My experience of Putaruru had solely been driving through it. In fact, I think it was around Putaruru once I realised I had left my favourite jacket at a cafe in Tirau. So, case in point. My mind had never been on Putaruru. Little did I know that I was completely missing out! Did you know that it is home to one of the most unique places in our country: Te Puna/The Blue Springs?
Yeah. I didn’t until recently, either!
Hidden in the hills about 9 kms from the centre of Putaruru are the Blue Springs and Te Waihou walkway. It’s where 70% of New Zealand’s bottled water comes from and where instagrammers have an absolute field day.
Access to the spring is by a short 800m walk from the Leslie Road car park, or you can walk the entire Te Waihou walkway that runs along the Te Waihou river. This walk is 4.7km one way with the average walking time 3 hours return. The walk can be started from Leslie Road or Whites Road. We were pushed for time and chose the shorter route, so from what I can gather online the walk can be steep in places with steps, but is generally a relatively easy walk. It looks lovely and I can’t wait to go back one day!
I honestly had never seen anything like this water.
The water is fed from the Manakau plateau and the water can take anywhere between 50 to 100 years to filter through. What I found the most fascinating though, is that the water flowing from the Blue Spring travels at a constant speed of 42 cubic metres per second. The information sign explains that this means it could fill a six-lane 25 metre swimming pool in just 12 minutes! Mind-boggling for a place that feels so calm and serene.
The sign also goes on to explain that the reason for the vibrant blue colour is due to the purity of the water. Pure water such as this has had the light-absorbing particles removed through the filtering process. It often appears blue as it absorbs red light leaving blue and green light to be transmitted to the observer’s eye.
Since noticeable damage to the environment around the Blue Spring and Te Waihou river has happened (thanks to the spring taking on internet fame) swimming has been forbidden. Swimming was banned in 2016 and slowly the area is recovering. Also, the water is a constant 11 degrees celsius whether it’s summer or winter. That is because it’s been underground for 50 - 100 years!! Isn’t that amazing?! What I’m trying to say is it’s really cold so swimming sounds horrible anyway!
This area is a natural taonga and is extremely fragile. The South Waikato official government website asks that anyone visiting this area and using the walking track “join us as kaitiaki.” Guardians to help protect this natural treasure.
“Please help the South Waikato District Council, Raukawa - the iwi of this region, and the local community to keep our Pune beautiful, and ensure everything that you bring with you during your visit, leaves with you,” the website states.
The Blue Spring is one of those places that when you start searching the hashtag and geolocation on instagram you realise that nearly every international tourist has been there. It’s only recently that I’ve started researching New Zealand like how I would foreign destinations. I’ve always been proud of how much I had traveled my backyard before heading overseas, but I realise I have not seen nearly enough of the beauty New Zealand has to offer. I’m loving viewing my own country through the lens of a tourist. It’s putting a bandaid over the pain I feel from not being able to get out in the world again!
So, I’m not going to lie to you. After researching this area I was convinced I was on to a hidden gem. However, it appeared that on the first weekend of the school holidays everyone else had discovered the spring as well. Even though the car park was full and the cars and campervans were lined up on the side of the road, there was room on the track for everyone. It was nice to see so many people exploring the area. We passed about 3 family picnics, 5 groups of friends out walking, and multiple families enjoying the sights …with only a couple of grumbling children who didn’t quite “get it”.
But I got it. And I loved it! A definite must-do for anyone needing to get out and about. It's only just over 2 hours away from Auckland, and on the way for most North Island roadtrips along SH1. It will definitely help cure the cabin fever that’s setting in as our country of small pacific islands isolates itself from the rest of the world.
(We included the Blue Spring in our North Island roadtrip with our Maui campervan. I definitely recommend it! The road was easy in a van and parking was a breeze. If you need more information about New Zealand campervan hire, read the blog post here!)
Off State Highway 1 or State Highway 5 turn onto SH28 (Whites Road) where you can choose to access the walk from the Whites Road car park, or continue onto Leslie Road. It’s about 3.7kms on Leslie Road until you find the car park.
TE WAIHOU WALKWAY
Distance: 4.7kms one way (9.4km return) | 800m to the Spring from Leslie Road
Hike time: ~1.5 hours (3 hours return) | ~10 minutes from Leslie Road - bear in mind you will stop to take many photos!
Return on the same track back
Terrain: “the terrain varies from easy walking to rougher trekking with stile crossings. It may be slippery when wet.” - information board at Leslie Road. Occasional boardwalks. The track from Leslie Road is mostly flat, with gravel paths and boardwalks. Steps up to the elevated viewing platform.
Stairs: yes! “Steps have been constructed through the gorge area” - again, quoting the info board seeing as I haven’t done this walk myself... Yet!
Toilets: one at Whites Road car park, two along the track and one at the Blue Spring
Rest stops: a viewing platform and multiple rest areas
Dogs are not permitted on the track
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