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The Road from Nelson to Westport
A very special scenic route
Dorothy - 07/06/02

Leaving Nelson city
There is a choice of two routes out of Nelson, past the Port and round Rocks Road through Tahunanui to Stoke, or along Waimea Road, past Nelson College and the hospital and over Bishopdale Hill and down into Stoke. Whichever way you choose follow State Highway 6, watch the motorway signposts and continue to the pleasant fast-growing town of Richmond. Don't rely on a map a few years old. There have been changes to the motorways in this area.

Rutherford Birthplace

Approach to the Rutherford Birthplace site
Watch for the Rutherford Birthplace about 20 kilometres (12.5 miles) from Nelson on the right hand side of the road, and allow time to stop and study the panels.

One notice reads "The Rutherford Origin" - a reserve of the Tasman District Council, completed 6 December 1991 - a memorial to Ernest Lord Rutherford sited at his birthplace.

Rutherford was born at this site on 30 August, 1871. He died on 19 October 1937.

School boy statue
Statue of a New Zealand schoolboy
Ernest Rutherford is New Zealand's most famous scientist - one of the world's most illustrious scientists and the first New Zealander to have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Inscription at the site This site is a tribute to one who rose from humble beginnings in rural New Zealand to world eminence. It is also to show New Zealand children that they too can aspire to great heights.

There is a small bronze statue of a New Zealand schoolboy, with a shanghai hanging out of his pocket.

Steps give access to fourteen display panels and six sound stations outlining Rutherford's life and career. There is also wheelchair access. The area is sheltered from the south by an ivy-covered brick wall.

The gardens are attractively planted and three trees represent areas where Rutherford worked during his lifetime - a New Zealand totara, a Canadian maple and an English oak.

Display panels
Two of the display panels
Through Wakefield to Kawatiri Junction
Continuing your journey pass through the country township of Wakefield and at Foxhill note the Rutherford Memorial Hall - a building which was originally the school Rutherford attended. Beyond Belgrove the road rises on easy grades to the summit of Spooners Range - 465 metres (1525 feet). It is worth stopping and looking at the view from the lookout on the right - a vista of mountains and right through to the sea at Tahunanui.

The road then goes down through forestry plantations. Watch for remnants of the Nelson to Glenhope railway line. Note the road to Motueka on the right at Motupiko Junction, but keep straight ahead through the Korere Valley till you come to the road on the left to Tophouse and Lake Rotoiti.

At this point you have a choice of taking a detour which adds 35 km (22 miles) to the trip but takes you through wooded country to historic Tophouse and St Arnaud village, the beautiful Late Rotoiti, and the headquarters of the Nelson Lakes National Park. The trip back to the main highway follows the Buller River from its source at Lake Rotoiti to Kawatiri Junction.

The main highway passes through less scenic country. It runs through Clark Valley which has a pleasant recreation area with English trees, and crosses the Hope Saddle - metres (2082 ft) - where the lookout gives a 360 view of the surrounding countryside. The highway then drops down to pass through the Glenhope district and through bush alongside the Hope River to Kawatiri Junction.

One hour walk for railway and history enthusiasts
Railway history enthusiasts may like to take the railway walk from here, exploring a tunnel and bridge constructed as part of the old Nelson railway but never used. The walk includes a short bush walk to the site of a former construction camp where three hundred people lived.

The road then follows the Buller giving easy driving to Murchison through undulating country with high bush clad mountains not far away on either side. 6.4 km (4 miles) from Kawatiri note the turnoff on the left at Gowan Bridge to Lake Rotoroa - the second of the lakes in Nelson Lakes National Park. There are inviting places to picnic beside the Buller, but if you want to stop be sure you have put on insect repellent.

Last time we drove from Nelson to Westport we stopped for a night in Murchison where there are several motels and a camping ground near the town.

