An intricate network of hidden limestone caves runs through the Takaka hill area. One of the largest daylight shafts in the world (200m down and more than 15m in diameter) Harwoods Hole is a spectacular sight leading to an abseiler's paradise.
In 1957 a group of North Island cavers ventured south to Takaka hill near Nelson, where a farmer led them to a sinkhole he had never dared to enter. The cavers were ecstatic, estimating the maximum width to be 60 metres, and the depth 200 metres. They named it Harwoods Hole, after the original landowner.
On Christmas Day 1958, cavers were lowered into the abyss on a winch. David May, a schoolboy, was the first to go down, in a parachute harness with a steel seat. At a depth of 183 metres his feet touched bottom. Other members then explored 800 metres of passages.
A year later, the cavers returned, seeking a link to Starlight Cave, at the head of The Gorge Creek in the Takaka Valley. They placed a green dye (fluorescein) in the stream at the bottom of Harwoods Hole, and it emerged four hours later in The Gorge Creek. Using explosives they blasted a stalactite block, allowing three cavers to make the first through trip. At 357 metres, Harwoods Hole (connected to Starlight Cave) was at the time the country’s deepest known cave.
Success turned to disaster at Harwoods Hole in 1960, two years after cavers claimed it as the country’s deepest known cave. Group leader Peter Lambert was being winched out of the hole when he was killed by falling rocks. It was New Zealand’s first caving fatality. Lambert’s helmet was placed on a cairn at the bottom of the cave as a memorial.
Access the caves from Canaan Downs via a walking track through native bush with stunning rock formations framing the paths.
There is a great lookout track just above Harwood's Hole with views across the Takaka Valley and township and out to the Kahurangi National Park and Cobb Valley.
Many scenes from the Lords of the Rings film trilogy were shot in the area and you can book tours and relive the trilogy through operators in Canaan Downs.
Click here for Harwoods Hole Guidelines
Be aware this is a dangerous area. Signs warning of treacherous terrain and brochures explaining the features and risks of Harwood's Hole provide warning of the dangers. Please take care when visiting this area. Do not throw stones down the hole.
Harwood's Hole has been the site of a number of dramatic rescues, including the "Operation Long Drop" rescue on March 25, 1995, which involved the lowering of a doctor down to a Christchurch caver who had badly fractured his leg. The doctor stayed with the man administering morphine to him for 10 hours.
In January 2004, a group of five cavers, three men and two women made up of two New Zealanders, an American, a German and an Israeli, reached the bottom of the cave, but then got lost on the walk out.
The American man climbed four hours to the top of Harwood's Hole to get help.
In July 2002, rescue teams found two men fit and well after they became lost in the cave in a site known as Shorty's Terror.
Directions: Drive up Takaka Hill to the intersection at Canaan Road S41° 01.225 E172° 53.700. Turn into Canaan Road, 11kms long and follow it to the car park at S40° 56.580 E172° 53.505.