Backpackers 01.03.2003

Boulder magic in the Far North

In the ruggedly beautiful Far North of the North Island, near the picturesque Hokianga Harbour, lies one of New Zealands most spectacular eco-tourism attractions, the Wairere Boulders.

Fringed by lush native forest, thousands of massive basalt boulders, some towering up to 30 metres, march like a prehistoric army frozen in time for over a kilometre down the Wairere Valley toward the Hokianga Harbour.

The distinctive, deeply etched markings in the boulders, or fluting, is the result of chemical leaching from the acid soils of ancient Kauri forests.  Scientists say this 2.8 million year old geological formation is unique in the world making Wairere the world's only basalt boulder valley of such remarkable size and with such extensive fluting of the rock.

Two walking tracks complete with wooden steps, stairs, bridges and a viewing platform have been built on either side of the Wairere Stream, the site of the first water-driven timber mill in New Zealand. After 19 years in the Wairere Valley, the owners, Felix and Rita Schaad, have built the walkways to allow all New Zealanders and tourists to experience this natural wonder. 

In the early days of New Zealand settlement, parts of the valley were logged and mainly Rimu was extracted. The river was dammed to flush logs down through the canyon.  Some logs from that time are still stuck between some rocks, and old stumps can still be found in the bush near the upper part of the boulder area.

The site of the saw mill (the first water driven mill in New Zealand, owned by William Webster) can still be seen .  In the early days there was a complete village, called Wairere, on the left valley side.  It is found on old maps and consisted mainly of timber mill workers' housing.  Ruins of the homes can still be detected and bits and pieces of old china prove that there were people living here in the early settlers' days.

Later the interest in the valley faded. At the bottom end there was dairy farming at the beginning of last century but in 1946 the old milking shed on the right valley side was abandoned.  A new milking shed was then erected on the left valley side. The old farm cottage was transformed into a hay barn,  but the Schaads later restored it to its original beauty.

When the Schaads purchased the valley in 1983, nobody had an interest in the area.  It was considered to be too tough to live in the valley and neither livestock farming nor growing timber seemed to be a valuable option.

However, the Schaads fell in love with its natural beauty and decided to fence the bush and boulders area off, so no livestock could enter and destroy its stunning uniqueness.  In 1984 they built some walkways for themselves and their friends to be able to stroll through the rich subtropical bush.  Before long, they wanted to share their secret with the rest of New Zealand and its many visitors.

To accommodate larger groups of people, they had to improve the tracks, mainly the parts where one needed to climb over rocks, which are very slippery under wet weather conditions.

As Felix is a registered civil engineer, they built a platform, as well as small footbridges and stairs throughout the valley.  It was a very dangerous and labour intensive job, Rita often had to secure Felix by rope to ensure he didn't disappear into one of the 30 m deep gaps between the boulders.  Most construction material and tools were transported down to the valley floor by a flying fox. A mobile unit stationed about 70 m away from the construction site generated the power for the tools.

For 2003 the Schaads have extended the boulder valley into a unique nature park.  A new loop track winds its way through a stunning Nikau Palm forest.  This breathtaking walk uses 22 wooden structures, passes through caves and under and over huge boulders.  It's easy for all levels of fitness and takes only one hour.  If you're feeling fit you can also take in the platform that takes a further two hours but rewards you with a phenomenal view down the valley to the coast. 

For more details on Wairere Boulders visit www.wairereboulders.co.nz or e-mail on admin@wairereboulders.co.nz, Phone: (09) 401 99 35