Karamea – Jurassic Park… Without The Dinosaurs

Gentle Annies Campground

Waking up after the storms that finally caught up with us was a struggle. Luckily Gentle Annies warm shower and my hot lemon ginger concoction helped move the frozen muscles this morning.

William trying to be sneaky, and failing…

We said goodbye to William the world’s most annoying Weka, and sped off up the coastal road.

Karamea’s coastline

Today we make our last leg of the drive to Karamea, the furthest northern point on the West Coast. A town praised by many of the locals we (or rather Alex, as she’s awesome at that) befriended along our way, it’s actually seldom visited by tourists. Perfecto.

Dr Seuss Trees

This really is the scenic route, on one side you may spot a couple dolphins frolicking about in the crashing waves, on the other side, cow fields with clumps of strange Dr Seuss tree forests decorated the landscape framed with misty mountains.

We followed the signs for Oparara Basin, the site of impressive limestone arches.
Be prepared for an exhilarating drive along a 14km narrow gravel road through jungle tree-tunnels with hills and bends and tiny bridges. It was like being in Jurassic Park.

Not unlike Jurassic Park, we were welcomed at the car park by large colourful information boards, nice toilets and picnic benches. Surprise surprise.

Oparara Arch

Ranging from 10 minutes to 5 hours, there are a variety of interesting walks here to suit campers and day walkers. We set off in search of Oparara Arch, a 37m high, 49m wide, 200m long karst (limestone) arch.


This trail is peaceful, wandering through knobbled fluffy green trees beside a gushing river of tea coloured water.

Beer waterfall… Homer would be in heaven..

It was a bizarre sight to see water this red, bubbling and frothing like ginger beer in front of us. It has a high content of Tannin, a mineral which comes from decomposing leaves on the forest floor.


This enchanting stream took us to the mouth of an unbelievably large cave. Photographs, artists representations and my fantastic literature cannot illustrate just how vast the arch suspended above our ant-like selves was.

Oparara Arch

Chunks of the limestone arch twice the size of us rested in the river below, which to scale would have been only a minuscule fragment fallen from above.

Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki

The limestone of Oparara Valley is made in layers of granite and mudstone, showing patterns similar to Punakaiki’s Pancake Rocks. This particular stone is around 35 million years old, and formed before modern New Zealand existed.


All fired up, we headed towards Moria Gate through bunches of disorganised jungle plants much like the tropical biodome at the Eden Project (UK). I was expecting to see a big plastic bubble roof overhead as we traipsed through the warm heavy air.
We passed broken deformed trees taken over by colourful moss, slowly forgetting its true form and decomposing back into the nitrate rich earth from where it began.


30 minutes in we glimpse the Moria Gate over the tea stream. Advancing further we come to a dark hole and turn the headlamps on…

Moria Gate

Crawling into the cave that immediately opened out into an open archway with large stalactites growing from the roof had us in stunned silence. Probably not allowed but I could see every potential for some really fun climbing in the cracks and small caves here!

Crazy paving at the crazy paving caves

Our last adventure took us to two smaller caves. The three of us agreed that Crazy Paving Caves should be renamed to “get the fuck out of here because there’s giant spiders everywhere” caves… The cracked earth on the floor of the cave resembling crazy paving was cool but not worth meeting its inhabitants.

Box canyon caves


Box Canyon was a super cool cave though. Our breath misted as we followed the beams of our headtorches, revealing more melted rock faces, curiously deep caverns and high glistening ceilings.

Hiding from sandflies…

I don’t recall the journey to tonight’s home as I crashed hard in the back of Subalou the Subaru. We are staying at the base of the Heaphy Track, in an $8 campground with nice facilities and a million hungry little bastards (sandflies).

On the plus side I will be falling asleep to the sound of the Tasman Sea tonight.


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