Cave Stream, Canterbury, New Zealand

Into the Darkness: A Guide to Exploring the Cave Stream Walk

Updated: 16th January, 2024

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to explore a cave in complete darkness? Well, only a short drive from Christchurch, you can! A hidden gem in the Canterbury region of New Zealand, the Cave Stream Walk gives inexperienced cavers a chance to explore the dark and mysterious depths of a natural cave system. Read on for all you need to know before exploring the thrilling Cave Stream Walk, including how to get there, what to bring, and what you should expect!

walking along Broken River to Cave Stream, Canterbury, New Zealand

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What to Expect on the Cave Stream Walk

Cave Stream Walk: Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to do the Cave Stream Walk?

Do you have to be experienced to do the Cave Stream Walk?

How long is the Cave Stream Walk?

How was the cave formed?

Cave Entrance Tracks

  • Walking Time: 15 minutes one-way
  • Track Difficulty: An easy stroll along a well-maintained path

The walk begins at the Cave Stream Carpark, which is found just north of Broken River off State Highway 73. From the carpark, two short tracks lead to the cave entrances.

Walking through the scenic reserve to the start of the Cave Stream, Canterbury, New Zealand

Outflow Cave Entrance

The first track leads to the edge of the terrace and overlooks the outflow entrance of the cave and the magnificent surrounding scenery. The trail then drops down the face to the terrace to the junction of Cave Stream and Broken River – where you can begin the walk through the cave!

Upstream Cave Entrance

The second track leads to the upstream entrance, heading north through a diverse landscape of dramatic limestone rock formations and golden tussock grasses. Both of these tracks are well-maintained and easy to complete, and make for a beautiful short walk through the reserve!

Going Through the Cave

  • Distance: The trail through the Cave is 594 m long!
  • Walking Time: Around 1 hour
  • Track Difficulty: Moderately difficult, climbing over rocks and against the stream. A manageable track for inexperienced, fit cavers!

Now for the fun part! The Cave Stream Walk is definitely the highlight of this reserve and a memorable experience!

What is the Best Direction for the Cave Stream Walk?

The best direction for the Cave Stream Walk is against the flow of the stream (from the stream outflow to the inflow). This makes the journey a lot safer and easier!

From the carpark, follow the right-hand track through the scrub, which will lead you down to the entrance of the cave. This short walk is beautiful, with panoramic views over Broken River and the surrounding mountains! It should take around 10 minutes to reach the beginning of the cave.

Once you reach the entrance, take a moment to double-check the conditions and the warnings in place. Although this cave is manageable, changes in weather or water levels can make it pretty dangerous! I’ll cover this more in the next section.

Entering the Cave

Once you reach the beginning of the Cave, it’s time to dive in! Switch on your torches and get ready to get wet, as the cave disappears into darkness. This first bit was definitely the most nerve-racking for me – after all the warnings I wasn’t quite sure what to expect! As you enter the cave at the outlet, the track turns the first corner and plunges you straight into the deepest section of water of the journey. Normally, this will reach just above waist level for an adult, and was up to my chest (I’m 5.2), however, there is only a gentle current and it was easy to move through. The water comes trickling down from the nearby mountains, and so even in summer, it is FREEZING!

Cave Stream entrance, Canterbury, New Zealand
Into the Cave!

Walking Through the Cave

After the initial shock wears off, walking through the cave is great fun! The track twists and turns, with beautiful limestone walls guiding your path and crystal-clear water following along through the cave. The ground is uneven, as the flow of the water has carved its way through the limestone floor, and so it’s best to go slow and steady through the cave.

As you head deeper into the cave, the incredible limestone walls will narrow and you will come across small waterfalls with rushing water that you will need to climb. These are lots of fun, but just make sure everyone in your party is confident moving through the stream. There are lots of good handholds in the limestone rock which can be used to steady you as you go!

limestone rocks at exit, Cave Stream, Canterbury, New Zealand
Metal footholds and a chain at the exit!

Exiting Cave Stream

After an hour or two (depending on your speed), you will notice a speck of light breaking up the pitch-black darkness, which is the exit of the cave! This section was probably the most challenging section of the cave, as I was slightly unprepared for how we had to get out (I hadn’t read a blog like this beforehand!)

There is a final waist-deep pool, before a (slightly scary) climb up a 3-meter tall waterfall! Secured to the cave wall are some metal rungs, where you can climb up the side of the waterfall. The rocks are slick and very smooth, and I was glad to have people around to help steady me as I climbed. After one last little ledge shuffle (with your hands clenched around the chain) you reach the overhang, and emerge victorious out of the cave!

Cave Stream, Canterbury, New Zealand
Finally back into the sun!

Cave Stream Walk: Know Before You Go

Where is Cave Stream?

The Cave Stream Walk is located in the Cave Stream Scenic Reserve, in the Castle Hill Basin Area of Canterbury. It is 1.5 hours drive from Christchurch, making it an awesome day trip!

How to Get to Cave Stream

To get to the Cave Stream walk from Christchurch, you can take the Great Alpine Highway (State Highway 73) towards Arthurs Pass. The drive will take around an hour and a half (99km). The reserve is on the left side of the road, between the Broken RIver Road bride and the Craigieburn Forest Park entrance. The carpark is well signposted, and has toilets!

What to Wear for the Cave Stream Walk

The Cave Stream Walk is underground, so you need to come prepared! Yes, the day we went I saw people doing the walk in flip flops (jandles) and shorts, however, the environment can change quickly and you don’t want to get caught out!

Here is the complete guide to what to wear for the Cave Stream Walk:

An infographic showing what to wear for the Cave Stream Walk, Canterbury, New Zealand

What is the Best Time to do the Cave Stream Walk?

The best time to do the Cave Stream Walk is during the summer months from December to April. During these months the temperature will be (marginally) warmer and the water levels lower, making it a safer and more enjoyable walk! Before heading off, remember to check out the weather forecast here!

What is the Temperature in the Cave?

Can you walk the Cave Stream Walk after rain?

Can you walk the Cave Stream Walk in winter?

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