North West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island
Most people have never heard of Karamea New Zealand on the South Island’s West Coast. Tourists and locals often skip Karamea; it is relatively unspoiled. That is what attracted us. Reading about New Zealand’s pristine natural bush, the hikes, and wild coastal oceanfront, plus the quiet town of Karamea with its surrounding beauty drew us there. Places like the Oparara Basin and the unique arch rock formations, and Karamea are at the end of the West Coast’s northern road. An adventure where our only costs were room and food; truly an ‘adventure in style for less.’ All of the sights (except one cave, which we skipped) can be toured independently.
ACCOMMODATIONS IN KARAMEA NEW ZEALAND
While we were invited guests at the Karamea Historic Village Hotel, this is a totally independent and honest review of the hotel based on my own experience.
If you are going to the area, plan to stay a night or two so you can hike, and see the numerous natural outdoor delights. There are a handful of accommodations like backpackers lodges, farm baches, and a couple of small hotels.
We were invited to stay at the Karamea Historic Village Hotel. It is very convenient if you are going to hike the northern tracks. The rooms are clean; the 2 BR with kitchen and living room units are somewhat dated. Our kitchen was well stocked with everything you need to cook. Their one-room units have no kitchen and are newer. They look out on the garden where the bird life is quite active in the evening – a lovely place to relax. The one-room units are like a nice standard hotel room. Staff and owner were available for anything we needed, and helpful with suggestions on what to do and see. Stop at the pub, even if you aren’t staying at Karamea Historic Hotel for a drink and a meal; the food was very good. I had the delicious fish cakes one night with no breading at all. The next night I had the salmon, which was excellent. A good selection of local beers and wines and a full bar is available at the pub. I would stay there again if I get back to the area.
KARAMEA NEW ZEALAND
While in Karamea, stroll along the estuary on the boardwalk in wetlands and wildlife areas, and follow it for a walk along the river bed. The Estuary is walking distance from the town, and an approach to view Karamea’s natural assets, and learn some history of the town. The estuary project aims at ecological and historical awareness through preservation of the wetlands, re-introduction of indigenous plants, wetlands preservation, and education. Take advantage of an opportunity to see the water birds in their natural habitats with little human intrusion, and read the signage about the history on a self-guided walk.
The walks or hikes in the subtropical rainforest include Oparara Basin short hikes and relatively easy walks to the caves, waterfalls, waterways, bridges, and the spectacular limestone arches. As you ascend a set of wooden steps on the Oparara Basin hike, look up to see the astounding limestone arch with forest growth above. I loved the unusual, diverse mosses and trees.
Another short walk, good for families and kids is the Mirror Tarn. A short 10-20 minute forest walk opens up to a small lake that reveals an astounding reflection of the sky. We were lucky enough to see the blue sky reflected in the lake.
Oparara Basin area is 45 minutes north of Karamea, and of that 25 km trip, 16 km is on twisting gravel roads. It is worth the trip.
Another set of natural phenomenon in that area are the Box and Crazy Caves. Take a flashlight or torch since it is very dark. They are short relatively easy walks through each cave system; remember to duck. The caves are very cool – literally and figuratively.
Crazy Paving Cave’s floor is dried broken mud that looked like tiles, hence the name ‘Crazy Paving Cave,’ and the walls are limestone shapes. The only life we saw was spiders, their webs, and egg cases in Crazy Paving Cave.
From the Craving Paving Cave, access Box Canyon Cave using the boardwalk and then down stairs. In the large open Box Canyon Cave view the curved walls and stalactites. Explore the side rooms, or if dry, climb the huge rock or ‘Man in the dirt,’ where this vantage point reveals more of the cave system.
While we didn’t have time, you may want to visit Honeycomb Hill Caves and Arches, with Moa bones and those of other extinct birds.
Also starting or ending in the Karamea area is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Heaphy Track, with 30-40 minute walks, 6 hour hikes, to a 4-day 82 km tramp through luxuriant rainforests, grasslands, rugged mountains, along the coast, river and flats. The track is in the Kahurangi National Park. Starting 45 minutes from Karamea, enter the Heaphy Track along the coast; the track turns inland into the forests. Check the trail conditions before going, as it can be washed out in places. We walked only as far as the deeper mud and decided to turn around since we had been exploring and hiking all day.
For us it was time to return to the Karamea Historic Village Hotel for happy hour and dinner. A pleasant surprise awaited us when we entered the bar; a family of hikers that we befriended were eating dinner so we had a lively chat about some of the different hikes we each took. You’ll find friendly people at the pub during happy hour, both locals and tourists.
If you plan to drive the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, take the side trip north to Karamea New Zealand for the exquisite and remote natural beauty. You won’t regret it. Eat and sleep well at the Karamea Historic Village Hotel on your visit.