Sawcut Gorge Streambed Route
NZ's Finest Slot Canyon
Gps: -41.877218 , 174.005118
Note: this is a sunny-day route. Do not attempt the route just after a huge rainstorm.
This in-the-streambed route leads to Sawcut Gorge, NZ’s finest slot canyon. Surprisingly, this slot canyon was featured on i-Site’s 2010 brochure cover (but without identifying it as Sawcut Gorge—most of NZ’s i-Sites had no idea how to “put you there”). The “Sawcut” itself is a short and narrow slot-canyon passage where Isolation Creek has eroded through a 50m-high wall of limestone, leaving a unique slot that’s higher than it is long. Sawcut Gorge is as impressive as the famed slots of Utah’s canyon country, but, sadly, it’s fairly short.
That said, the fun of this outing is more than just seeing the short slot canyon. The entire route leading to the Sawcut is a fun splashing tromp up the shallow Waima River for about 40 minutes. The marked DOC route criss-crosses the stream innumerable times with paths along the banks to avoid deep spots. The water is warmish in the summer and mostly ankleto- knee deep. Mid-day is the best time to venture up to see the Sawcut— the noon sun will glimmer on all the deep emerald swimming holes, whereas in the late afternoon the shadows can make the route much chillier.
TRAMP: Walk down the road from the house and then begin up the stream. The entire route is in the streambed and marked by DOC arrows. Water shoes are a must! After 30 minutes the gorge narrows as the walls begin to tower. Just past a small right-side waterfall the route goes up on the right bank for a short time to avoid a deep boulder-pinched spot. Soon after this pinch you’ll see the Isolation Reserve sign on the left side of the stream. Go left here on the marked path which cuts over into the Isolation Creek side-canyon where another 5-10 minutes upstream will yield the impressive Sawcut.
After the adventure through the Sawcut, it’s possible to follow Isolation Creek another 30-ish minutes to a hut, but the route becomes a bit bland. Better is to head back to the Waima River and find a nice swimming and sunning spot at the Isolation Creek confluence or maybe slosh a bit more upstream in the Waima Canyon to find your own secret spot.