By Bruce Walton
What makes this location such an incredible experience to visit is as mysterious as the region itself! Although scientists have studied this area and its surroundings for over 100 years, much still remains a mystery today. Regardless of whether you come to experience one or all of these ancient natural treasures, the Code of Conduct introduced will apply to you. Covering Waikoropupu or Pupu Springs, as they are commonly known, it has been established to help manage and preserve this Garden of Eden into the new millennium for all interested users. Whatever mystery for visiting this region, time will be against you.
If not one of the seven wonders of the world, it is definitely one of New Zealand’s. Located in Golden Bay, Nelson, South Island it is only four kilometres from the township of Takaka. The springs have been a popular picnic spot since the late 1880’s. Formerly belonging to the Campbell family, they were purchased by the Government in 1979. The reserve has been administered by the Department of Conservation ever since.
Leaving Nelson and Motueka behind you, the impressive climb of the Takaka Hill awaits climbing steeply to the summit at 791 metres by way of a winding, twisting road, with hairpin bends thrown in for good measure. This is an adventure in itself! Your climb is rewarded by panoramic views of the valley spread out before you. In the distance D’Urville Island and Golden Bay extend to the distant horizon, a rich reward for such an arduous climb, possibly one of New Zealand’s finest mountain views available.
Constructed mostly of marble and limestone thrown up from the sea 15 million years ago, it takes on a moonscape appearance which can be very lifelike after one of the frequent snow falls which can occur at any time of the year. The whole area is a labyrinth of caves, sinkholes and springs. Nettlebed Cave System in the Mount Arthur Range is also composed of limestone but laid down on an ancient sea floor over 450 million years ago. Below ground lies some of the deepest shafts and one of the most intricate networks of cave systems in the world. This vastness is only now slowly releasing its secret mysteries. Some, such as the Pearce Resurgence are not only deep, but are filled with fresh water and contain New Zealand’s deepest freshwater holes which have been the scene of some record breaking dives. (See Dive Log Issue #38, Feb 1997).
Below you now lies the lush Takaka Valley. Predominantly dairy country, it is now a relatively easy trip to the springs by proceeding along the road to Takaka, Collingwood. Although the area has suffered from isolation, there is plenty of history and traps, although the most legendary Rat Trap Hotel has burnt down there is still a lot to do once you have visited the Waikoropupu Springs.
Turning off the main drag to Collingwood, you follow the Takaka River before crossing Waikoropupu River. This is an ideal exit spot for your river run, but beware this is dairy country – the fences bite and so do property owners (for those that do not seek permission first). A short climb over the hill covered in scrub and suddenly a small oasis appears – you have arrived!
Like many of New Zealand’s natural springs each has a place in early Maori history. Waikoropupu, meaning bubbling waters, was regarded as a sacred place, a place of spiritual cleansing for those that travelled along the greenstone trails. Today the springs attract many travellers for a variety of intentions. Ranking in the top ten freshwater diving destinations in the world, they have become a mecca to divers, all seeking the ultimate of New Zealand freshwater dives. The unique natural features have created a reputation that has spread, captivating visitors from all parts of the globe.
Many amble over graveled tracks with wooden boardwalks erected amongst old gold workings of the last century. These well used tracks lead you past crystal clear pools and streams, finally arriving at the observation platform of the main vent. All along the path streams of bright green lush watercress and many other aquatic plant life forms, combining with the many shades of turquoise water to form an immense display of colours and beauty. For local Iwi the springs are a taonga, a treasure or precious thing. Although safeguarded by the legendary taniwha Huriawa, many saw the need of assistance from a modern form of protection. With the continuing popularity of the area from both recreational and commercial interests local Iwi began fearing the impact on vegetation and ecology, so began discussions for the future protection of the springs.
Up until now divers and most recreational users had unrestricted use of this locality. Aquatic flora and fauna are protected under the Reserves Act 1977, DoC had administered the reserve in a low key manner, mainly controlling the watercress and maintaining tracks, bridges and boardwalk. Watercress, introduced from England in the early 1850’s had become the ‘Old Mans Beard’ of the river. Water purity, strong current, constant temperature as well as high calcium content, contributed to a massive cress growth that is the best in New Zealand.
Pure water today is an important commodity, both for drinking, bottling and salmon farming, a fact also not unnoticed by commercial enterprise. Water and its use comes under the Resource Management Act and therefore the Tasman District Council. The springs themselves had no protection. With the ever increasing number of applications, alarm bells were ringing, not only was it creating conflict but with only Huriawa protecting the springs, Iwi and divers become concerned. Today Huriawa has assistance with a mandatory Code of Conduct for all users taking it into a new millennium. Now what was once a weed is harvested commercially. DoC has granted a permit which is of mutual benefit to everyone. Cress is usually harvested weekly, both submerged and surface varieties. Floating like large green icebergs in a sea of blues, reds and browns they form a rainbow of brilliant colours. Now this crisp, peppery tasting salad can be found in local shops. Usually not found growing deeper than a metre, Pupu’s remarkable growing properties allows it to grow much deeper, ensuring a year round supply and possibly making it the world’s deepest cress available on supermarket shelves. An area of Fish Creek is set aside for the general public who wish to take some of this popular vegetable. Many divers who dived here in the 60’s would remember cows wadding in around the edges of the springs and stream or surfacing right in front of a cow’s chewing jaws! Oh for a camera then.
