Pupu Springs

Pupu Springs

text by Sue Farley. Photography by Sue Farley and Eric Simmons

Waikoropupu is the legendary home of the female taniwha, Huriawa, one of the three main taniwha of Aotearoa. She is a diver of land and sea, travelling deep beneath the earth to clear blocked waterways. She is brave and wise and believed to still rest in the waters of Waikoropupu, known as Pupu Springs, when she is not away attending to business.

We never saw her while we were there, but her descendants, the local Golden Bay iwi, still regard the springs as a sacred and treasured place.

And indeed it is special.

Bursting out of the ground at the rate of over 40 bathtubs of water per second, the waters of Pupu Springs are regarded as the clearest fresh water in the world, with a measured horizontal visibility of 63 metres. Much of it’s purity lies in the fact it has been slowly percolating through the network of marble-lined waterways under the nearby Takaka Hill for the last 10 years – plenty of time to lose most pollutants along the way.

Dropping slowly below the surface, the bowl shaped spring cavity reveals a shimmering world of bright greens and softer reds and browns – the earthen colours of the rich variety of plant life hidden from view from above. Bubbles rise clear and sparkling in the unlimited visibility.

A mirrored viewing platform allows non-divers a peep under the surface, giving a chance to see the thick underwater foliage waving in the upthrust water coming from deep in the earth.

Pupu Springs sit in an unlikely setting on a rugged hillside above Golden Bay, bordering on the edge of reserve land covered in various ages of regenerating forest. The Department of Conservation manage the area, with a walkway leading off to a small power station and the remains of an earlier gold mining industry, and a much shorter track (with wheelchair access) leading straight to the springs. It takes around two anda half hours to do the whole walk or about five minutes each way to do the shorter one.

The path to the springs ambles gently beside a nearby creek, across a bridge and through a dark ferny glade before emerging beside the Dancing Sands spring which is just a one minute walk before the main spring. However, carrying our dive gear in, it felt more like a military training march with tanks held high on our shoulders and heavy gear bags clutched firmly under the other arm as we trudged through the bush. There’s no chance of a boat dive here.

Surprisingly there is a slight salinity to the water, believed to make its way up naturally from the sea. There are also two freshwater outlets from the same water source as the springs that emerge well out in the sea off Golden Bay, maybe allowing salt water to sift back through. The water is also low in dissolved oxygen and high in calcium.

A joint study done a number of years ago involving the Cawthron Institute in Nelson and Canterbury University listed 16 separate species of algae, 10 species of bryophytes including three liverworts, and unusual fauna such as an eyeless planarian and several small flies. What they didn’t find was any hint of planktonic algae, making me wonder what these little creatures live on?

Other more accessible wildlife lurking in this crystalline water are tiny freshwater koura, the occasional eel, some very dark trout that hide out under a deep ledge on the far side, and supposedly some salmon that have made their way in from the salmon hatchery next door.

We found there was no need to carry less weight just because we were in fresh water. The upthrust from the vents more than compensated for the lack of saltwater buoyancy and at times had us heading for the surface without having any say in the matter. The main vent can push a light person skywards at a great rate of knots, with the pressure forcing harsh bursts of air out of unguarded purge valves. But once clear of the main thrust it is easy to hang suspended in the water, like a skydiver, riding the ever-changing motion.

The deepest point of the main spring is only six and a half metres, but at a cool 11.7 degrees there’s no desire to go much deeper. Light is strong and clear, even at the bottom, and the rich variety of plants and mosses that sway in the currents show their colours clearly, even from a distance.

The bottom is a mixture of sturdy marble base rock, which much of the nearby Kahurangi National Park area is built on, with smaller boulders and gravel filling gaps in the crevices on the bottom. Coarse grainy sand fills dips and hollows and dances lightly in the upthrust from the vents. A shallow area on the side furthest from the entry way has a silt bottom but this is more than covered by a thick garden of semi-submerged leafy aquatic plants and cresses.

A reclusive second spring that is not open to divers, called Dancing Sands, is shallower than the main spring and a bit easier to observe from the surface. I imagine this is where taniwha Huriawa sits quietly gathering herself together before her next big trip away. With tall manuka regrowth edging right down to the water it’s an intimate little spot to rest. Her privacy would be assured with no viewing mirror for people to peer under the water, and no divers swimming past to break her peace.

