The Top of the South has some of New Zealand’s cleanest and least polluted rivers.
While beach-going on hot summer days is a popular pastime on New Zealand’s coast, Top of the South locals are more likely to head to the river.
Head straight to the river for a cool swim without the saltiness of the sea water on a hot day.
The river meanders from the mountains to the coast throughout the Top of the South. Swimming spots are accessible from the main road and back roads.
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when to go
Summers in the area are hot and dry, making this season perfect for swimming, but the waterfalls are most impressive after rain.
where you can’t swim
Please heed local safety warnings and respect Maori requests. Gorgeous Riu Waka Her resurgence may look glamorous, but it would be disrespectful to swim in the holy land.
Life’s a River Beach
make a splash
Blast, dive or (let’s be honest) berry flop from a height with the local youth. Pelorus Bridge (Hwy 6, between Havelock and Nelson), Lea River (just past Richmond), jump off rocks at Painsford (Takaka), Aniseed Valley (Richmond), Maitai Valley (Nelson), Buller River Murchison’s Eale Hall.
The Maitai River flows from the mountains east of Nelson City, and the riverside swimming spots of the Maitai Valley are within easy reach of the town. Along the way, the Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve, on State Highway 6 between Havelock and Nelson, is a spectacular stretch of clean river and wide pebble beach. A convenient place to stroll and stretch your legs between Blenheim and Nelson. If you see water, you may want to stay for a while.
The gentle currents and shallow waters of the Pelorus Bridge, River Lee and Aniseed Valley are ideal for children and babies to play in the water.
A short walk from Anchorage Beach and Torrent Bay in Abel Tasman National Park is Cleopatra’s Pool, a hidden freshwater swimming spot. Here the River Trent forms a series of forested rock pools and small waterfalls. If the water level is right, adventurous souls can glide over the mossy wet rocks into the pool.
Or, like Cleopatra herself (without milk), lay down a towel and bask on the surrounding rocks. Whether you plan to hike the park or take a water taxi for a day trip, Cleopatra’s Pools is worth the detour.
Reproduced with permission of Lonely Planet © 2022. Lonely Planet Experience New Zealand, MSRP $36.99.