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Hike through Sawcut Gorge

Ward, New Zealand



2.5 miles

Elevation Gain

328.1 ft

Route Type



Added by Alex Tande

Awesome venture off the beaten path, and its free! An out and back course that crisscrosses a river and into wooded areas. Between the great water colors and the awesome slot canyons, this is a great day trip or you can stay at Isolation Hut for the night.

Driving on Hwy 1, just south of a little town called Ward, roughly 48km south of Blenheim, there is the turn off onto Ure road. This is the only turn you have to make in order to find the entrance to Sawcut Gorge. Follow this gravel road through private land and farm land to reach the car park 12km from Hwy 1. Along the road you will encounter some gates across the road, LEAVE THE GATES AS YOU FIND THEM. If they are closed, please close the gate after you have passed through them. This road does have some steep sections, and it is all gravel. If you only have a 2WD car, you might want to be cautious of the weather, if it has been rainy the past few days the road could be pretty rough.

The car park for the trail head of Sawcut is the front yard of a farm house. These folks have been incredible to open up this place for free. They do have a log book and they have a little donation box, consider leaving a donation as the car park is their front lawn and tourists add a lot of traffic to their place. There is an option to drive down right to the river to park, but beware it is 4WD only! There is car parking for the 2WD vehicles as well, you just have to walk an extra hill.

Once you reach the river, you will be making a river crossing almost immediately. Any hopes of keeping your feet dry need to abandoned immediately. You will be getting wet on this hike. From time to time the route can be a little hard to follow as it crosses back and forth between the two sides of the river. When in doubt, pick an easy route following the river and you will pick up the trail again. Be cautious, there are deep parts of the river, so try and follow the trail as well as you can, there is a reason they have you cross at certain points. There is not much elevation change on this hike as you are just following a river bed. At times the track does leave the river bed just off the side through the woods. These little detours can offer some brief moments of steeper sections, but they are very short and quickly drop back down to the river bed. The river bed can offer its own challenges. There are loose rocks, and a bit of rock scramble from time to time. Use caution and stay within your comfort level.

After about an hour of walking, wading, and a scramble through the river, you will reach the end of the reserve. Once you reach this point, you will leave the river bed that you had been following. To continue following the DOC trail, there is a green and yellow sign that reads "Isolation Hill Scenic Reserve". That marks the turn away from the Ure river and along Isolation Creek. For a short time you will be without the watery companion, but shortly after the dry spell you will connect with Isolation Creek. About 20 minutes along Isolation Creek will bring you to the actual formation called Sawcut Gorge. There are few places where is a slot canyon, and that is the actual gorge, not just the river bed.

Continuing past Sawcut, following Isolation Creek is actually my favorite part of the hike. I went all the way to Isolation Creek Hut, about an hour from where you leave the Ure River. Following this creek bed you get the best rock formations, amazing ferns and flora, and if you actually reach the hut, an awesome little opening to hang out at for awhile.

There is very little elevation throughout this track. Overall you will be going slightly up as you are going upstream, but the terrain never really feels like you are going "uphill"

This is a great hike for hot days. There are plenty of spots to drop your pack, eat some lunch and go for a swim. On hot days the water feels amazing. If it is cold and windy, wading through the water all the time could end up being rather cold.

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