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New Zealand's South Island: Karamea to the Heaphy Track

Updated on June 24, 2020
annart profile image

Ann loves to travel at home and abroad. Visits to New Zealand have shown me beautiful mystic and historical places like no others!

The Elusive, Flightless Kiwi

One of the Emblems of New Zealand
One of the Emblems of New Zealand
Beautiful Blues and Greens
Beautiful Blues and Greens | Source

New Zealand

Visit New Zealand and I defy you not to love this land of the kiwi for its rich colours; the striking, breath-taking contrast of deep blue sky, lush green vegetation and aquamarine rivers.

Go to the South Island and you can explore so many and varied regions.

As one of the 'Exploring the Back Roads of.....' series, initiated by billybuc, I’m going to take you to the South Island's North West Coast, beyond Punakaiki, to a region more remote and with fewer tourists. Take Arthur’s Pass from Christchurch to Greymouth (a wonderful journey in itself), travel northwards past the well-known Punakaiki (Pancake Rocks), then you are heading for the end of the road.

The Road Runs Out just above Karamea
The Road Runs Out just above Karamea | Source

The Karamea Environs

Habitations become more sparse and the last ‘town’ on this road is Karamea; a small habitation lying on the west coast strip between mist-shrouded mountains and a coastline enveloped in rolling sea mists.

North from Karamea the landscape becomes more and more remote, the road narrower between sea and rocks, until at the road’s end you reach a car park and the beginning of the Heaphy Track.

The mountains acting as a backdrop to this landscape are covered in rainforest. The mists roll down from mountain to coast, roll in from sea to shore, creating an atmosphere of ancient times, of a land much older and wiser than any being.

Small though this area is, it holds an amazing amount of hidden treasures. Because it is less visited and therefore less known by tourists, one can walk and explore without encountering many other people.

To the End of the Road

Mists, mountains & sea
Mists, mountains & sea | Source


Karamea itself is a small habitation which serves a long, narrow area of flat land giving up to mist-shrouded mountains to the east and grey-misted seas to the west. Walk across a broad expanse of grassland where tufted mounds make quad-riding fun, to reach a long, wide beach; from there you walk to meet the sea.

It is served by the local shop which will order most things for you but if you need to stock up well then it has to be a longer trip to either Westport or Greymouth to the south.

Occasionally a few locals might set out fishing lines here - just long metal pegs hammered into the sand with ropes attached carrying vertical nets and stretched out to sea as far as one can manage. Come back the next morning and you’ll find small (about 3 feet long), toothless sharks called Rig Shark, Lemonfish or sometimes ‘Gummyfish’! They make delicious steaks, barbecued or steamed. You need a quad-bike with a trailer to take them home!

Fishing for Rig

The Morning Catch
The Morning Catch | Source

Oparara Basin

If you take an eastward turn just north of Karamea, up a winding lane into the forest, you can look down into a huge bowled valley; impossible to see the bottom through the thick vegetation but its size is all-enveloping, offering, almost threatening, to swallow you up. You are looking down onto the Oparara Basin, an ancient area of forest, through which flows the Oparara River. The track is rutted, quite steep in places and hugs the edge of the basin.

Oparara Basin Rainforest

Deep, deep down below the trees is the Oparara River
Deep, deep down below the trees is the Oparara River | Source

Oparara River

Carry on until you reach a parking area. Here, you might see some Weka. They are flightless birds (as is the Kiwi), about the size of a chicken. They show no fear of people and are happy to scrounge crumbs of biscuit or cake! However, locally they're regarded as pests even though they are a protected species.

From the car park follow the path which meanders by the Oparara River, through the vegetation. The river water is a clear, strong orange, coloured by naturally occurring tannins. The winding path takes you further into the forest, abruptly turns, dips and rises. At the side of the path are strange eroded-earth formations looking like mini sky-scraper cities. There are huge ferns growing here, one of them being the Silver Fern, the other emblem of New Zealand.

Oparara River & Path through the Forest

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Oparara River coloured by natural tanninsPath through the RainforestMiniature cities in the eroded soilThe Flightless Weka
Oparara River coloured by natural tannins
Oparara River coloured by natural tannins | Source
Path through the Rainforest
Path through the Rainforest | Source
Miniature cities in the eroded soil
Miniature cities in the eroded soil | Source
The Flightless Weka
The Flightless Weka | Source

Moria Gate Arch

After about half an hour of easy walking, look for the narrow entrance to the Moria Gate Arch, a limestone formation over the river. Blink and you’ll miss the low portal amidst the rocks but there’s a small sign informing you of the route down through slippery rocks, to the river cave. It’s passable with comparative ease (there are railings and a chain to hold onto) but you need to be agile. The broad, level cave floor gives out onto the narrow river, the roof and arch above you. The beauty of this hidden treasure is... well, I defy you not so say ‘Wow!’ over and over and over.

