210 Days on the Road
“And… that was the turn off…” Laura says as we drive right past the road hidden by a cluster of large pines. Washpen Falls is really taking the term “hidden gem” quite literally as only a small sign nestled behind a tree indicates that it’s there. Even with the GPS on our phone, we still are taken by surprise. Nevertheless, so many locals in the small town of Methven, as well as long-term hostel dwellers, have told us we should definitely check out Washpen Falls, so finding somewhere to quickly do a u-turn and making our way down a 2km gravel road has to be worth it!
Preconceptions of that waterfall with a rowing boat
We’ll be honest we don’t completely know what we are getting ourselves into here. One guy at the Mt Hutt Bunkhouse in Methven told us he’s been here three times already, saying: “It’s really cool with a waterfall… and a rowing boat…” We didn’t know the two really mixed!
Beginning at the woolshed
As we park up outside of the Washpen Falls office situated inside a rustic woolshed, we pick up a self-guiding booklet of the walkway stating 23 points of interest along the way… 23! A quick browse of the different features, such as lava caves, native plants, birds, waterfalls and a Maori campsite tells us that this trip is more than a walk to a waterfall. We pay the NZ$10 fee in the honesty box – a fee for the maintenance and conservation in the area considering this is on private land, rather than the government-funded Department of Conservation walks you at most likely to use in New Zealand – and get on our way.
The start of the Washpen Falls Walkway steadily takes us up into the Malvern Hills through the remains of radiata pine. Before we have even hit native bush, the forest is filled with the echoes of the unusual warbling and clicking sounds of New Zealand’s native birds. At this point we can hear them, but not see them. Our eyes are more fixated on the ground as we cross rocky streams and use tree roots as a natural staircase up the hill. It’s quite the adventurous walk!
Out of nowhere, we approach a huge boulder just chilling out in the middle of the forest. A numbered signpost matched with the number in our booklet tells us that this is a lava boulder! The booklet outlines the incredible journey it has been through, from being blown here 89 million years ago when the hills were formed in a volcanic eruption. Although the boulder was buried, it was exposed by glaciers during the Ice Age and here it is today! The more we take notice of this booklet, the more incredible stuff we learn (and the more we realise that we missed a few things, like the remains of a Maori oven from when they used to cook moa… Damn!) You can hardly blame us, there is so much to see every step of the way on this 2-hour loop walk.
Exploring the volcanic caves of Washpen Falls
Wonderful bluff views
The next “wow” moment comes when we reach an opening in the forest to reveal a canyon of rugged rocky bluffs formed by an ancient volcano. We follow the path along the hillside, watching birds fly above the depths of the forest valley below. Where we walk now, the vegetation has turned into various alpine shrubbery, yet we still have higher to climb!
Life in the lava caves
After another brief encounter with the native forest, we come across Armchair Waterfall, a delicate waterfall trickling over rocks cloaked in thick green moss. A wooden staircase gives us different perspectives of the falls then takes us alongside a rocky wall leading to some lava caves!
The sheltered area has a few tiny caves formed by quick cooling of lava. Now, the forest is taking over the cave with tiny ferns growing out of every crack available. We even find a tomtit’s nest. We sit a reasonable distance away to watch the male and female rotate their parental duties between going out to find insects for the chicks. In fact, once we sit down and stay quiet in this cave, we see a ton of native birds come and go!
From the cave, it’s a final push to the top of canyon. We emerge on a grass and tussock-filled hilltop with incredible views of the Canterbury Plains – the flattest part of New Zealand! Green pastoral lands stretch as far as the eye can see!
We cross the hilltop ridge and make our way downhill back into forest, down, down, down until we see it… Finally… Washpen Falls!
Another conveniently-placed wooden staircase starts from the top of the falls, gives us a great view from above of the long-drop waterfall. We follow the staircase down to the bottom and cool off our feet in its freezing cold plunge pool. The waterfall feeds a cascading stream that the track follows then leaves, follows then leaves. Then we arrive at some sort of barbecue venue area beside a lagoon with… the rowing boat! We almost forgot!
A romantic row on the lagoon
We can’t resist hopping in the little rowing boat and paddling around with small lagoon among the dragonflies and pond reeds. How romantic! We have to admit, we’re feeling a little giddy after our rowing session as we make our way along the final short section of the Washpen Falls Walkway.
The reunion of the decade
Arriving back where we started, we are amazed by the variety of awesome features we have seen in just two hours! If it wasn’t for the fact that Robin’s parents, who are holidaying in New Zealand at the moment, are waiting to meet us in town, we could easily spend all day here!
Back in Methven, Robin enjoys the reunion of the decade with his parents after 12 years of being away from France.
Tomorrow, we hit the Methven Walkway! Join us then!
Our first hike featuring a rowing boat! Theta 360 Loading...
Ok, then! Check out these articles for more gap year inspiration!
- 20 Places Off the Beaten Track in the South Island
- Canterbury – Guide for Backpackers
- 10 Underrated Spots in Canterbury
See you tomorrow!