Nearest town: Methven, Canterbury
Type of track: there and back, with a small loop at the far end
Official distance: 10.4km return
Official time: 3-4 hours return
Jenny’s time: about 4 hours
Toilets: at the Rakaia Gorge carpark near the jet boat operator base
Tips: The mountains you’re looking at are to the West, so if you want the sun on them go earlier in the day rather than later.
High above the river, the narrow path snaked along the rim of the gorge. The turbulent waters far below were an improbable shade of milky aquamarine, having come straight from glaciers in the mountains I could see in the distance. Trees clung precariously to the steep side of the cliff I was on, while on the opposite bank they lined the winding river, providing a barrier to bright green fields lined with vibrant yellow-flowering bushes.
This is the Rakaia Gorge Walkway, a fairly easy hike along the gorge rim with fantastic views of the river and surrounding mountains.
It starts near the Rakaia Gorge Bridge, which was built in 1882 to replace the often treacherous ferry crossing. These days driving over the one-way span seems only somewhat less dangerous, with the speed limit across it reduced to 30 and the rickety bridge creaking as you traverse it.
From the bridge there are good views of the wide valley and the braided river that winds through it.
The track rises and falls a bit, following the river around its curves and slowly climbing until the path turns slightly away from the cliff edge, reaching the first lookout after 30 minutes or so. From here you can see down to the river as it begins to narrow, the tree-covered hills on either side becoming steeper with the mountains looming in the distance.
The path continues, winding as the river does while slowly climbing higher above the gorge, which is gradually becoming narrower and ever more spectacular with its near-vertical cliffs.
At one point it veers inland, entering a gully in the forest, where a couple of short side tracks lead to old mine entrances.
Finally a junction is reached. From here the path is a loop, going steeply up a hill to the right and through a field full of cows to a lookout point, with views back down to the river and across it to the fields and mountains.
The path continues its loop, descending towards the gorge and winding back to the junction, with a steep side track going down to the river’s edge.
Once you reach the junction again you can continue back the way you came, walking with the sun at your back and enjoying the views in reverse.