The REAL middle of nowhere: Oparara Arches
Day 2 Route: Picton > Westport > Karmea > Oparara Arches > Kohaihai Campsite, Kahurangi National Park
Where the heck are the Oparara Arches you may ask?
The Oparara Arches are nestled away in Kahurangi National Park, in an area called the Oparara Basin. It’s a drive that my car will hate me forever for. Long thin, windy road of metal, where I’m pretty sure I saved a few pukekos and wekas, maybe a kiwi, all with death wishes.
The gravel wasn’t nice and really would have been better in the 4WD, signs advise camper vans to stay away for good reason, whereas even my hatchback probably wasn’t the best choice for the road.
Westport is a cute west coast town by the beach, laid back with most amenities that you may need, such as bread, butter, vegemite and potato chips (crisps) for your lunches. And this is the last stop for petrol before the vertigo-inducing drive to Karamea.
I’m not a fan of heights (despite all my adventure sports), I crumble when I walk up tall mountains where its cliff and no handrail… but I still do it. I dislike being in a car next to a cliff without a barrier. I still have visions of my car going off the road and deep into a valley where no-one finds it.
This drive was up some very steep mountains with very bendy roads, a crumbling driver was not an option. If you’re used to driving to Coromandel, then maybe you’d handle this fine, but its been awhile for me.
The views were pretty spectacular though.
However, with no cars on the road, a few days before Christmas, I really felt like I was in the middle of nowhere.
I didn’t quite anticipate the driving time too well, by the time I reaches Karamea, hot and sticky I was in need of an ice block to cool down/wake up. Which was just as well since the drive to the Oparara Arches required you to have your wits together, both for the length and the dodging of wildlife (bird readers you’re welcome).
By the time I got there, I only had time to do a short-ish walk (story of my trip to be honest).
It is a beautiful forest walk though and before you know it you reach some stairs that reach high up into darkness… and then you’re under the arches in a cave!
Okay, but what ARE the Oparara Arches?
The Oparara Arches are amongst unspoiled rainforest with a river leading to them. Three broad arches stretch across the bush and river. The limestone is around 35 million years old (pretty old for somewhere in NZ). Plus there is a tunnel system known as the Honeycomb Hill Caves.
The river is brown because of the tannins from the forest floor. The area gets about 6m of rainfall a year and this is considered high, which causes the leaching of tannins.
The Oparara Arches have several free walks that you can do, though you want to allow plenty of time and have plenty of bug spray with you. I didn’t book a tour, but this site offers tours through the Honeycomb Hill Caves and more: https://www.oparara.co.nz/guided-tours/.
Kohaihai Doc Campsite
Ahh the lovely campsite by the beach, nestled in Kahurangi National Park. It’s the starting destination for one of New Zealand’s Great Walks: The Heaphy Track. I thought I’d spend my first night camping here since it was near the Oparara Arches then I’d start my journey South on the West Coast.
The campsite was down yet another long dusty metal road, but not as far as the Oparara Arches phew!
I got to meet Weka’s up close and personal for the first time (think they wanted to share my dinner).
The campsite had flush toilets that I was grateful for (important to note with Doc campsites), running water and plenty of space, even a lake area.
And it had the BIGGEST swarm of sandflies you’d ever see!
I literally ended up covering myself head to toe and the next morning gave up and literally chucked everything in my dusty car and zoomed out with all the windows down, whacking and scratching myself.
The result, over 30 bites on one foot/ankle, at least 20 on the other. It had taken me awhile to find my socks to tuck my trousers in and wear under jandals… it wasn’t a pretty sight. I’m glad the campsite wasn’t busy. I even found blood in my hair from them rummaging through my scalp!
Conclusion: Only camp here if your blood isn’t tasty to sandflies. Don’t camp in middle of summer. Wear a balaclava and jumpsuit (or similar). For more information, check out the Department of Conservation campsite details.