The Moria Gate Arch

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Looking through the Arch from the outsideOut from the CaveStalactitesOn the cave beach!Water erosion creates weird shapesBeatiful ReflectionsClimbing back outView from the EntranceBack up to the Forest Floor
Looking through the Arch from the outside
Looking through the Arch from the outside | Source
Out from the Cave
Out from the Cave | Source
Stalactites | Source
On the cave beach!
On the cave beach! | Source
Water erosion creates weird shapes
Water erosion creates weird shapes | Source
Beatiful Reflections
Beatiful Reflections | Source
Climbing back out
Climbing back out | Source
View from the Entrance
View from the Entrance | Source
Back up to the Forest Floor
Back up to the Forest Floor | Source

The Heaphy Track

The road continues a while, the rocks come close to the shore, a little further and you’ve reached the end of the road! Here you’ll find the Kohaihai River across which is an entrance to Kahurangi National Park where the Heaphy Track begins; a hikers’ track which meanders through the mountains, eventually reaching Golden Bay. It’s a treck that takes up to 3 days or more; there are simple shacks along the way for intrepid explorers to use at night for taking food and shelter or just for a rest if you’re not tackling the whole length. Where the track begins, a beautiful inlet joining tropical vegetation with the rocks and the sea provides a peaceful, shady area to sit, relax, picnic or just take in the stunning scenery.

The track, 80 km long, has connected Karamea on the west coast with Golden bay in the north since 1893, due to the Gold Rush. Its name comes from Charles Heaphy, an explorer, artist and soldier, who was one of the first to explore this coastline and the forest inland.

There is a diversity of plant species here and there are strict rules for users of the track: no dogs are allowed as the area shelters many kiwis, the notoriously shy and elusive emblem of New Zealand, and you are expected to take out any litter you generate. This is a track for seasoned walkers, or ‘trampers’ as they are called locally.

The Heaphy Track

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The start of the Heaphy TrackMap of the Heaphy TrackThe Kohaihai River meets the Sea
The start of the Heaphy Track
The start of the Heaphy Track | Source
Map of the Heaphy Track
Map of the Heaphy Track | Source
The Kohaihai River meets the Sea
The Kohaihai River meets the Sea | Source

Astonishing Beauty to be found around the Corner

Just look at those Reflections - see the crocodile jaws?!
Just look at those Reflections - see the crocodile jaws?! | Source

Beauty & Surprises around Every Corner

All of New Zealand offers wonderful areas of outstanding beauty in both south and north islands. It has rivers and mountains, forests and lakes, wonderful coastlines and inland thermal valleys. You can ski or snorkel, walk or sail, visit vineyards or watch seals, bathe in thermal waters or sunbathe on clean, sandy beaches. There are no snakes but an array of indigenous wildlife.

If you get a chance to visit, snatch it and make the most of this amazing country and its friendly people.


Information on the Heaphy Track:

Going Off the Beaten Track

What sort of exploring do you like?

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© 2013 Ann Carr


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    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Thank you, DDE. Glad you enjoyed it. I appreciate your visit and your kind comments. Ann

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      6 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Brilliant photo and so interestingly written.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Thanks so much, CraftytotheCore. The fish are great aren't they? Good to eat too! I'll look forward to reading your contribution to the series. Ann

    • CraftytotheCore profile image


      6 years ago

      I have some catching up to do with this series. I haven't done one yet. Such a great presentation, and I love those huge fish! :D

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Tusitala Tom: I'm very pleased to see you again on this Sunday morning. It's grey and dismal here in Somerset, which makes me wish I was in sunny New Zealand especially as I've just been talking to family there!

      Regarding visiting the place where you live, I think we all tend to neglect that, travelling further afield instead. There are many wonderful places here in Britain to which I haven't been, in fact we've decided to make an effort to see some of them now retirement allows.

      Thank you for visiting here and commenting. Ann

    • Tusitala Tom profile image

      Tom Ware 

      6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      I'm a bit embarrassed to admit, Annart, that I actually lived and worked in New Zealand for two-and-a-half years and you've probably seen more of that country than I did in the short time you've been there. That is the way it seems: we live in a country and we take it for granted. We visit for a holiday and we go out and see the sights.

      Yes, New Zealand is a very beautiful country. As is England, the place I spent the first fifteen years of my life. I see documentaries on TV on the places and wished I'd really had the chance to look around the way you obviously have. The fault of course, being entirely mine

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Thank you Eddy. I'm glad you enjoyed it. A great weekend to you too! Ann

    • Eiddwen profile image


      6 years ago from Wales

      Oh so very interesting and voted up foir sure. Thank you so much for this great read and here's wishing you a wonderful weekend.


    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Jodah: thanks for visiting and leaving your comment. NZ certainly is worth visiting but make sure you go for at least a month - you'll need it! Ann

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      6 years ago from Queensland Australia

      I've always wanted to visit New Zealand, this just makes me determined to all the more. Thanks Ann.

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      epbooks: Thanks for stopping by and commenting. It is an amazing place; anywhere in New Zealand is worth visiting!

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Thank you, Jamie, for reading and leaving such a lovely comment. I'm working on a few more at the moment.

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 

      6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Thank you for sharing this. It looks amazing!

    • jhamann profile image

      Jamie Lee Hamann 

      6 years ago from Reno NV

      How exciting, things have started and with a BANG! What a great hub about an area of the world I would love to visit. Thank you and I can't wait to read more in this series. Jamie

    • annart profile imageAUTHOR

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Thanks, bill. I'm sure it will benefit everyone; certainly can't do any harm! You have a great day too! Ann

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Perfect! You and I posted the same day. Love this addition to the series and I will link it to mine immediately. Thank you so much, Ann; I hope this idea benefits us all.

      Have a wonderful day my friend



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