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Everything you need to know about Harwoods Hole

Harwoods hole NZ is a popular attraction in the Nelson/Tasman region of the South Island of New Zealand. It is a well known Lord of the Rings filming location and home to an epic caving spot. This article outlines everything you need to know about accessing the popular spot, hiking to the hole and caving information.

What is Harwoods Hole?

Harwoods Hole is basically a really deep cave. It is the deepest vertical shaft in New Zealand at around 183 meters. It is also known as the New Zealand sinkhole which is named after the Harwood Family who have a long history in the area. It is also a famous Lord of the Rings forest (Chetwood Forest described below).

The reason the hole exists is due to the unique land in the area. Harwoods Hole used to be filled with water but over time natural weak points in the surrounding rocks weakened and eventually turned the hole into a dense drainage pathway. The entire Takaka hill is scattered with underground cave systems due to the limestone and marble rocks.

Harwoods Hole New Zealand is now a popular spot for a short day walk, caving and sightseeing.

Credit: Paul Rowe from the Department of Conservation website

Where is Harwoods hole?

Harwoods Hole is located in the Abel Tasman National Park (to learn more about the park head on over to my article about hiking the coast track here). More specifically Harwoods Hole is located at the top of the Takaka Hill in a beautiful place called Canaan Downs about a 1.5 hours drive north of Nelson.

How to get to Harwoods Hole

Harwoods Hole is located 11km down an unsealed gravel road. Access is do-able by car but there are some potholes and narrow sections so care is needed. The drive down the gravel road takes around 30 minutes to reach the car park.

Take state highway 60 towards Takaka. Keep your eyes peeled when you reach the top of Takaka hill for the turnoff which states Harwoods Hole/Canan Downs/Abel Tasman Track. Beware, the drive is a bit narly. But stay patient.

Most people self drive to the carpark but a guided tour is also an option. Check out a local Harwoods Hole tour operator here for more information. Or contact, Motueka i-Site on 03-528 6543 for more local knowledge of tour operators in the area.

There is one Nelson to Takaka bus company called Golden Bay coachlines. Check them out here. 

The drive to the hole is a bit strange. I didn’t realise the trip was going to take 30 minutes and I did not realise we were going to drive through the location of the popular Luminate festival. It was kind of random, but a good way to find a quirky location and feel entirely off the grid!

Accommodation near Harwoods Hole 

Harwoods Hole is located in the Tasman region of the South Island of NZ. It is perfectly located near Golden Bay.

Golden Bay is home to some of the most picturesque and unique accommodation in NZ. Fancy staying in an Eco cabin? What about a yurt? Or a classic kiwi batch? If you are travelling in a van there are lots of Golden Bay camping options to choose from.

My favourite Takaka accommodation option is Kanuka Eco friendly cottage.

my favourite airbnb stay in Golden bay nz!

Sign up to Airbnb here to grab $69NZD off your first trip!

Below is a list of different types of accommodation in Golden Bay NZ to choose from.

Luxury 

Motels and cabins 

Budget

Camping 

To see other accommodation options in Golden Bay have a look at holiday houses, book a bach or booking.com. 

Keep in mind this post contains affiliate links. If you purchase anything through them, I will get a small referral fee and you will be supporting me and my blog at no extra cost to you, so thank you! 

Lord of the Rings and Harwoods hole

Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Unsplash

Fancy a Lord of the Rings Hike? A major portion of the Takaka area was the filming location for various Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies.

The area is unique for its marble rocks that stick out of the ground.

Takaka Hill was the location for Chetwood Forest featured in The Lord of the Rings: An unexpected journey. The site looks familiar when walking to Harwoods Hole through the forest.

The nearby Kahurangi National Park is accessible from Takaka and was the filming location for the country South of Rivendell. The Kahurangi National Park has a harsh alpine environment. Mount Owen was the location of Dimrill Dale.

Middle Earth is located near the top of Takaka Hill. A visit to Ngarua Caves (described further down in this article) will invite you into the site of the last scene in the Battle of the Five Armies. The landscape is beautiful and unique filled with rocky marble outcrops and wild terrain. Be careful walking as you might just fall into a cave!

To learn more about the Hobbit filming locations, Harwoods Hole and Lord of The Rings and Lord of the Rings filming spots in the Nelson and Tasman region visit the local tourism boards website here.

There are also many tour operators throughout NZ offering Lord of the Rings tours. For a specific Harwoods Hole tour and Chetwood forest in the Nelson region check out Wine Art and Wildnerness here. 

a photo of the start of the walk to harwoods hole

The Tasman region: Hiking Harwoods Hole

Harwoods Hole is more commonly known for its caving expedition (described below) but hiking is entirely possible in the area. The hike is short sitting at 2.9 km one way taking roughly 45 minutes.

Hiking to Harwoods Hole is unique for the deep native bush hundreds of years in the making and interesting rock formations which make for good scrambling. However, Harwoods Hole walk is do-able for all skill levels including children. Just ensure they are prepared to do some rock jumping and are kept well away from the rocks at the end of the track as there are no barriers on or around the shaft.

