderful scenic stop crossing to New Zealand’s west coast with numerous opportunities for adrenalin-fuelled activities along with reminders of a harsh history of savage earthquakes and tough mining.