The Te Waikoropupu Springs are a naturally occurring system of freshwater springs and located in the Golden Bay. These stunning springs are known for their incredibly clear water, which bubbles up from the Southern Hemisphere’s largest cold water spring. Located just over 110 km from Nelson, the drive to Te Waikoropupu Springs via hire car takes less than two hours.
As you drive, you will pass through some of the most eye-catching landscapes on the South Island and drive near areas such as Rabbit Island, North West Nelson Conservation Park and the Riwaka Resurgence. If you are planning on visiting the Te Waikoropupu Springs from Nelson, the following information will be helpful.
The voyage from Nelson to Te Waikoropupu Springs is only 110 km, which means that it is a great option when planning a day trip into the attention-grabbing wilderness. Te Waikoropupu Springs is also an easy drive from Nelson along State Highway 60. After approximately 107 km, turn onto Pupu Valley Road and follow the signs to the Te Waikoropupu Springs.
Keep in mind that this is a residential area as well as a sacred one to the Maori people, so respect for the area is essential.
Upon arriving to the Te Waikoropupu Springs, you will view some of the clearest natural waters in the world. The horizontal visibility of this body of water is approximately 63 m, which is a world record for a body of fresh water. The largest of the Springs is about 40 m across, but there are a number of smaller springs, too.
In addition to the clarity of the water, the springs are also known for the large amount of water that is discharged from the main vents, of which there are eight, and this places the springs among the largest on the globe. Approximately 14,000 liters of water are produced by the springs each second, which is approximately the equivalent of the water it takes to fill 40 bathtubs. This is so much water, in fact, that a 1970s documentary noted that the volume would be able to supply water to the entire city of Boston, Massachusetts.
The floor of Golden Bay, which is where the Te Waikoropupu Springs feed into, is covered in bright, white sand. The water from the springs come from vents that push the sand up towards the sky. This causes the sand to dance in the water and thus, the area is also known as the ‘Dancing Sands.’
Contact with the water of the ancient springs is prohibited, as it is a local Maori sacred treasure.
The local Maori people see Te Waikoropupu Springs as a sacred place, and it is an area that is still held in high spiritual and cultural regard. The waters of the Springs, including Springs River and Fish Creek, are all closed to any form of contact including swimming, fishing, wading, diving, boating or even drinking the water. This helps to not only respect the cultural values of the Maori people, but also to safeguard the quality of water.
It is believed that the Maori first came to the area of the Te Waikoropupu Springs approximately 700 years ago during the gradual expansion from the city of Nelson, through the Tasman Bay, and Golden Bay to the West Coast of the South Island.
The land stayed with the Maori until 1839 when Colonel William Wakefield, from the New Zealand Company, arrived to purchase land. At that point, there were estimates of about 250 people living in the area, and many of their descendants still live here and hold the springs in the highest regard. These are also the people who still have the right to use the water from the Te Waikoropupu Springs.
What makes the Springs so sacred to the Maori? In the Maori culture, the Springs are the home of Huriawa, one of the three main guards of the people. Huriawa is a diver who travels under the sea and through land to clear up any blocked waterways. She is seen as a wise and brave woman who rests in the clear waters of the Springs when she is not away clearing the way for water.
Visitors to the Te Waikoropupu Springs will have the opportunity to walk along the boardwalk to view the water from several angles. You can view several native plants and fish in the water including salmon and brown trout. There is an informative kiosk at the beginning of the walk with a number of interpretation panels that explain the history of the Te Waikoropupu Springs as well as the cultural significance that is felt by the local Maori. There is plenty of parking available as well as as toilets and sitting areas where you can rest.
If you choose to set out along the pathway, it is an approximately 30-minute walk that leads you out near the water and along a short nature trail, where you can discover some of the local flora and fauna. Portions of the pathway are wheelchair accessible. There is also a picnic area near the car park, which is the perfect location for lunch before heading back to Nelson or another location.
Depending on when you visit the springs, you may notice the tidal flux of the water. Twice each day the springs experience fluctuations in flow, which corresponds to the marine tides. What makes this so fascinating is that the Springs are situated about 500 m above sea level, and as of now, there is no connection to the sea that scientists are aware of. However, there is a strong possibility that there is a connection to the sea deep under the Earth as there have been chemical measurements done that show sea water is present when the water comes from the springs.
Though most people go to Te Waikoropupu Springs to view the water, if you choose to walk along the path or through the area, you will find yourself in a beautiful forest. Most of the reserve area is covered with kanuka and manuka, which are indigenous plants that have re-colonised the forest after previous destruction. The reserve has areas of beech trees growing in the forest and a small area of tall podocarp trees to the south of the Springs.
In addition to the tawhai, or black beech trees, which are numerous, you will also see other native trees such as kahikatea, rimu, matai, totara and miro. The area around the Springs is also a habitat for a number species of submerged liverworts and mosses, including one moss that does not grow anywhere else in the world.
The Te Waikoropupu Springs are unlike any place on Earth. The water is almost as clear as clear can be, and it is well worth the drive from Nelson to see this wonder. The site is rich in native Maori culture and significance, and information is available at the reserve that explains how sacred this site is to the Maori people.
An easy drive from Nelson in your rental car, even people who are unfamiliar with the area can easily find the Te Waikoropupu Springs. Accessible by taking State Route 60 until you see the multitude of signs leading you to the location. This is a once in a lifetime experience for many visitors to the South Island, and one that you should not pass up.
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