Diving in the springs is loosely controlled by a voluntary code of conduct, brought in several years ago in consultation with the local Tasman District Council, the Golden Bay Diving Club, local iwi and the Department of Conservation (DoC). It has ruled out any swimmers in the springs, on the grounds that they physically and visually disturb the environment.

Diving is allowed in the main spring only, so long as divers enter the water from the deep water access area provided, that they only stay in the water for 15 minutes at a time, that there are no commercial dives and that there are no more than four divers in the water at one time. No one is to dive between 6 am and midday, and divers are to sign a log book as they arrive.

It sounds a bit intimidating at first, but the springs are a quiet place, with a sense of deep purpose about them, and an air of ancient history and legend. Bus loads of tourists would detract from that greatly, as would boisterous swimmers and divers who don’t take the due care required.

The voluntary code of conduct is currently under review, as was planned after its first two years of operation. A new management plan is being worked on, with input from local iwi, DoC, divers and the Tasman District Council, to settle on the most suitable arrangement needed to protect the springs over the long term.

It remains to be seen whether divers will continue to be allowed to dive in the springs after this consultation is over. It may be that one day only the taniwha will be allowed to sit submerged under these constantly moving waters.


Pupu Springs are a 10 minute drive on the western side of Takaka in Golden Bay, north west of Nelson. Diving is allowed after midday, with no more than four divers in the water at one time, for no more than 15 minutes, and no commercial dives allowed. A boisterous drift dive down Springs River to the Waitapu River makes a good end to a fun day. Lots of fish to be seen – trout and salmon.

text by Sue Farley. Photography by Sue Farley and Eric Simmons

Waikoropupu is the legendary home of the female taniwha, Huriawa, one of the three main taniwha of Aotearoa. She is a diver of land and sea, travelling deep beneath the earth to clear blocked waterways. She is brave and wise and believed to still rest in the waters of Waikoropupu, known as Pupu Springs, when she is not away attending to business.

We never saw her while we were there, but her descendants, the local Golden Bay iwi, still regard the springs as a sacred and treasured place.

And indeed it is special.

Bursting out of the ground at the rate of over 40 bathtubs of water per second, the waters of Pupu Springs are regarded as the clearest fresh water in the world, with a measured horizontal visibility of 63 metres. Much of it’s purity lies in the fact it has been slowly percolating through the network of marble-lined waterways under the nearby Takaka Hill for the last 10 years – plenty of time to lose most pollutants along the way.

Dropping slowly below the surface, the bowl shaped spring cavity reveals a shimmering world of bright greens and softer reds and browns – the earthen colours of the rich variety of plant life hidden from view from above. Bubbles rise clear and sparkling in the unlimited visibility.

A mirrored viewing platform allows non-divers a peep under the surface, giving a chance to see the thick underwater foliage waving in the upthrust water coming from deep in the earth.

Pupu Springs sit in an unlikely setting on a rugged hillside above Golden Bay, bordering on the edge of reserve land covered in various ages of regenerating forest. The Department of Conservation manage the area, with a walkway leading off to a small power station and the remains of an earlier gold mining industry, and a much shorter track (with wheelchair access) leading straight to the springs. It takes around two anda half hours to do the whole walk or about five minutes each way to do the shorter one.

The path to the springs ambles gently beside a nearby creek, across a bridge and through a dark ferny glade before emerging beside the Dancing Sands spring which is just a one minute walk before the main spring. However, carrying our dive gear in, it felt more like a military training march with tanks held high on our shoulders and heavy gear bags clutched firmly under the other arm as we trudged through the bush. There’s no chance of a boat dive here.

Surprisingly there is a slight salinity to the water, believed to make its way up naturally from the sea. There are also two freshwater outlets from the same water source as the springs that emerge well out in the sea off Golden Bay, maybe allowing salt water to sift back through. The water is also low in dissolved oxygen and high in calcium.

A joint study done a number of years ago involving the Cawthron Institute in Nelson and Canterbury University listed 16 separate species of algae, 10 species of bryophytes including three liverworts, and unusual fauna such as an eyeless planarian and several small flies. What they didn’t find was any hint of planktonic algae, making me wonder what these little creatures live on?

Other more accessible wildlife lurking in this crystalline water are tiny freshwater koura, the occasional eel, some very dark trout that hide out under a deep ledge on the far side, and supposedly some salmon that have made their way in from the salmon hatchery next door.