The slanted trees mark the end of the track otherwise you wouldn’t know because the view is obscured by a 30-meter rock wall! The sad thing is the cave can not be seen from a hiking perspective. To get a good grasp of the deep vertical shaft a caving expedition is needed.

However, a trip up to Gorge Creek lookout is a good option to realise how far you have come. The loop track takes you back to the carpark or, alternatively walk back the way you came.

Other nearby walks 

There are other Nelson walks in the area worth checking out and perhaps more enjoyable than Harwoods hole. My favourite is the Abel Tasman coast track which is just around the corner from Harwoods hole (50 minutes. Okay not that close because you need to go back down the Takaka Hill but close enough). To learn more about hiking the Abel Tasman coast track check out my article here.

Another less strenuous day walk out of Nelson City (not far from Richmond) is Whispering falls.  A unique walk that takes you on a magical journey through native bush, incredible limestone rocks and gorgeous mini waterfalls. To learn more about this walk head on over to my article here.

whispering falls nelson

Lastly, I recommend visiting Rawhiti Cave in Golden Bay. Further along from Takaka Hill over the other side. View amazingly long stalactites in the large limestone cave viewing platform. The walk takes around 1 hour. Check out the Department of Conservations website for more details on the walk.

Caving in Harwoods Hole and Safety

Starting the hike to Harwoods Hole is a good indicator that you need to be an experienced caver with all the signs. Caving at Harwoods Hole is not for beginners. It is not a place to learn. The cave is wet, strenuous and cold. Use of correct equipment is important.

Check out this notice from the Department of Conservation which outlines the experience needed. There have been many search and rescue call outs to Harwoods Hole and Starlight Cave because of inexperienced cavers.

However, if you are an experienced caver then you are in for a treat! Check out this epic youtube video to give you an idea of what is involved!

The cave takes a minimum of 9 hours to complete and descends down Harwoods Hole and through to Starlight Cave and other magical wonderlands. The temperature is between 6 and 8 degrees A 200 meter static line is needed, a belay point 30 meters down must be rigged and everyone must have ascenders.

To request and learn more information about caving at Harwoods Hole check out Nelson Spelelogical group here. 

Other natural attractions in the area

Riwaka Resurgence

Riwaka Resurgence is related to Harwoods Hole with the same water body that moves through the Takaka hill. The water running through the Takaka caves exits the land at the Riwaka Resurgence. It is a beautiful place and well worth the visit.

The resurgence is an opening of water that looks as though it has come from nowhere but in fact comes from under ground. The water is clear, tranquil and freezing!

Access to the waterbody is a 5-minute walk from the Riwaka Resurgence car park at the base of the Takaka Hill about 20 minutes drive from Motueka.

This spot is great for picnics.

riwaka resurgence photo

Pupu Springs

Pupu Springs is unique because it holds some of the clearest water in the world. Located in Golden Bay about 1 hour from Harwoods Hole.

Apparently, the amount of water that comes out of the springs per second is enough to full 40 bath tubs!

The walk to the springs viewing platform is short and easy. You can walk the track in either direction. I recommend sparing 30-45 minutes for the round trip including viewing the water at the platform.

a stunning photo of pupu springs in golden bay

Ngarua Caves

As mentioned above, Ngarua Caves land is home to some of the Lord of the Rings films. The caves in themselves are an authentic attraction. They are not on a highly commercialised business so the tour seems rather basic with the lighting, the building and tour however, it is a great experience and child friendly.

The caves are absolutely stunning with ancient Moa bones, sinkholes stalactites and stalagmites.

The climb out of the caves on the ladder requires good fitness.

The tour takes approximately 45 minutes. Adults are $25 and children aged between 5-15 years are $10 and under 5s are free.

They are open daily throughout the summer from 10 am – 4 pm. During winter (June- Sept) bookings are essential.

Access the caves at the top of Takaka hill via the sign (it sticks out).

Wharariki Beach

Wharariki Beach is a unique place for its rock structures, dunes and animal life. The beach is stunningly located about 35 minutes drive from Collingwood, not too far from Farewell Spit. The road is nice and scenic so the 35 minutes are well spent. The last leg of the drive moves onto a gravel road.

The walk to the beach is around 20 minutes.

Be sure to check out the rock pools right in the middle of the beach next to the intense waves. Hopefully, you will catch a glimpse of baby seals playing in the water!

Watch out for the wind and mini sand storms. The sand storms calm down the closer to the beach you get. When we were there the sand was moving towards us in a trance on its journey to the dunes.


The Golden Bay and Tasman region is a great place to visit while exploring the South Island of New Zealand. The locations mentioned above are awesome day trips from Nelson and weekend getaways. Hopefully, you now understand a little bit more about Harwoods Hole New Zealand and why it is a popular destination.

Loved this post on Harwoods Hole? Pin the images below for later! 

A pinterest image of this harwoods hole article Another pinterest image of this harwoods hole article

Other articles you might like: 

6 Amazing things to do in Golden Bay 

Hiking the Abel Tasman Coast track 

Comments

  1. Sophie says

    Omg that actually looks so scary! Would like to explore the non- caving part of it ! Looks like such a great walk though 🙂

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