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Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve, Marlborough

Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve, Marlborough

There are quite a few places to stop on the drive between Picton and Nelson, and the Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve is one of the best. You’ll see a stunning stretch of river with incredibly clear water, a couple of small waterfalls and plenty of relaxing river views. Whether you’re stopping off for a quick stretch of the legs or you want to spend a little longer in this little slice of nature, this post will have you covered!

Tawa Walk

This short track takes you through the forest and down to edge of the Pelorus River. It’s a loop track and takes around 30 minutes — I started at the entrance close to the bathrooms but if you just want to get to the river take the track closer to the bridge. It didn’t take long before I came to a peaceful spot by the river, and soon after that I came to a picnic area. I was alone, and it was a very peaceful spot (except for the wasp that kept buzzing around my face).

The track then eventually meets the river in one of the most scenic parts of the Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve. There you’ll see a stony beach and lots of rocks where you can sit above the river. It’s one of the nicest bits of river I’ve seen in New Zealand — such clear water! I was there in May, so it was too cold to swim but I imagine it’s a great place to take a dip in summer.

There’s also another “river access” track right by Pelorus Bridge but that bit of river isn’t quite as nice — definitely do the Tawa Walk instead!

Elvy Stream Waterfall Track

It says this track takes two hours, but I did it in just over an hour (and I stopped a few times and had lunch at the end). It’s a there and back track that skirts the Rai River for much of the way. It’s fairly easy but was muddy in parts and there are rocks and tree roots to walk over. There are two waterfalls on this track. The first is quite tall but didn’t have a lot of water in it (it’d be great after rain though I reckon) and the second sits behind a small pool full of clear water. There’s a big rock which obscures much of the actual waterfall but it’s still a cool place.

Circle Track

Another nice short walk in the Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve is the “Circle Track”, which starts on the other side of the Pelorus Bridge (about a two-minute walk from the car park). After a short stroll through the forest you’ll come to a long swing bridge. The views from the bridge are nice and the water below it is that stunning shade of clear green. It’s one of the best spots to see in the Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve but there isn’t much more to see on the rest of this track. It’s mostly through the forest with trees frustratingly blocking what would be some awesome views. If you’re in a rush, check out the bridge then return the way you came.

Pelorus Bridge

The actual bridge is kinda ugly. It’s a big concrete affair with a vast array of graffiti. It’s definitely not the reason to visit!

The Hobbit

The Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve featured in the Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. It was where some hobbits went down the river in barrels. 

Other hikes in the Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve

There are a few more hikes in the area including short forest walks and a much longer one up to a viewpoint (Trig K Track). I was planning on doing it but at four hours return I was envisioning a monotonous trudge through the forest with a (possibly unimpressive) viewpoint at the end. Let me know if you’ve done it and whether you’d recommend it to other people!

READ MORE: 17 of the Best Things to Do in Nelson

Getting to the Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve

The car park (or series of car parks) is around halfway between Picton and Nelson (an hour’s drive from both). It’s a common traveller route and this place is ideal for a quick stop. There’s a camping ground and a café there and you can also freedom camp in the nearby Rai Valley. If you’re driving from Picton to Nelson, I’d also recommend taking a (large) detour to French Pass in the Marlborough Sounds (the turnoff for that is just past Pelorus Bridge) — it’s probably my favourite coastal drive in New Zealand!

Are you planning a trip to the top of the South Island? Which places are you most excited to visit? Let me know in the comments below!

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Jon Algie

I'm a South Island local -- born in Timaru and raised in Dunedin. I left the island in 2006 and returned 10 years later. Having seen a good chunk of the world I realised how special this place is -- the most beautiful island in the world! Seven years (and almost 400 posts) later I'm still helping locals and tourists alike plan their trips around the South Island.