Hidden deep in the silent grottos of Oparara’s Honeycomb Caves are spellbinding limestone sculptures and slender skeletons of extinct creatures like the moa and giant eagle.
But there’s still life in the darkest recesses of this alien world. A glow worm galaxy shimmers on the ceiling of the cave. Clusters of delicate sticky threads lie in wait for unwary sand flies. Terrifying troglodytes scuttle across the dank walls. The giant wetas are ever watchful for intruders, and cave spiders with a 15-cm leg span take purposeful arachnid strides across the cave.
The Oparara Caves can be found at the top of the West Coast road, just beyond Karamea township. They can only be viewed on a guided tour, which can be arranged in Karamea.
An interesting commentary is given while you explore part of the 13 km of passages and view some of the 70 entrances that give the cave its honeycomb title. Some distinctive features of the cave are:- numerous sub fossils and skeletons of creatures that fell through the roof openings over millennia, granite bedrock visible in the streambed under the limestone overlay, lamb’s wool-like cave coral caused by bubbling calcium carbonate crystals and chocolate cake effects from tannin in the luxuriant vegetation outside the cave.
Following the guided tour there is ample scope for further exploration in the Oparara Basin. Professional guides offer river kayak trips to a spectacular rock formation called the Lost Arch. From the car park you can tramp independently to a gigantic limestone bridge, called the Oparara Arch and the striking Moria Gate Arch. Nearby are the wonderfully reflective Mirror Tarn and fascinating Crazy Paving and Box Canyon Caves. The Crazy Paving cave has a cracked mudstone floor that dried out around 10,000 years ago.
Exploring the Oparara Caves is a uniquely fascinating experience in a truly primeval environment. The BBC production of ‘The Lost World’ was partly filmed here.
These rich, unspoiled forests and complex cave systems present a compelling vision of Jurassic times. Don’t miss them!