We found there was no need to carry less weight just because we were in fresh water. The upthrust from the vents more than compensated for the lack of saltwater buoyancy and at times had us heading for the surface without having any say in the matter. The main vent can push a light person skywards at a great rate of knots, with the pressure forcing harsh bursts of air out of unguarded purge valves. But once clear of the main thrust it is easy to hang suspended in the water, like a skydiver, riding the ever-changing motion.

The deepest point of the main spring is only six and a half metres, but at a cool 11.7 degrees there’s no desire to go much deeper. Light is strong and clear, even at the bottom, and the rich variety of plants and mosses that sway in the currents show their colours clearly, even from a distance.

The bottom is a mixture of sturdy marble base rock, which much of the nearby Kahurangi National Park area is built on, with smaller boulders and gravel filling gaps in the crevices on the bottom. Coarse grainy sand fills dips and hollows and dances lightly in the upthrust from the vents. A shallow area on the side furthest from the entry way has a silt bottom but this is more than covered by a thick garden of semi-submerged leafy aquatic plants and cresses.

A reclusive second spring that is not open to divers, called Dancing Sands, is shallower than the main spring and a bit easier to observe from the surface. I imagine this is where taniwha Huriawa sits quietly gathering herself together before her next big trip away. With tall manuka regrowth edging right down to the water it’s an intimate little spot to rest. Her privacy would be assured with no viewing mirror for people to peer under the water, and no divers swimming past to break her peace.

Diving in the springs is loosely controlled by a voluntary code of conduct, brought in several years ago in consultation with the local Tasman District Council, the Golden Bay Diving Club, local iwi and the Department of Conservation (DoC). It has ruled out any swimmers in the springs, on the grounds that they physically and visually disturb the environment.

Diving is allowed in the main spring only, so long as divers enter the water from the deep water access area provided, that they only stay in the water for 15 minutes at a time, that there are no commercial dives and that there are no more than four divers in the water at one time. No one is to dive between 6 am and midday, and divers are to sign a log book as they arrive.

It sounds a bit intimidating at first, but the springs are a quiet place, with a sense of deep purpose about them, and an air of ancient history and legend. Bus loads of tourists would detract from that greatly, as would boisterous swimmers and divers who don’t take the due care required.

The voluntary code of conduct is currently under review, as was planned after its first two years of operation. A new management plan is being worked on, with input from local iwi, DoC, divers and the Tasman District Council, to settle on the most suitable arrangement needed to protect the springs over the long term.

It remains to be seen whether divers will continue to be allowed to dive in the springs after this consultation is over. It may be that one day only the taniwha will be allowed to sit submerged under these constantly moving waters.


Pupu Springs are a 10 minute drive on the western side of Takaka in Golden Bay, north west of Nelson. Diving is allowed after midday, with no more than four divers in the water at one time, for no more than 15 minutes, and no commercial dives allowed. A boisterous drift dive down Springs River to the Waitapu River makes a good end to a fun day. Lots of fish to be seen – trout and salmon.

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text by Sue Farley. Photography by Sue Farley and Eric Simmons

Waikoropupu is the legendary home of the female taniwha, Huriawa, one of the three main taniwha of Aotearoa. She is a diver of land and sea, travelling deep beneath the earth to clear blocked waterways. She is brave and wise and believed to still rest in the waters of Waikoropupu, known as Pupu Springs, when she is not away attending to business.

We never saw her while we were there, but her descendants, the local Golden Bay iwi, still regard the springs as a sacred and treasured place.

And indeed it is special.

Bursting out of the ground at the rate of over 40 bathtubs of water per second, the waters of Pupu Springs are regarded as the clearest fresh water in the world, with a measured horizontal visibility of 63 metres. Much of it’s purity lies in the fact it has been slowly percolating through the network of marble-lined waterways under the nearby Takaka Hill for the last 10 years – plenty of time to lose most pollutants along the way.

Dropping slowly below the surface, the bowl shaped spring cavity reveals a shimmering world of bright greens and softer reds and browns – the earthen colours of the rich variety of plant life hidden from view from above. Bubbles rise clear and sparkling in the unlimited visibility.

A mirrored viewing platform allows non-divers a peep under the surface, giving a chance to see the thick underwater foliage waving in the upthrust water coming from deep in the earth.

