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Pelorus River

Pelorus Bridge is a locality centred on the bridge over the Pelorus River between Havelock and Rai Valley on SH 6, the main road between Blenheim and Nelson, in New Zealand. The native forest around the bridge is conserved as the Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve. The bridge has played an important part in the area's history, but today the focus (especially for visitors) is the area's scenery.



The Pelorus valley was the site of a massacre of the Ngati Kuia and Ngati Apa tribes by the Māori chief Te Rauparaha, who came from the North Island coast, west of Wellington. The first Europeans to arrive in 1843 found a few remaining Māori people producing flax for Te Rauparaha.

The original route to Nelson went through the site of this reserve and over the Maungatapu Saddle. Later, the path that SH6 follows today was discovered, and a bridge was built across the Pelorus River around 1860. The Pelorus Bridge location was set aside for a future township, but in the early 1900s this was changed to try to preserve the area's natural beauty. The present bridge was built in the 1950s.


Flora and fauna[edit]

Pelorus Bridge has some well-marked nature rambles through some magnificent old-growth native forest. This sort of podocarp hardwood forest used to be found at low altitude throughout New Zealand, except in the drier eastern parts of the South Island. In their undisturbed state these lowland forests are luxuriant and often present a distinctly tropical character, with their dense undergrowth of shrubs, ferns, tree-ferns, lianas and epiphytes. Hardwood species such as tawa and kamahi form the canopy, while the tall podocarps soar high above it. The presence and distribution of the various species of podocarp trees depends on a variety of factors including local conditions of soil and climate and past volcanic activity. These trees, especially rimu, totara and kahikatea, can live to be very old and reach huge dimensions. Broadleaf forest occupies the moist and fertile river flats here, with black and hard beech more common on the steeper slopes above the Pelorus River gorge.


Get in[edit]

Get around[edit]

Map of Pelorus Bridge



  • Bush walks for all levels of fitness in native bush.
  • Swimming hole.

From the car park on the north side of the road (right hand side coming from Havelock) you can access the Totara Walk, a circular gravelled path. What makes this walk especially pleasant is that the well formed path is usually well-drained, despite affording tantalising glimpses of the clear and sweet running Pelorus River with its deep (and cold) swimming holes, and loops back to the car park while keeping substantially to the level. It's free of charge.

On the south side of the highway is a larger car park (with spaces large enough for buses) and a cafe and the Department of Conservation (DoC) office.

Just to the west of the cafe is a 500-m-long gravelled road leading to the Kahikatea Flat camp site. Even if you are not camping, you might want to stroll down the road for 5 min until it ends and then head off on your right towards the stand of soaring kahikatea (white pine) trees.

The size of these trees is unique in this region and the story goes that they were spared because of the rivalry of two saw mill owners: The proprietor to the north of the stand, believed that the land was the concession of the proprietor to the south and the proprietor to the south believed that it was the territory of the saw mill proprietor to the north and the trees were spared by this confusion.

The river is great here - one can often seen kingfishers - and there is some river sand for kids to play in. But be careful and vigilant as the river is deep and currents can be powerful and swift.

As well as the short circular Tawa Walk adjacent to the car park entry on the left, there are also longer walks here to waterfalls and, on these less frequented paths, you will see (or hear) several species of native bird including the large native pigeon, bellbirds, tui and fantails.

On the south side of the highway is a larger car park (with spaces large enough for buses) and a cafe and the Department of Conservation (DoC) office. There are toilets by both car parks.







  • Department of Conservation campgrounds. A campground at Kahikatea Flat on the south side of the Pelorus River with toilets, showers and kitchen, and another on the north side with toilets, showers and power. Bookings and enquiries at the cafe.


Stay safe[edit]

Go next[edit]

Routes through Pelorus Bridge
NelsonRai Valley  N  S  HavelockBlenheim

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