Maitai Cave is a small cave in the upper Maitai Valley, east of central Nelson. The track to the cave branches off Dun Mountain Trail and passes through stunning mixed beech and podocarp forest, with the pristine Sclanders Creek flowing alongside. The cave offers a good introduction to cave exploration for young children, though the track makes for a good bushwalk regardless of the cave. For geological context, the cave is part of the Wooded Peak limestone formation, a belt of limestone that runs northeast to southwest through Mt Richmond Forest Park, parallel to the mineral belt. The area is protected in Nelson City Council’s Maitai Water Reserve.
Maitai Cave Track is accessed via Dun Mountain Trail. Use the car park at the end of Maitai Valley Road (11 km up Maitai Valley from central Nelson). Follow Dun Mountain Trail for 3.6 km to the turnoff to the cave, which is just before the bridge across Maitai River South Branch.
After leaving Dun Mountain Trail, Maitai Cave Track crosses Sclanders Creek (named after David Sclander, an early Nelson settler involved in the mining of Dun Mountain) and heads along a natural embankment between the latter and Maitai River South Branch. The track skirts the western fringe of the mineral belt before entering stunning podocarp forest that features rimu, matai, miro, red beech, rata and a rich undergrowth of ferns, with Sclanders Creek flowing on the right. The track grade is a step down from the well-maintained Dun Mountain Trail, and you will have to negotiate a few roots, logs and muddy patches. Nonetheless it is not difficult, and the gradient is gentle until the last few hundred metres before the cave.
You will notice the sign on a tree indicating the old turnoff to Sunrise Ridge and Third House; this track was closed subsequent to a damaging wind event in 2008, which brought down many trees.
The cave entrance is a narrow opening on the hillside, guarded by limestone outcrops. If you want to explore the cave, make sure you have a headlight torch and some clothes that you don’t mind getting muddy. Allow 20 minutes for exploration. Remember that the inside of the cave is a delicate environment that has taken thousands of years to form. Do not remove anything from the cave and be sure not to leave any waste behind.
Return the way you came.
Do not attempt to enter the cave without a torch. The entrance is steep and slippery, so take care.