The Te Waihou Walkway
“Brain freeze! I have severe brain freeze!” yelled my grandson. This was his reaction after we offered him money to put his head under the water in the Blue Spring in the Te Waihou stream.
Shortly before Christmas day our family set off for a day walk along the Te Waihou walkway, situated near Putaruru in the Waikato region of New Zealand. The walkway is a distance of 4.7 kilometres, with an average walking time of 1½ hours (3 hours return). Some months before, we had discovered the stream when friends took us to see “the most beautiful stream in the world”. Michael was keen to get more painting material for his large pastel paintings and our friends thought that this would be the ideal spot. I had no idea how beautiful it would be and was expecting yet another “cute" stream with a few special redeeming features, so you can imagine my wonder when I first glimpsed the stream – it took my breath away!
The crystal clear, turquoise water and unusual water plants adding a myriad of other tones of green create a natural resource that is magical. The reason for the blue colour (and high visual clarity) of the Waihou River and its spring source is the high optical purity of the water. Pure water is intrinsically blue in hue because it absorbs red light leaving only blue and (some) green light to be transmitted to the observer's eye. Pure natural waters are blue to blue-green in colour because they lack light absorbing constituents. They also tend to be very clear because they lack light absorbing particles. Both particles and light-absorbing matter are efficiently removed during the long residence time of spring water while in aquifers. (This information thanks to The South Waikato District Council)
The terrain of the walkway varies from easy walking to backcountry trekking with stile crossing. In some areas the track has been benched and steps constructed through the gorge area. It is not an effort from a trekking point of view but a spiritual day outing for young and old. Large grassed areas are suitable for picnics. Swimming, tubing, kayaking and snorkelling are enjoyable in the pools and calm stretches of the river in summer (wetsuits recommended!).
We were armed with our walking sticks and hiking staffs and a gourmet picnic prepared by our own in-house cook extraordinaire, Tracey. The grassed area at the Blue Spring was the perfect spot to stop for our picnic.
The Blue Spring is internationally acclaimed. Its clear, blue-green water flows from the spring at 42 cubic metres (9240 gallons) per minute. Water from the Mamaku Plateau takes anywhere between 50-100 years to reach the Blue Spring. The water temperature of the Blue Spring is a constant 11 degrees Celsius (51.8 degrees Fahrenheit), come winter or summer. The water is sold in bottled form around New Zealand and supplies the town of Putaruru without treatment. It was here that we had to bribe our grandchildren to swim in the freezing water with only short wetsuits, while we basked in the sun on the banks of the river. We offered them each $50 to swim into the Blue Spring, around the bush and out again with a sweetener of $1 each if they put their heads under the water. It took some coaxing but they eventually did it and we were $102 dollars poorer for the experience!
Everyone agreed that the Te Waihou walkway day outing had to be an annual event every December. It has also become a fixture on our “what to show visitors to New Zealand” list. If you are ever near the area, make a point of doing this inspiring walk.