New Zealand is home to some pretty awesome hidden gems. We’ve covered a lot of them in our Guide series, however, one that has slipped through the net (so far!) has been Murchison. Thanks to our friends over at Ultimate Descents, Murchison is getting some well-deserved exposure and hopefully, anyone planning a trip to the South Island this summer will consider adding Murchison to your itinerary.

For those who may not know much about Murchison, it’s a small town located at the top of the South Island, about an hour and a half south of Nelson and the same distance east of Westport. Murchison is a very popular stop-off point on itineraries heading from Nelson or Picton to explore the South Island, especially those heading across to the famous West Coast. It’s a town that is actually steeped in history (more of that in a while) and is home to some pretty awesome adventure activities. Located in the Buller Gorge, Murchison is home to some of the best white-water rafting in New Zealand and is a must for adventure enthusiasts looking for something a bit different.

History of Murchison

Murchison’s history is steeped in the forested valleys and swift-flowing rivers that brings fortune to the lucky – gold. It was a wild and at times unforgiving landscape. Towns emerged in the forest and have faded over time to a few relics.

Many moons later, the forests were cleared to make way for farming, and people settled where you will find the township today. The town is set beside the Buller River where the watershed of the surrounding valleys turn it into the largest free-flowing river we have left in our country.

Murchison is still a very quintessential rural small town of NZ. Situated on the main travel route through from the West Coast or over the Lewis Pass, the town does welcome hundreds of travellers every year and is well set up to offer a warm welcome and a long ‘to do’ list of exciting activities in the area.

Murchison is surrounded by National Parks with Nelson Lakes to the east, Paparoa to the south and Kahurangi to the north. If you are planning an itinerary around the South Island, be sure to add Murchison as a stop-off point rather than a place to pass through – you won’t be disappointed.

To give you some ideas and inspiration, here is our list of the top 11 things to do in Murchison – a bit of something for everyone!

1.      Whitewater rafting


We may as well start off with the biggie! Murchison is one of the best places in New Zealand for white water rafting thanks to Buller River – New Zealand’s largest free-flowing river. Ultimate Descents are your absolute go-to when it comes to white water rafting in Murchison and they offer a range of opportunities for gentle family rafting to hold on to the seat of your pants Grade 5 rafting. Their heli rafting trips are off the charts and they offer some great full and half day rafting trips to suit all experience levels.

2.      Bike or walk the Old Ghost Road track


Murchison is the nearest town to the famous Old Ghost Road track – one of New Zealand’s premium walking and biking tracks. The Old Ghost Road is steeped in gold mining history and follows the stunning landscape connecting the Upper Buller Gorge with the Mokihinui River on the West Coast. The track stretched a whopping 85kms so is not for the faint-hearted as you pass through mountainous valleys and alongside free-flowing rivers. The Old Ghost Road is classified as a Grade 4 cycle trail so is not for everyone. It can take experienced mountain bikers between 2-4 days to complete and you can book to stay in huts along the way.

3.      Natural flames experience


When you talk about hidden gems, experiencing something that can’t be experienced anywhere else in the world has got to be right up there. The natural flames experience is the world’s only perpetually burning fire. To make things even more unique, it’s found in a forest. Let’s look at a little bit of history to explain this weird phenomenon. In 1922 a couple of local farmers were hunting deep in the bush when they smelt gas. In a moment of madness, they lit a match and whoof – the Natural Flames were alight! They have been burning pretty much ever since with occasional visits from picnicking locals and the odd hunter. It’s not an easy place to get to (you would expect nothing less from a hidden gem!) but it’s well worth the trip. The Natural Flames Experience run a 4-hour adventure trip which is the best way to experience this nature-defying phenomenon.

4.      Scenic helicopter adventure


There are some awesome places for a heli-adventure here in New Zealand and Murchison is right up there. Located at the top of the North Island, Murchison is the perfect spot from which to explore sweeping valleys, towering mountain ranges and some truly stunning panoramic vistas. In a landscape renowned for fast flowing rivers, you can only imagine the Instagramable photos you will get from up high. There are a few options when it comes to heli-adventures – Murchison Heli Tours and Helicopters Nelson are two great options.

