Ryde Falls was probably the closest waterfall to Christchurch that Julie and I encountered though even then it still required about a 90-minute drive from the South Island’s largest city. So it was natural for us to make this the first waterfall that we visited when we returned to New Zealand in December 2009 and January 2010 in a more South Island-focused visit. As for our impressions of the falls, it had the makings of being real impressive as it fell in three noticeable tiers (though we definitely could tell there were more, and DoC said it actually had five tiers total) with the top two tiers that we saw being pretty tall. I didn’t see much in the way of this waterfall’s height being measured, but that was probably because there was a lot of overgrowth that prevented all but the hardiest and most adventurous trampers willing to take some serious risks from seeing much more of the waterfall. It was that confounding circumstance that also compelled us to give the lower scenic rating score despite its potential (though in this case, it was meant to be as Nature dictated the terms of how it could be seen).
In any case, Julie and I treated this waterfalling excursion as a half-day trip from Christchurch. Our trip logs indicated that we took about 100 minutes return starting from the View Hill Car Park (see directions below). Some of that time was spent exploring around the falls in search of better views. That said, the sign at the trailhead indicated that at least two hours should be allocated for the excursion. Speaking of signs, there was a helpful map sign at the trailhead that helped us identify the route we were supposed to take considering there were many criss-crossing tracks going to other locations.
Our experience began by hiking along the Wharfedale Track, which was also shared with mountain bikers (something we noticed on the return). That part of the walk was pretty flat and it persisted for about the first 30 minutes. We were initially treated to nice views of the surrounding countryside, but the track quickly became a walk in a forest with a couple of muddy sections to get around (possibly due to a day or two of rain that was here just prior to our arrival). We then reached a fence signed for the Oxford Forest, where Julie and I also noticed a spur track called the Cooper Creek Link Track to our right, but we ignored it.
Continuing along the Wharfedale Track, we eventually made it to another linking track (this time it was signposted for Ryde Falls). At this point, we left the relatively flat and wide Wharfedale Track and went on the much narrower linking track. Not only did this track become narrower, but it also undulated a bit. Eventually after another 30 minutes, we would reach the junction with the Ryde Falls Track, where we promptly went left and followed this track down to the creek level where we had to cross it. The crossing wasn’t trivial, but Julie and I were able to make it across without getting wet and without the aid of trekking poles.
Beyond the stream crossing, we passed by what appeared to be a fire ring (someone was camping here though I wondered if it was sanctioned) before continuing a few minutes more before ultimately arriving at the base of Ryde Falls. Upon our arrival, we weren’t totally happy with the view, and we seriously had to consider whether it was worth the potential for injury to push onwards for that better view. As you can see from the photos on this page, our choice was clearly made to err on the side of caution though we did try the scramble before we got too uncomfortable with the level of drop off exposure and steepness. That photo at the very top of this page was the fruit of our labour to at least get up to where we were uncomfortable to proceed further.
Once we had our fill of this waterfall, we returned back the way we came. However, judging from all the intersecting tracks we had encountered, it was pretty clear that there were other ways to do this hike (e.g. Cooper Creek to Ryde Falls) as well as other options for exploring the Mt Oxford area in addition to the falls. In any case, we picked the route with the least amount of hiking using the waterfall as the turnaround point.
From Christchurch, we headed north on Hwy 1 for about 25km. Then, we took the Woodend Rd (Route 72), which became Oxford Rd, and eventually became Depot Rd for about the next 53km. After getting through the town of Oxford, we turned right onto Harmans Gorge Rd and took it for just under 6km. Eventually, there were signposts for View Hill Car Park on the left as we got onto Woodstock Rd.
As we followed the signs, we found ourselves driving an unsealed road through paddocks where we had to open and close about 4 gates I believe. Each of these gates were time consuming because we’d have to pull up to the gate, get out of the car to open it, get back in the car to drive through it, then get back out of the car to close the gate. The gates were there to keep the sheep from roaming free so I’m sure the caretakers would appreciate the gates being left closed. The View Hill Car Park was at the end of the road, and our drive took around 90 minutes total.
From looking at the maps in hindsight, perhaps another more straightforward route would be to drive around 53km on SH73 (which led towards Arthur’s Pass) from Christchurch to Waddington. From Waddington, take Waimakiri Gorge Rd north for under 6km to Harmans Gorge Rd, which could then be followed as described above to the View Hill car park.
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