My Life in Motion

Washpen Falls

About an hour outside of Christchurch, on the back road that leads to Rakaia Gorge, there is an unassuming turnoff that leads to a farm where you can join the crowds that park up at the unassuming Woolshed. The track to Washpen Falls that leads from here is on private property and as such there is a $10 fee per adult to walk it. This had put me off exploring this for many years but finally, last May, I decided to see what the fuss was about. I’ve seen photos and heard that this waterfall was pretty and worth visiting, so I duly turned up to find the parking area packed, and it took a bit of maneuvering to find a spot to pull in out the way. The day I visited, the Woolshed was manned, and it is important to pop in here first to pay your fee. I have to admit I was surprised at the number of people there considering the charge.

Following the marked track past the Woolshed, the track was quite muddy as it headed into the forest and started climbing. The track effectively follows an anti-clockwise route round the valley formed by Washpen Creek. Breaks in the treeline allowed a view across to the thick bush on the opposite side, and being well into autumn, the lower sun meant the side I was walking on was in shadow. Cutting back into the trees again, a natural shallow cave is passed before a flight of stairs passes by the side of a small waterfall trickling down the rock face.


From there the path climbs up and into the sunshine as it reaches the top of the hillside that surrounds the creek. The path effectively arcs round in a horse-shoe shape and as it does so, the expanse of the Canterbury Plains becomes evident. It was a gorgeous day and the many visitors were littered all over the track, several of them stopping here to admire the view and have a snack. As it was though, the wind started to whip across the hillside as the track continued over it, and at the main viewpoint up here, several of us were buffeted whilst a couple of children had to work hard to walk against it.


To reach the waterfall, the track cuts down from the hillside to reach another branch of the valley, most of which was in shade. This was another busy stretch of track but I paused here in a couple of places to listen to the bird sounds. The track starts off winding down the valley side before reaching a steep staircase that leads down to Washpen Falls. The downside of hiking the track at this time of the year was that the waterfall was completely in shadow making it difficult to photograph. There is a good viewpoint of it from the staircase as well as at the base of the falls itself. There isn’t a lot of space to accommodate the amount of people that were on the trail that day, so once I’d taken some photographs, I moved on to allow others the chance to get some shots too.


The track continued down the far side of the creek below a tall rock face. At one point, drips of water fell from the cliff above and a small side-track led to the bank of the stream. Beyond this, the track climbed a little again into the forest where a side-track led to a small cave, then beyond here it cut down through the forest, until eventually it reached a green pond with a shelter nearby. Several families had stopped here for a picnic and it was a pretty little spot. I left them to it, following the far side of the pond and rejoining the main track at the far end.


Aside from a small ruined waterwheel, the rest of the walk was just a meander through the forest. I was surprised to come across a sign in the middle of nowhere reminding passers by to enjoy the sounds of nature. I had a bit more solitude here as I made my way back to the car by the Woolshed. There were still plenty of cars parked here, and I returned glad to have finally done this walk. The whole loop track took me 1hr and 45mins, and although a muddy and rough track (which may put off those with very young children), it was a very easy to follow hillside walk that would suit families.

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