Follow the Callery Gorge Walk as it climbs to a high terrace before descending to the narrow Callery Gorge and the historic Callery Gorge Bridge.
The Callery Gorge Walk begins in the Franz Josef Waiau township, at the end of Cowan Street.
The Callery Gorge Walk begins approximately 5 minutes along the Tatare Tunnels Track with a short, gentle climb to a high terrace behind Franz Josef Waiau township, passing the town water supply pipes and tanks. It passes old sluice pipes that were part of the three kilometres of pipeline laid by the Waiho Sluicing Company. These were laid in 1912 and used to transport water to the Terrace gold sluicing face.
The track narrows through the rainforest, and follows alongside an old gold mining water-race. The water race and some rusty relics are among the last visual reminders of the gold mining era.
The track then descends to the historic Callery Gorge bridge. From here there are views of the narrow Callery Gorge which has changed dramatically over the years due to gravel deposits filling in the gorge and raising the level of the riverbed.
Exploration of the Callery catchment was primarily driven by the prospect of gold. Callery was the first person to find gold near the Franz Josef Glacier, quickly followed by German Harry (Harry Wolmer) in 1868. Harry had an epic journey from the East Coast climbing over Mounts Mueller and Burster, and descending into what is now called the Callery Gorge, where he collected several ounces of gold. In mountaineering terms this was a truly staggering achievement that would challenge even the most experienced and well equipped alpine climber today, using modern light-weight equipment.
Later ‘Piggery Charlie’ established his claims at McDonalds Creek and near the confluence of the Callery and Waiho rivers, and Wombat Jack worked the Waiho riverbank not far from the Terrace Sluice Face. The track passes old sluice pipes. The Waiho Sluicing Company was the first commercial gold mining enterprise in the area. It achieved a massive engineering feat in 1912 by transporting water from the Tatare Gorge to the terrace gold sluicing sluice face at the Waiho River, via a 500-metre-long tunnel system and 350 metres of water race. Pre-drilled sheets of steel and other materials were landed at Port Okarito, taken by horse-drawn cart to be barged over Lake Mapourika and then taken to the Waiho work site. They were then bent to form a pipe with a seventy-five-centimetre diameter. This was about the size of the smallest man who could hand-rivet them from the inside. The pipes were then snigged into place by horse and sled.
A tourist in 1906 wrote of the surreal landscape and devastation left by the hydraulic sluicing operations. Luckily the re-growth of kamahi has covered most of the relics of the mining. If you get your own pan, you can have a go at fossicking. The offical fossicking area is from the Callery Gorge Bridge down to the State Highway 6 bridge over the Waiho River.
Peter Graham of the Graham Hotel, Dr Teichelmann, Arthur Woodham and Charlie Stoner completed a detailed exploratory expedition into the upper Callery in 1878. This led to a gold mining track being cut up the true left of the Callery Gorge to Nesbit Flat and Fern Flat in 1900. The track cost £50 to complete. It has long since been reclaimed by the dense rainforest. Looking up at the unwelcoming Burster Range today you can only imagine what it was like to travel with hob nail boots and a bat wing tent.
On the banks of the Waiho River, there was once a pungent warm spring. Hikers and climbers used to visit it on their way home after a day on the ice. In the 1920’s, there was even a bath house with six baths. As the warmth seemed to disappear the building fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1953.
The Callery Bridge was originally a twenty-nine metre long galvanised steel suspension bridge built in the early 1900’s. The bridge you see today was restored in 1994.
Charlie Douglas the famous explorer surveyor said he could not swim. It was probably his cautionary approach to water that saved his life many times. As he never “chanced his life” when crossing swollen rivers. With this in mind do not try to cross the Callery or Waiho Rivers without the aid of the bridges at any time. They are swift, and very cold, you could easily find yourself washed out to the Tasman Sea after the smallest slip.
Know before you go
- Check the current track conditions and weather forecasts at the Westland Tai Poutini National Park Visitor Centre before starting your trip.
- Always take warm and waterproof clothing as the weather can change rapidly.
- Carry drinking water, insect repellent and sun protection at all times.
- Sturdy footwear, such as tramping boots, is recommended.
- Rocks are likely to be slippery especially after/during frosts and rain.