Buller Gorge to Reefton
Heading east from Westport on State Highway 6 takes you through the Buller Gorge, a wild and insanely picturesque river valley formed by the mighty Buller River. You’ll be mesmerised by the stunning scenery of this bush clad and twisty road.
The soul of the Buller – named Kawatiri by early Maori, meaning deep and swift.
A top scenic drive
This massive river is born out of Lake Rotoiti in the Nelson Lakes National Park and carves out a 169 kilometre path through uplifted mountain blocks, gorges and dense forest, to the sea where it forms the port for Westport. The early European settlers named it the Buller after Charles Buller, a director of the New Zealand Company and a British MP.
Points of Interest from the Upper Buller Gorge down to Westport:
Lake Rotoiti – the river’s birthplace.
Kawatiri Junction – a heritage rail picnic spot and walkway where two rivers, the Buller and the Hope rivers meet.
Murchison – a charming farming town and a mecca for river rafters and keen trout anglers.
Newton Livery – a hotel in Victorian times which featured stables, blacksmith, and tackroom and serviced horsedrawn coaches travelling through the gorge. It is now a private house.
Brunner’s Plaque – commemorating an epic (almost life-threatening) journey by one of our early explorers and his Maori guides.
Lyell – once a thriving town now a ghost town which is a popular picnic and camping spot. The Lyell walkway (1 hr loop walk) is worth exploring if you can fight off the sandflies. They are vicious here so make sure you wear repellent. This is also the starting point of the ‘Old Ghost Road’ mountain biking and multi-day tramp.
The Iron Bridge – this was built over 100 years ago to replace a punt – the stone wall where the punt used to tie up on its river crossing can be seen from the Murchison side of the bridge, upstream on the far bank.
Inangahua Junction – a small settlement which was almost wiped out in a major earthquake in the late sixties. The video is amazing! Slips and scars in the landscapes from that earthquake are still visible from the road.
Berlins – another old coach stop and accommodation house originally operating around 1874 (now rebuilt and remodeled) was named after one of the hotel’s early owners – John Berlin, a Swede.
Hawks Crag – a sight that never fails to jolt visitors with its craggy one way road challenge. The name of it is said to have come from nesting hawks which populated it – but an old gold miner, Robert Hawks, who did work claims in this area, reckoned in later years, that it was named after him. Believe it or not, when the Buller River is in full flood, it submerges the road at Hawks Crag – not a sight you want to see close up!
Cradled amongst forested hills by the Inangahua River, Reefton is Buller’s only inland town and is a curious mix of old and new. Its gold and coal mining heritage is still evident in many of the historic buildings such as the School of Mines – you might even spot a bearded miner or two going about their business. The adjoining beech-clad Victoria Forest Park features world class fishing, 4WD tracks, walking and mountainbiking trails, while at Maruia, you can soak away in one of the area’s thermal hot springs.
Reefton is a place for everyone to enjoy – be it for a day or two, a week or a place to call home. Teamed with all the charm and character that Reefton has to offer, you will find a range of unique activities and attractions that help to make Reefton an iconic destination.
The History of Reefton
Reefton’s gold rush in the 1860’s helped to establish a rich heritage. As well as being the first to have a public supply of electricity, the town was the first to switch on an electric street lighting system in the Southern Hemisphere. Many of the heritage buildings have been restored and offer an insight to the past as well as providing a range of accommodation, places to eat and shop.
Wander around the streets of Reefton including Broadway, the town’s main street with its pioneer and verandahed look. Take in the history, explore the historic buildings and imagine what it was like back in the 1870s when the promise of gold and lasting prosperity built the town. The many buildings dating back to the beginning help you recreate Reefton’s past – the Surveyors House (1871), the ‘Top of the Town’ shops and Forsyth & Masters Store (1870s), the Courthouse (1873), the Oddfellows Hall (1872), Bank of New Zealand (1873), National Bank (1873), Catholic Church (1877), St Stephens Anglican Church (1878), Reefton School of Mines (1886) and the Band Hall (1901).
Reefton is also rich in rail heritage with the world’s only Single ‘R’ Class Fairlie locomotive in its original form sitting right in the heart of town. Just out of town on SH 69 towards Westport, the Reefton railway precinct retains its 19th Century railway station (1892) and the country’s only remaining single row two-stall steam engine shed (1892), both former Midland Railway Company buildings.
More information can be found on the Reefton tourism website.