Rākaia | So much more than a pie 'n' pee stop.
Located on State Highway 1, Rākaia is home to New Zealand’s longest road & rail bridges and some very interesting history!
Whether you reside in our beautiful South or have spent time road tripping here, chances are you’ve crossed the Rākaia Bridge. As kids when we went on long journeys, we would play the ‘hold your breath’ game at each bridge crossing. At a lengthy 1.7 kilometres long, ‘I spy’ is probably a better amusement when crossing the Rākaia!
Cyclists are forbidden to ride over the bridge for good reason. It's narrow and you can't pass them without crossing the centre line. There is an exception though. Once a year an event called 'Ride the Rākaia' incites a bridge closure so a paleton of cyclists can lay claim to having pedalled across the river.
World famous for its salmon fishery, the Rākaia River meanders from the Lyell & Ramsay Glaciers near Whitcombe Pass to the vast waters of the South Pacific. Originally named Cholmondeley by early settlers, the river is now known by its Māori name which according to NZ History is the South Island form of 'rangaia', and refers to the practise of strong men standing in line to break the force of the water when crossing a river.
The original wooden bridge was used between 1872 & 1939 servicing both road and rail. Gatekeepers were employed to manage traffic & trains, but with no telegraph service between Christchurch and the gatehouses, there were often ‘near misses’ when stonking steam engines met oncoming vehicles. In 1899 two trains collided at Rākaia Station, killing four people and injuring 22. The original bridge was replaced by two separate bridges in 1939 (much safer!), one for rail and one for road traffic.
Not to be confused with the giant trout statue in Gore, the huge fish sculpture in Rākaia is a salmon, a fitting tribute to one of the best salmon Fisheries in New Zealand. Salmon runs from November to March, at its best when the river is running at low flows. Good-sized trout also reside in many of the river’s pools. Honestly, you couldn’t find a more picturesque place to flitter away some hours on the fly against an imposing backdrop of the Southern Alps.
Rākaia township has long been a service centre for local industry, mainly farming. The old Post Office & Bank of New Zealand buildings are still standing and can be viewed with a short diversion from the main road. South Rākaia Hotel offers warm ‘country pub’ hospitality and is steeped in local history. In earlier times it doubled up as the local courthouse. Opposite the pub you’ll find a whopping mural depicting the evolution of this tiny town. The service centre at the salmon statue recently had a revamp with new public rest rooms (they’re spacious, impeccably clean and modern), and the addition of historic buildings including the old gatekeepers house and jailhouse. Picnic tables dot the greenspace and the children’s playground is handy if you have restless kids in tow. There’s also a fresh water source and wastewater dump station for campervanners.
Rākaia River Terrace Walk is a charming diversion if you have time up your sleeve for exploring. Dog friendly and beautifully scenic, the trail can be entered via West Town Belt Road and traverses 3.2 kilometres of flat trail bordering bush and river.
Catering to all travellers, Rākaia offers fantastic amenities, cosy cafes and loads of history. There's even an fabulous 'artsy' browse at The Red Shed Gallery.
Whether you’re looking for a quick comfort stop, a hot pie, coffee, or new adventure beside one of New Zealand’s most spectacular braided rivers, you’ll be well amused in this dinky riverside village.Back to Blog