Pupu Springs sit in an unlikely setting on a rugged hillside above Golden Bay, bordering on the edge of reserve land covered in various ages of regenerating forest. The Department of Conservation manage the area, with a walkway leading off to a small power station and the remains of an earlier gold mining industry, and a much shorter track (with wheelchair access) leading straight to the springs. It takes around two anda half hours to do the whole walk or about five minutes each way to do the shorter one.

The path to the springs ambles gently beside a nearby creek, across a bridge and through a dark ferny glade before emerging beside the Dancing Sands spring which is just a one minute walk before the main spring. However, carrying our dive gear in, it felt more like a military training march with tanks held high on our shoulders and heavy gear bags clutched firmly under the other arm as we trudged through the bush. There’s no chance of a boat dive here.

Surprisingly there is a slight salinity to the water, believed to make its way up naturally from the sea. There are also two freshwater outlets from the same water source as the springs that emerge well out in the sea off Golden Bay, maybe allowing salt water to sift back through. The water is also low in dissolved oxygen and high in calcium.

A joint study done a number of years ago involving the Cawthron Institute in Nelson and Canterbury University listed 16 separate species of algae, 10 species of bryophytes including three liverworts, and unusual fauna such as an eyeless planarian and several small flies. What they didn’t find was any hint of planktonic algae, making me wonder what these little creatures live on?

Other more accessible wildlife lurking in this crystalline water are tiny freshwater koura, the occasional eel, some very dark trout that hide out under a deep ledge on the far side, and supposedly some salmon that have made their way in from the salmon hatchery next door.

We found there was no need to carry less weight just because we were in fresh water. The upthrust from the vents more than compensated for the lack of saltwater buoyancy and at times had us heading for the surface without having any say in the matter. The main vent can push a light person skywards at a great rate of knots, with the pressure forcing harsh bursts of air out of unguarded purge valves. But once clear of the main thrust it is easy to hang suspended in the water, like a skydiver, riding the ever-changing motion.

The deepest point of the main spring is only six and a half metres, but at a cool 11.7 degrees there’s no desire to go much deeper. Light is strong and clear, even at the bottom, and the rich variety of plants and mosses that sway in the currents show their colours clearly, even from a distance.

The bottom is a mixture of sturdy marble base rock, which much of the nearby Kahurangi National Park area is built on, with smaller boulders and gravel filling gaps in the crevices on the bottom. Coarse grainy sand fills dips and hollows and dances lightly in the upthrust from the vents. A shallow area on the side furthest from the entry way has a silt bottom but this is more than covered by a thick garden of semi-submerged leafy aquatic plants and cresses.

A reclusive second spring that is not open to divers, called Dancing Sands, is shallower than the main spring and a bit easier to observe from the surface. I imagine this is where taniwha Huriawa sits quietly gathering herself together before her next big trip away. With tall manuka regrowth edging right down to the water it’s an intimate little spot to rest. Her privacy would be assured with no viewing mirror for people to peer under the water, and no divers swimming past to break her peace.

Diving in the springs is loosely controlled by a voluntary code of conduct, brought in several years ago in consultation with the local Tasman District Council, the Golden Bay Diving Club, local iwi and the Department of Conservation (DoC). It has ruled out any swimmers in the springs, on the grounds that they physically and visually disturb the environment.

Diving is allowed in the main spring only, so long as divers enter the water from the deep water access area provided, that they only stay in the water for 15 minutes at a time, that there are no commercial dives and that there are no more than four divers in the water at one time. No one is to dive between 6 am and midday, and divers are to sign a log book as they arrive.

It sounds a bit intimidating at first, but the springs are a quiet place, with a sense of deep purpose about them, and an air of ancient history and legend. Bus loads of tourists would detract from that greatly, as would boisterous swimmers and divers who don’t take the due care required.

The voluntary code of conduct is currently under review, as was planned after its first two years of operation. A new management plan is being worked on, with input from local iwi, DoC, divers and the Tasman District Council, to settle on the most suitable arrangement needed to protect the springs over the long term.

It remains to be seen whether divers will continue to be allowed to dive in the springs after this consultation is over. It may be that one day only the taniwha will be allowed to sit submerged under these constantly moving waters.


Pupu Springs are a 10 minute drive on the western side of Takaka in Golden Bay, north west of Nelson. Diving is allowed after midday, with no more than four divers in the water at one time, for no more than 15 minutes, and no commercial dives allowed. A boisterous drift dive down Springs River to the Waitapu River makes a good end to a fun day. Lots of fish to be seen – trout and salmon.




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