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Upper South Island loop road trip, Kaikoura, Marlborough returning to Nelson

Murchison to Reefton and a Mountain Pass

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Beautiful scenery at Buller River, South Island Beautiful scenery at Buller River, South Island

Murchison to Lyell to Blackwater School, to Waiutu ghost town finishing in Reefton.

Today is about fabulous, glorious South Island scenery. For even jaded New Zealanders the road from Murchison to Westport is the most beautiful in the country. Breathtaking mountains vie with plunging gorges and the roar of white water. Maori prospectors were the first to obtain gold from the Lyell region and by 1863 the gold rush had started. There are heritage sites to explore, perhaps some gold prospecting and bridges that sweep over numerous rivers and cataracts.


Route map

The Buller gorge flows through a deep canyon between Murchison and Westport. There are two sections to the gorge, Upper Buller Gorge and Lower Buller Gorge. State Highway 6 runs alongside the gorge through cut rock faces and the river is your companion. There are stupendous moments where you are suspended between the river and the road. The route SH6 on this trip is the Upper Buller Gorge only. The Lower Buller Gorge SH6 leads to Westport.

Points of interest on the Buller Gorge route:

  • Brunner and Kehu’s Plaque – commemorating an epic journey by Thomas Brunner and his Maori guides.
  • Lyell – once a thriving town now a ghost town now a popular picnic and camping spot. The Lyell walkway (1 hr loop walk) is worth exploring if you can fight off the sandflies.  They are vicious here so make sure you wear repellent.   This is also the starting point of the ‘Old Ghost Road’ mountain biking and multi-day tramp.
Old Ghost Road entrance, Lyell
  • The Iron Bridge – 1890 years ago to replace a punt – the stone wall where the punt used to tie up on its river crossing can be seen from the Murchison side of the bridge, upstream on the far bank. Turn into New Creek Rd (no exit) to view the bridge and river.  Bridge designation is SH6, 2820.  The bridge is still in use as a single lane bridge crossing of the Buller River.
  • Hawkes Crag (Lower Buller Gorge. A remarkable landmark located in the Lower Buller Gorge is Hawks Crag. A narrow road, just wide enough for trucks with an almost vertical cliff overhang. In 1869 hand cut rocks were painstakingly blasted, dropped into the river and access to the coast and Westport was achieved. A protective railing has been built to provide a barrier to the surging Buller River.
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