Nature's wonder a walk away

18:35, Feb 12 2013
Sawcut Gorge
Amazing nature: The three hour return tramp is well worth the effort to see the spectacular Sawcut Gorge in the Isolated Hill Scenic Reserve

In the fifth in a series of articles, Department of Conservation South Marlborough area office community relations ranger, Clare Duston talks about the stunning Sawcut Gorge. 

The Isolated Hill Scenic Reserve in South Marlborough gives access to contrasting scenery, rare plant communities and fascinating geology.

Three hours of walking - return - and wet feet is a small price to pay for a journey into the hill's spectacular Sawcut Gorge.

Isolated Hill is in the Seaward Kaikoura Ranges, up the Waima/Ure River, 55km south of Blenheim.

It's handy to have a keen gate-opener in the passenger seat as you take the dusty 12km drive off SH1 up to Blue Mountain Station, climbing gently above the river until you reach the parking area.

There are orange markers from the first stream crossing to guide you, but there is no track as such, as you are walking mainly in the rocky river bed, crossing the stream many times.


Because of this, do not attempt this walk during or after heavy rain, as rising rivers and falling rocks present serious hazards.

After 1.5 hours you reach Sawcut Gorge.

The stream flows through this chasm, which is 150 metres deep, but in places, only two metres wide.

Walkers will notice the variation in vegetation, from beech forest to tussock grasslands, while plants cling tenaciously to the steep rock walls.

Intensive goat, possum and weed control programmes are undertaken in this reserve to protect these plants.

Stands of kowhai, distinctive Marlborough rock daisy and beautiful native pink-flowering broom are among the many interesting and rare plants in the area.

Much of the rock here is stark white limestone, interspersed with grey wedges of argillite, sandstone and mudstone. Several pools along Isolated Creek smell distinctly of sulphur.

Limestone in general supports plants and associated animals that are restricted to limestone areas and under threat from grazing and/or competition with introduced species.

The belt of limestone that extends from the coast near Ward, south through the Clarence Valley between the Seaward Kaikoura and Inland Kaikoura Ranges is particularly rich in rare and threatened species.

From Isolated Hill southwards there are scattered records for 26 species that range from naturally uncommon to nationally critical in their population status.

If you think you might find yourself stopping every 10 minutes to look at plants and rocks, buy a hut ticket, make a weekend of it, and continue past Sawcut Gorge to Isolation Hut and further marked routes.

A topographical map is necessary for travelling past Sawcut Gorge. From Isolation Hut, routes take you beside the Iwitahi Ridge to Zoo Hut, or up to the high points of Ben More and Napoleon.

These routes are less well defined and require experience and good fitness.

The Marlborough Express