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Walking the race

Miriam Richardson

I was parked up alone at the Pupu Hydro Power Scheme carpark on a Winter morning, a very pleasant freedom camping spot by the entrance to the walkway. There is a toilet tucked in the bushes if you need it. The carpark is at the end of an easy gravel road through farmland, beyond Pupu Springs in Golden Bay.



The water race was originally built in 1901 for gold workings, and later repurposed to generate electricity, opening in 1929. After 51 years a malfunction put it offline, and volunteers eventually purchased and restored the water race and power plant, reopening it 8 years later, in 1988. It now produces 1.8 Gwh each year. The loop track was completed in 2003.



The Pupu Hydro Scheme is an historic site, and the track is in Kahurangi National Park. There is a steep climb up to the penstock, where the water from the race is piped down to the power station. The track then follows the water race up the valley to the intake weir on Campbell’s Creek. From there the loop crosses the stream and winds slowly on a gravel access road, back down to the power station. 5.8km, 2 hours. No dogs.


So. I headed up to the penstock, forgetting to take my walking pole. It was steep, rather damp and a bit slippery, so I decided to carry on along the nice wide board walk and do the loop rather than back down the slippery slope.

The wide board walk turned into a narrow boardwalk turned into a very narrow board walk.


Until this time I had never thought I was afraid of heights. But the very narrow path, with a (felt-flimsy-to-me) rail had me terrified. I haven’t often experienced vertigo before (those bridges without solid bases do it). The wide board walk turned into a narrow board walk

turned into a very narrow board walk.


Until this time I had never thought I was afraid of heights. But the very narrow path, with a (felt-flimsy-to-me) rail had me terrified. I haven’t often experienced vertigo before (those bridges without solid bases do it). Eyes on the end, hold the rail tight, don’t look left at the drop, step, move hand, step… repeat… ohhh, a post… move hand to the rail beyond the post… step again; repeat…repeat… Whew, made it… I considered turning back after the second round-the-bluff-we-go. If I had only known there were 15, all with terrifying drop-offs, not even trees to catch you as you fall… (how would anyone find me? I thought, if I slipped and fell?). It got narrower than pictured, but I wasn’t taking my clenched hand off the rail to take photos. 

The race itself was beautiful, with clear water, mosses and ferns. Sometimes the track was a board perched on the outer edge of the race (OMG!).

Eventually, it became a “normal” track, and I met men on a quad bike, up to do track maintenance. “You could have warned us, grumble, grumble …”. From here on it was quad-bikeable, less interesting, but my heart rate could climb down. Some lovely bush and great views over the valley, until it turned into a really boring bit of road to walk along. Boring was surprisingly enjoyable.

Staying safe as you travel

I had quite a few thoughts about the staying safe aspect of this walk. I was just lucky I didn’t slip or get vertigo and fall. Travelling alone and walking alone has risks and being in places with no mobile coverage has its risks. The hydro scheme site had no internet or mobile coverage when I was there.

Personal locator beacon (PLB)

Some people invest in a locator beacon, whch is useful not only when walking, but also when in your motorhome. They cost $300–500. When you get into trouble you trigger the alarm and wait for rescue.More: DOC: ckw.nz/doc-plbRescue Coordinanation Centre: ckw.nz/rescue-beacon.


Personal safety phone app

There are a variety of apps that work in different ways. Some are designed for walking to your car in the dark — hold the button down: if you take your finger off a distress message and your location is sent to bring help.

I settled on the Get Home Safe Personal app, a NZ-made app with a good funding model. ckw.nz/get-home-safe

With this app, you set a time when you will check back in, and tell it what to do if you don’t. It can send a text (costs) or a message. You tell it who to send the message to, and what to say. You can buy 10 texts for 3.99, and you buy more when you need them. Emails are free.

While it is in action, the app monitors your location, sending to its server every 2 mins, or, if you are out of coverage, storing the data for when it next can send it.

When it helps:

  • if I feel really unwell at night (will I be capable in the morning?) with a morning check in;

  • are those people a threat to me? with a 10 minute check in;

  • if i am not back from my walk in 1/2/3 hours;

  • driving in snow/ice/weather where there is no coverage: if I dont check in in 2/3/4 hours; 

  • travelling out of mobile coverage, if I am not back in contact in 2/3 days.


My message can say what my plans are, where I am located and / or travelling, and whether or when emergency services should be involved.

Parked up a valley with no coverage, its a bit late: you have to plan in advance.

You need a reliable person to receive your messages and act on them. I ask them to try to contact me first (did I just forget to check in?) and take action if they are unable to reach me.  More

Which to use?

The PLB is not tied to mobile coverage and has official, automatic responders, while an app requires preplanning and relies on others, but has more permutations and more general uses. Use both!

All images ©2024 M Richardson

a board perched on the outer edge of the race

, p

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