Surprises await those who venture into the vast limestone country at the extreme north end of the South Island’s West Coast Road.
Karamea is a secluded haven, 100 km north of Westport, which holds the entry key to this magical wilderness. This remote corner of our country is the base for the Kahurangi National Park and the renowned Heaphy Track. Further south at the Little Wanganui River is the start of the beautiful Wangapeka Track.
The township sits on the estuary of the Karamea River at the terminal point of the long Heritage Highway through the West Coast. If anywhere in New Zealand can be said to be ‘off the beaten track’ then this is it. After a two hour drive from Westport you seem to have arrived at the end of the world. However it is the beginning of a natural wonderland of weird limestone formations, caves, arches, sinkholes and disappearing rivers.
Kahurangi National Park is so vast that it embraces a high plateau, fifteen river catchments and a long coastal strip where the mild climate supports large stands of nikau palms and lush rainforest. The Oparara Basin, 45 minutes north of Karamea on a rough road, has the most impressive formations. The Crazy Paving and Box Canyon Caves are accessible from the car park. The Mirror Tarn, Oparara Arch and the Little Arch can all be reached within a 40 minute walk. The Honeycomb Caves are world famous for their moa bone collection, and can be seen on a guided tour. Other local day walks include the first part of the Heaphy Track, Mt. Stormy, and the Fenian Track, which leads to the site of an old goldmining settlement.
The Karamea visitor centre at Market Cross can advise you on recreational activities, including surf casting on the impressive beaches and headlands, river fishing, rafting, kayaking and guided exploration trips. Karamea also has an interesting museum, licensed restaurant and accommodation.
This hidden corner of New Zealand is waiting to be discovered. A place where you can be an amateur speleological explorer or a laid back beachcomber – the choice is yours.