Impressed by the colours or the overwhelming enthusiasm to experience the water clarity will be overpowering as you prepare to enter Pupu Springs. Diving is now no longer permitted in the smaller Dancing Sands Springs, but its beauty can be enjoyed by everyone from the safety and dryness of the bank. Small grains of sand, made up of various colours dance on the water pressure, pushing up from beneath them. Because of the shallow depth this pool displays a more natural colour because water absorbs the red visible light before the blues, giving everything in the springs a bluish colour which is cast on to all underwater objects. Normally this is never seen as visibility is poor. The main spring now has a channel cut through the weed for divers entering the water. A large boulder is also placed for your convenience. Final arrangement or removal of fins and mask can be done here. This procedure will prevent the rush of damage to the delicate aquatic plant life. Large clumps of weeds coming down stream has created problems for those taking water and using the stream such as salmon farms. This is another reason for the Code of Conduct for users.
Once underwater your breath will be taken away in more ways than one. The temperature does not vary from a chilling 11.7 degrees Celsius. This cooling effect is activated by the filtering underground, taking an average of three to four years before reaching the springs. In spite of the water originating from a diverse assortment of sources a flow range of seven to 21 cubic metres per second is constantly maintained.
Although it has a small tidal pattern all of its own, the clarity remains the same. NIWA have accurately tested the visual clarity of the water at a stunning 62 metres of perfect horizontal vision. You have truly entered another world. Whether you have come to take photographs or experience the striking visibility and participate in spiritual accomplishment of this place, you will have 15 minutes in which to do it.
Diving is not permitted before midday and only four at a time. This is to give everyone a go. A carpet of mosses, watercress delicately mixed with turquoise and azure blue, combine to form an amphitheatre with a sense of extreme beauty.The main vent blasts water out so strongly that it is impossible to keep your hand over it. I have seen boulders the size of 44 gallon drums that when rolled into the vent were thrown to the surface, some even breaking then falling back into less turbulent places. No wonder they have been removed!
Smaller vents can be seen all round the main rim, each holding its own secrets. Amongst the swaying arrays of aquatic plants hide many small creatures, all benefiting from this unpolluted environment. Houra, or freshwater crayfish, gather on the outside of springs hiding amongst the moss that covers shallow places. Small trout, eels and native water snails can also be found. All this, combined with limitless visibility, makes an underwater photographers dream come true, but leave some energy for the river run. The river run is everyone’s highlight of their visit to these springs.
Entry under the Code of Conduct is by the Fish Creek exit, usually at the concrete bridge where the road crossed the stream. Applications for water and discharge rights by Southern Ocean Salmon Farm caused concerns that the flow would be significantly affected with the water being polluted. The farms were concerned with contamination by so many divers in cold water causing the usual result! Other commercial operations such as dive shops, rafting and pure water bottling all have raised concerns over the use of this taonga place. Using the Code of Conduct will help all enjoy Waikoropupu Springs well into the next millennium.
No commercial dive shops are allowed to run trips in the spring, but will put you in contact with people and clubs that do. It’s a great weekend trip for dive clubs. The springs are approximately 4 Â½ hours from Blenheim or Picton, 3 Â½ hours from Nelson. Accommodation is available at Takaka – cabins, motels and hotels. An AA map is a good idea, but the springs are well sign posted. Hire gear is available in Nelson and Motueka but arrange it in advance. It is possible to arrive by Ferry Friday night, stay in Picton, Blenheim or Nelson and dive Riwaka Resurgence and Waikoropupu Springs all in one weekend.
Code of Conduct
Take responsibility for protecting and conserving the sacredness of the area by protecting the environment both in and out of the water. No Swimming: Swimming is disruptive to other visitors seeking to enjoy the special atmosphere that Pupu Springs has to offer. In addition, it is damaging to the unique shallow water vegetation of the Springs. No Diving Between 6am and 12 noon This dive-free period will allow visitors the opportunity to experience the Springs in their natural state. Only Four Divers in the Water at Any One Time. A restriction to small groups of divers means the impact of diving on the experience of other visitors will be reduced and will mean less disturbance of the Springs ecology. No Divers To Stay In The Water Longer Than 15 Minutes This will allow the maximum number of divers to experience the Springs, while at the same time also helping to minimise the overall impacts of diving on the Springs environment.