I have wanted to do the Rakaia Gorge walk for some time, especially after doing the Rangitata Gorge walk last year. The Rakaia Gorge walk is relatively popular with locals and tourists alike due to the ease of accessibility from Christchurch, and the other attractions in the area such as jet boating and cycling. Over the weekend we managed to get our acts together to venture out to this walk from Ashburton. From Ashburton it is about a 40 minute drive, and 1.15 hours from Christchurch. The walk is popular enough that the carpark is marked on Google Maps.
The walk is very easy, and is graded as so by the Department of Conservation who developed the walk. The walk sets off from a carpark just down the road from a one-way bridge that travels over a narrow stretch of the Rakaia River. You start by heading over a walk that takes you up and down over what feels like rolling hills at the edge of the Rakaia River. The track is a lot more varied than the Rangitata Gorge walk but it is slightly easier. I liked how variable this walk was as it prevents you from getting tired early on. There are some gorgeous sweeping views back at the Rakaia Gorge bridge and floodplains right at the start of the walk, and this is almost one of the best views of the whole track.
The walk winds you around the course of the Rakaia River to the First Lower Lookout Point. This part of the walk is definitely the easier part, with no part of the track being difficult. It is much more of a stroll. The views of the river on this part of the track are alright in places, but for the most part your view is obscured by secondary and tertiary plant growth between the track and the river. The first lookout point is supposed to take 45 minutes according to the signage but my partner and I knocked this out in 25 minutes.
The second part of the walk stretches between the Lower and Upper Gorge lookout. This part of the walk is varied with some steep up and downhill slopes. You don’t end up walking up or downhill for long so it is easily manageable. The walk is very popular and no doubt you will come across a lot of other walkers. The track is suitable for sneakers, but tramping boots are always your safest bet. This part of the walk offers great vies of the Rakaia River, particularly at one point where you see the river makes a sharp u-bend turn and heads back inland. There are quite a few spots for photos of sweeping views of the river.
For a lot of this part of the walk you are set back a few meters from the river, making it hard to see the river in many spots. I was a bit disappointed by this, as I guess I assumed that since this walk was so popular you would be able to continually see the river like you can as you walk up the Rangitata Gorge. While this is safer, and probably suitable to the higher numbers of people that walk this track, I think overall I preferred the Rangitata Gorge walk for the views. The track heads through a wooded area where you can hear a lot from the local native Tui birds, just before you get to the loop at the end of the track. Word to the wise, the alternative 20 minute route is a lot easier to the end of the walk than the lower, 35 minute track to the Upper Gorge lookout. When you come to the fork in the road, for the loop track you are already at a medium elevation, the alternative route heads you straight uphill via a grassed over access vehicle track to the lookout. The other 35 minute track heads you downhill and over a little stream quite a way before you have to trek up the side of a hill and make up the trek downhill you have just done. From the lowest elevation, you will have 145 meters or elevation to make up.
The view from the top of the hill is not amazing, but there is a nice picnic spot for a cup of tea and a bit of a chat before heading back to the carpark. Overall the whole journey took us 1.2 hours including many stops for photo opportunities and taking on and off layers. There was a bit of drizzle when we got to the top which affected the view. You will be able to see the Rakaia River jets heading up and down the river as you walk along, and I think this is something I really want to try out one day, if not at the Rakaia River, then maybe one of the Central Otago jet boating rivers, such as the Jet River or Dart River.
View access information for the Rakaia Gorge walk on the Department of Conservation website here.