By Don Herron, Wellington Visitor Centre Ranger
We are spoilt for choice when it comes to beautiful rivers in New Zealand so, if you’re looking for a different way to see New Zealand’s magnificent backcountry, why not spend the day swimming down one?
The Ohau river system on the western side of Tararua Forest Park makes for a perfect summer trip—walk up the track (above the Ohau Gorge), visit a cool hut for lunch, then swim down the river back to the road end.
The track starts at Poads Road end (via Gladstone Road) behind Levin.
It follows the Ohau Gorge until the start of the track on Gable End Ridge. Here you can either head up the hill to Waiopehu Hut, or down to the Ohau River (a much better option on a hot summer’s day).
A short walk up the river (no compulsory swims, only wet boots) takes you to the North and South Ohau rivers.
Here, you head up the North Ohau River for a couple of hours—through some tight spots over some big boulders—to find North Ohau Hut.
This small 4 bunk hut is situated on some lovely grassy flats above the river. It’s a great place for an overnighter and is popular with hunters. However, for us, it was our lunch spot.
Heading home is the best part of this trip, because you can find all the deep spots in the river and have a swim.
The North Ohau River is a bit too small for really big swims, but it’s still deep enough to get really nice and wet.
Once we floated down to the North and South Ohau rivers we continued down the Ohau River until we came to the head of the Gorge.
Instead of heading back up onto the track we continued down the river. This is where the real swimming begins—with beautiful deep swimming holes, which are too deep to touch the bottom, and water so clear you could see all the individual rocks of the river floor.
Whenever you do a gorge trip there is one thing that is compulsory: bombs! Unless you jump off the rocks and try and make the biggest splash you are not a true gorger!
After numerous long swims, lots of bombs and splashing about we were back at the road end, very happy and very wet after spending a great summer’s day in one of New Zealand’s beautiful backcountry rivers.
This trip is recommended for experienced trampers and confident swimmers only.
Before you go into the outdoors, tell someone your plans. You can use the New Zealand Outdoors Intentions process on the Adventure Smart website to do this. It is endorsed by New Zealand’s search and rescue agencies and provides three simple options to tell someone you trust the details about your trip.