We went for a walk in the evening and heard lively music coming from the Hampden Hotel. The Beechwoods Restaurant seemed to be attracting a stream of diners as did the Commercial Hotel featured as a historic hotel, cafe and Bar. The camping ground had attracted a good number of campers.

There is an interesting museum with displays which focus on the Murchison Earthquake which occurred on 17 June 1929. Seventeen people were killed and the town was reduced to rubble in the quake.

There is an information centre on the main road. There you can find out about local walks including a twenty minutes easy walk on the north side of Riverview camping ground. The track is well formed and suitable for disabled visitors. There are fine examples of native trees with their names on them, and plenty of bird life.

There are other longer walks for those who are fit and can stay longer in the town. The Skyline Walk takes 1.5 hours, is of moderate difficulty, and takes you through native bush to the skyline where you have wonderful views over the town and valley.

From Murchison the road continues to follow the Buller River and passes through dairying country until at O'Sullivans Bridge 11 km (7 miles) from Murchison you turn right to enter the Upper Buller Gorge.

A short distance along the road a sign indicates the fault-line Upthrust where the earth's surface cracked during the Murchison earthquake. One side of the crack rose over 13 feet.

A view of the Buller River
in the Upper Buller Gorge

The road is winding and there are some steep grades for the next 24 km (15 miles), but it passes through beautiful scenery - steep bush clad hills, ferns by the road, glimpses of the river below, and mountain peaks. Just past Carters Creek Bridge is an excellent spot for viewing the river.

Note the Brunner memorial honouring the journey of Thomas Brunner, Kehu and three other Maori who passed this way in March 1847 and April 1848 on their 550-day exploration which took them from Nelson as far as Paringa and back.

When you see the signpost indicating Lyell it is difficult to believe that this isolated area once was the site of a goldrush. The township built in 1862 had five hotels and numerous miners' tents and huts. There is now a picnic ground and a walkway into this historic area.

The Iron Bridge

The Iron Bridge

Just past Lyell the road crosses the Buller River on the Iron Bridge.

Geoffrey Thornton in his book, Bridging the Gap: Early bridges in New Zealand 1830-1939 comments that special care was needed in designing this bridge because it is built over a rocky gorge where floods reach over 12 metres (40 feet). He includes some details about its structure. The height from the riverbed to the deck of the bridge is 30 metres (98 feet). The masonry piers are founded on concrete-filled cast iron cylinders. The ironwork was fabricated by Andersons in Christchurch, shipped from Lyttelton to Westport and carted to the site. It was opened in 1890. It suffered some damage in the Murchison earthquake when some bolts were sheared during the quake.

Inangahua Junction
This small town is where the road through the Buller Gorge meets the road from Reefton.

It seems that in pre-European times there was plenty of whitebait in the river, as the Maori name, Inangahua, means whitebait (inanga) - plenty (hua).

Before the road through the Buller Gorge was built goods from Westport had to be transported by the river as far as Inangahua which was known as The Landing.

Inangahua came into the news headlines in 1968 when it was the worst affected area in a major earthquake which caused damage in other areas from Hokitika to Karamea. The buildings in Inangahua were so severely damaged that everyone had to be evacuated. It was felt as far away as Christchurch.

Inangahua to Westport through the Lower Buller Gorge

Hawks crag
Hawks Crag

Most of the way the route follows the Buller River and in some places the road is narrow and winding. About 19.7 km (12.3 miles) from Inangahua you come to Hawks Crag. Here the road has been hewn out of solid rock, so the cliff face overhangs the narrow roadway.

Drive with care and allow time to appreciate the impressive beauty of this bush-clad gorge. The abundant tree ferns always remind me that I am now close to the West Coast.

Greymouth Highway Junction
At the end of the gorge the route passes into more open country, and at 40 km (24 miles) from Inangahua you reach the junction with the coast road from Greymouth.

Watch the road signs further on for a right turn which takes you to the Buller River traffic bridge and into Westport.

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