Campbell Creek Canyon and the Pupu Water Race

Campbell Creek Canyon and the Pupu Water Race

I stood ready to go in my wetsuit, harness still on, holding my little waterproof keg under my arm containing just my mobile phone and GoPro camera. I was ready. It was probably the most useless thing I was ever about to do. And I’m not talking about the canyon. Wait. Let me start at the beginning.

Campbell creek is home to a short, easy canyon suitable for beginners lead by someone with canyoning experience.

From Takaka, in the south island of New Zealand, its a 9km drive to the end of Pupu Valley Road. After hurting my foot a few weeks beforehand, and after a few rest days in Nelson, I was ready to ease back into some adventures.

Pulling up in the gravel car park, Lanna and I geared up for the short canyoning trip down Campbell creek. With only one abseil, and a short one at that, I unfortunately had to take my full 60 meter rope as I had nothing shorter.

As we made our way up the steep track, we passed a small hydro power station. We had seen many of these over New Zealand, and with its ample rainfall and waterways, its a popular choice in providing power to out of the way places.

The power station is fed by a water race, a man made channel, over 3 KM long, originally used in 1902 for transporting water for gold mining. The area had been a very successful claim, one of the best in the Golden Bay region.

With half of the water race now disused, the other half runs along the track. The clear, knee deep fresh water travels along its length to the pipes which then run over 100 meters down to the power plant.

Before we had even begun the canyon, I had a idea involving the water race. But I'll save that for later. First, the canyon!


Bashing a way down to the creek from the track above, we squeezed into our wetsuits and started the trip.

The water couldn’t have been any clearer, and the light granite rock made some still puddles so clear you’d accidentally step in not expecting any water. God I love the water here in New Zealand!

Campbell Creek Canyon clear NZ water

Campbell creek is all about the jumps and down climbs. Starting with a few small ones, they gradually got bigger. Everything is optional, with the openness of the canyon good for working around obstacles in multiple ways.

Campbell Creek Canyon NZ

Campbell Creek Canyon NZ

Campbell Creek Canyon NZ

We soon get to the narrowest section. Here, escape would be impossible if you couldn’t go further.

The section required a little thought getting through the fast flowing water, but was great fun. We splashed into the pool, swam across the current and down climbed another waterfall. All in a days work in the sport of canyoning.

Campbell Creek Canyon NZ

Finishing the canyon soon after, we found the track running along the creek and within 5 minutes, were back at the car. Many canyons in New Zealand have short entries and exits like this. The lazy part of me approves these short walks but I know I need to step it up again soon. Too many of these trips could maybe even leave you unfit!

Campbell Creek Canyon pothole


Back at the car, I decide I am going to float the water race. Lanna rolls hers eyes.

It would be around 1.5 Km or so and in my mind, a great idea. I leave my wetsuit on, peeling off the top half, and set off once again for the 40 minute hike to the top of the water race. As I pass along the waterway, I can imagine the epic-ness of floating this serene setting.

At the start, I squirm back into my wetsuit with thankfully no one around to see my struggles. Right. It’s time to begin my little adventure.

I hop into the water and start floating.

It’s peaceful. Its beautiful. And after 10 minutes, slightly boring. But I’m committed now. Im determined to make it too the end. About 11 minutes in, floating stealth like in the water race, with ferns slapping me gently in the face, I pass some German tourists.

How do I know they are German?

Because I am too, and can speak it. But they don’t know that. I give a little wave and one of the elderly ladies, taken by surprise at the sight of me, asks me what I’m doing (in english).

“I’m floating” I reply (in english). I thought it might have been apparent that I was enjoying a leisurely float down a water race, but maybe not.

As I drift off, I overhear the lady remarking to her friend, in German, “do you think there’s something wrong with him”?

The next 7 minutes are spent wondering that same thing. Is there something wrong with me? Who decides to float down a thing like this? Where has my life gone?

The last few minutes are tense, literally. My stomach, tight from keeping my butt from scraping on the base of the channel, is worked. I half expect a six pack to be showing when I take my wetsuit off. I’m disappointed as usual. My legs almost cramp after having been still for the 18 minute ride in cold water.

Was it worth it?

No, not really.

And to further the pointlessness of it all, I made a short video of the Pupu water race float. Here it is:

'Pupu Water Race' (V1A1 I ***)

First descent by floating: Patrick (The Vertical Adventurer) 15/2/18

Required gear: Wetsuit. Vivid imagination.

Time: 18 minutes.

Of course, you can always do the lovely track via the old fashioned way. Walking. For the track info, see the DOC website HERE.


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The environment is under threat from human impact! For your enjoyment and for future generations, please LEAVE NO TRACE! Respect natural places and leave them clean. You can learn more about the leave no trace principles HERE.