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13 March 2006

Bridal Veil Falls

(Arthurs Pass)

About 50% of all waterfalls in New Zealand share this name. They are the Smith family among waterfalls.

These days, with brides an increasingly scarce commodity and bridal veils and white weddings even more so, we would undoubtedly look for more relevant names. Or would we? There is an element of residual power in clichés that often reaches right past observation.

They're probably preferable, however, to naming rights and sponsorship, which could well make their presence felt if outdoor government departments become even more cash-strapped. We could be looking at the Pizza Hut Bridal Veil Falls, or at Telecom Mt Cook. Let's not go there just yet.

To be perfectly honest, we didn't make it to the end of the Bridal Veil Falls Track either, time being short. After a night at the comfortable DOC shelter at Arthurs Pass and a brilliantly fine dawn, we approached the DOC information station to recommend a gentle walk for such as us.

Remember, this is territory which has seen two recent tramper deaths. If you don't know that you know the territory, ask first.

The DOC chappie, a lean and grizzled blond without an ounce of spare fat anywhere, raised his eyes from his computer, looked me down and up, and said he reckoned the Bridal Veil Falls would be a nice gentle walk up the valley, or if I didn't mind a whole lot of steps I could track up to the Devil's Punchbowl, and that leaflet I had just picked up was a dollar, please.

The Falls it was. Maybe next year when I have perfected my steps technique, I'll give the Punchbowl a go.

There are two parts to this track. The first takes us up to a lookout point from where we can see the falls above us. This section is gentle and well-behaved. There is even a series of small signs identifying various native trees along the way.

Early in the morning the track is somewhat dark and a little chilly compared with the brilliant day outside the canopy.

The track begins to rise. Up the valley. Yes, now I remember.

This is obviously a track reserved for such as I or those even less fit. Miranda dares me to use it at my peril.

Though the surroundings are superficially similar to the forest of the St James Walkway, there are still quite a lot of new species I have not (consciously) encountered before. Most of these I have yet to name but watch this space and others.

[Postscript. I found a photo in JT Salmon's "The Native Trees of New Zealand" which closely resembles this pic. It is a juvenile form of Schefflera digitata, the pate, though Salmon's description restricts this particular form to the upper North Island.]

The small identifying labels here and there are invaluable,

and I also manage on the strength of one of these to put a name to a shrub that was present throughtout the St James: Coprosma foetidissima, the stinking Coprosma, and possibly the species that suggested the generic name, which means "smelling of dung".

We get some impression of the power of water in these creeks from the wires that anchor bridges to points up stream. Even so, at times, it is all DOC can do to keep up with patching after floods and slips.

We reach the lookout point without too much effort, however.

I would love to read the policy document that determines where picnic tables are to be constructed and the criteria therefore.

The falls are up ahead

As waterfalls go, it's hardly bride of the year stuff. You can see better specimens than this on a rainy day in the Haast Pass, without leaving your car, and a metre or so from the side window. (Keep the windows UP.) Still, we have enjoyed the walk up here.

Miranda lends a sense of proportion to the bonsai beech that grows on the edge of the lookout.

The presence of the balaclava and gloves is also a clue to the temperature, notwithstanding the blue domer above us. It's a no-brainer on walks around here to at least carry warm gear.

Immediately after the lookout, a price of sorts is exacted from those who want to actually feel the spray on their faces as they confront yet another bridal veil. The path plummets downwards in a protracted zigzag

To the right of the picture is that classic NZ example of Dr Seuss vegetation, the dracophyllum.

At the bottom is another boulder creek

with the remains of earlier bridges a further reminder of the occasional force of the water through here.

Then the path heads up a similar series of zigzags to a point where time constraints oblige us to call it quits.

There are spots here and there that closing darkness could render quite scary to the imaginitive.

However, it's closer to morning tea time than it is to dusk, and we head back down to the car without incident. Maybe next year we'll see close up whether this bridal veil is a SMITH among smiths, or whether it's just an excuse to get the heart rate up a little and catch some interesting botany.

Cheers. Hope you enjoyed the walk.



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