5.      Fly fish in world-renowned rivers


If you’re into fishing, New Zealand is an angler’s paradise. Whilst most destinations focus on deep-sea fishing and big game fishing, there are some fantastic fly-fishing destinations and Murchison is home to some world-renowned fly-fishing environments. The many tributaries of the Buller River, from the Owen to the Matakitaki, offer up some stunning opportunities for brown trout fishing. There are plenty of opportunities to grab your own rod and head out to one of the many tributaries – you will find lots of great tips on popular spots and the crystal clear waters will make your life easier. If you want a more organised trip, there are plenty of guides as well as a number of luxury lodges, so Murchison caters for all anglers.

6.      White water kayaking

 

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As well as being home to some of the country’s best white-water rafting, Murchison is also a great place for white water kayaking. The town is home to the New Zealand Kayak School – a world-class, kayaker-oriented operation. They run a wide range of residential, white water kayak courses for all levels of paddlers, delivered by an exceptional instructional team. With five awesome rivers in their immediate backyard, there is always something to paddle and something for everyone. Whether you fancy a crash course in kayaking or you’re an experienced kayaker looking to hire some equipment, they’ve got you covered.

7.      Cross New Zealand’s longest swing bridge and explore the native forest


Who would have thought little old Murchison would be home to so many unique experiences. As well as being home to the fastest free-flowing river in the country and the only place in the world to have a perpetually burning fire, Murchison is also home to New Zealand’s longest swing bridge. Located in the Buller Gorge Adventure and Heritage Park, the swing bridge measure 110m and is suspended 19 metres about the fast-flowing Buller River. The park is full of things to do from nature walks and exploring the native forest to high adrenalin adventure activities like the Comet Line or Superman Ride.

8.      Jet boating and zip lining


We’ve already touched on it, but the Buller Gorge Adventure and Heritage Park is home to some awesome high-adrenalin adventure activities. Whilst there are plenty of places in New Zealand to go jet boating, Lonely Planet thinks that the Bullet Canyon Jet might well be the best. The 40-minute trip will take you between pink granite rocks, through beautiful native forest to explore quiet creeks, swimming with trout before spinning round and heading upstream to the spectacular white water of the Ariki Falls. Then there’s the Comet Line – a 160m flying fox which is suitable for all ages.

9.      Visit the district museum

 

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If you’re looking for something a bit more laid back and you want to find out more about the history of the area (and there is lots to find out!), make sure you check out the District Museum. There are lots of family friends exhibits including some written accounts of the 1929 earthquake – a natural disaster which nearly wiped out the entire town. The gold mining and sawmilling machinery displays are really fascinating and there are plenty of hidden gems to discover in this hidden gem (see what we did there?!)

10. Try gold panning

 

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Let’s zip you back over to the Buller Gorge Adventure and Heritage Park where you can make your fortune. Well, maybe not but it is a great place to try your hand at gold panning if you have never done it before. You can hire a gold pan and shovel from the local information centre and head down to the river to give it a whirl. If you have already visited the museum, you will have learnt lots about the history of the town and the gold rush that hit in the late 1800s so you should have a good idea of what you’re looking for. People are still turning up flecks of gold to this day so think lucky thoughts.

11. Visit the Maruia Falls


Whether you are here for a few days or a few hours, make sure you add a trip to the Maruia Falls to your list. It’s the perfect spot for a picnic and is one of New Zealand’s most picturesque waterfalls. Conveniently located just 5 mins from SH65, even if you’re just passing through, it’s worth the detour. The falls themselves are just a short 5-minute walk from the carpark and you will usually hear the falls long before you see them.

Summary

Go back in time, wind down the windows of your soul and connect with the old and explore the new. Add Murchison to your summer bucket list this year and GO local.