flagstaff beach

Flagstaff Beach, not a place to swim!

Karamea: population: 625 This isolated lowland, 96 km north of Westport, has a pleasant climate, with warmer temperatures and less rain than the rest of the region. The main industry is dairy farming, with an increasing amount of horticulture and tourism.The name Karamea is used for both the township and the whole area. It is a contraction of Kakara-taramea, meaning sweet-scented gum, which was made locally from the leaves of speargrass.The urban area consists of two distinct settlements along the main road: Market Cross and Karamea itself.


Karamea, it’s not big!

On the list

– Oparara Valley with it’s Limestone Arches and Honeycomb Caves. Lena went on a conducted tour when she was here, I will look in to that.

-Flag Staff Beach

– Karamea River and estuary


The estuary.

I would like to go to the Oparara Basin and it is reached by a 16 kilometre gravel road that is not suitable for large motor homes because of the road conditions and blind corners. As reversing is not one of my better driving skills in the Ducato, a guided tour will be necessary. At $150 it’s not cheap but I feel I can’t miss the arches or the caves.

I’m not a fan of caves, the only one I have been to is the Waitomo (gloworm) Cave in the North Island that I visited as a child. I remember the lake and the boat and the guide teaching up the difference between stalactites and stalagmites. “When the mites go up, the tights come down”; a little humour and something I have never forgotten.

“The Oparara Basin is unique combination of natural landforms, diverse ecosystems and spectacular caves and arches born of a million years of undisturbed isolation characterize this area. Rainforest stretches across a broad valley floor, three magnificent arches sculpted by the Oparara River, bush-fringed streams stained the colour of billy tea from the humic acids washing down through the soil, and an underground treasure hidden away in a highly complex cave system, combine to make this remarkable area one of immense national and international significance.” The Oparara Basin is formed from a bed of 350 million year old Karamea granite overlaid by a narrow belt of limestone, with a layer of blue-grey mudstone (or papa) on top.

Oparara valley

The Oparara Valley

Honeycomb Hill cave was discovered in 1976 by cavers from the Buller Caving Group, in karst terrain. In an area 800 metres by 1,000 metres, cavers found 13.7 kilometres of passages and 70 entrances through which light enters. Over thousands of years, birds also fell through the holes and have been preserved as fossils. Careful excavation of the cave floor has revealed much about New Zealand’s extinct bird species and contains the remains of some 50 species, including the extinct moa and New Zealand eagle.

honeycomb cave

The Honeycomb Hill Cave.

There are breathtaking limestone formations including arches and land bridges. The most spectacular is the Oparara Arch, 43m high and spanning 219m across the river. The Moria Gate Arch is smaller in size but arguably even more picturesque. The Box Canyon and Crazy Paving Caves have free access and a good torch is essential.


Underground but very much alive is NZ’s largest spider, (hunky but harmless), Spelungula cavernicola, a brown furry body sprouting legs that give it an overall size of up to 15cm. Spelungula find their prey by vibration – cave weta mostly, while their egg sacs hang from the ceiling like miniature golf balls. Miniature golf balls of spider eggs *shudder*.

Spider and it’s prey, a weta!

Glow worms, with origins dating back 80 million years, light up the eternal darkness, attracting prey with their luminescence, while tiny ant-like troglobites with suction pads on their feet shimmy across the wet walls. I’ve actually seen glowworms twice. When Leah came to stay in 2015 we went to a purpose built glow worm cave, quite scary (Leah was exceptionally brave) and small, so claustrophobic. A real cave has far more ‘interesting’ experiences (have I mentioned  small golf ball like sacs of spiders eggs!)

The twilight cave entrances are fringed and draped with delicate mosses and algae. The area surrounding the caves is heavily forested with a stunning mixture of beech/podocarp forest, thickly coated in moss, and it is this beech forest that generates the humic acids that stain the streams a billt tea colour, and also creates high acidity.

oparara arches

The diverse forest types support a wide range of native birdlife, protected under the Conservation Act of 1987, including the great spotted kiwi, the rare blue duck, kaka, NZ falcon, kea, weka, pigeon, robin, fantail, parakeet, paradise duck, and tomtit, to name a just a few, while it is thought that the kokako may still be present in the area.


Whio, an endangered endemic duck.

The rare lesser short-tailed bat has also been recorded in the vicinity, while the large carnivorous land snail, Powelliphanta annectens is found throughout, but in greater numbers in and adjacent to the areas of limestone.