Faced with almost immediately getting on a bus at the end of the Heaphy Track at Kohaihai, and arriving some time in the evening back in Nelson, or even taking the fast track by flying back from Karamea airfield to Nelson, I decided on a couple of days in Karamea. This is not an easy place to get to, or one that most people even get to, but I was wanting to return by hiking almost directly back in the direction of Nelson via the Wangapeka Track, and needed just two days to have a shower, wash the hiking gear, and replenish supplies before heading off again.
That was the underestimation of the trip. Karamea might be at the end of the longest cul-de-sac in the world, but that might just make it one of the last “hidden gems” from the hordes of tourists trampling down nearly everything else. I only wished that I had had at least another day (and as it turned out, I did the Wangapeka Track in a day less than I had planned, so I could have stayed that extra day).
Apart from the sheer isolation, the main reason people undertake the trek out here is undoubtedly the Oparara Arches – a limestone basin with spectacular natural bridges and caves some distance north of the town. These may very well soon be turned into a tourist circus, so catch the natural beauty while you can. Unfortunately my time was so limited I didn’t even have time to take up my host’s suggestion of being driven out to the caves and returning on foot – that would have taken up most of the day. In any case, even if you are motorised, it might be a good idea to make use of a local shuttle service to both drop you off at the caves and pick you up again after a couple of hours. Especially if you don’t feel like driving down dirt tracks… Guided tours of some of the restricted caves are also available.
Other attractions include jetboat tours on Karamea River, river swimming and kayaking (to my shame it never even occurred to me to ask), and even surf fishing. Places to stay start from the very simple domain camping ground. There are a number of places to eat out at, a supermarket, an i-site with internet access, so all the basic needs are covered.
Perhaps, though, two things to note. One is that there is no reticulated water supply in town, so that at the end of a very dry summer water does become a little scarce. The other is that there is no bank here, and the cash machine in the supermarket does not dole out cash on foreign credit cards. Of course, every even smallest purchase can still be paid for with the magic card, but for folk like me who dislike having to plough through the credit card summary at the end of the month it is marginally the lesser of two evils.
All in all, this is one of the last of its kind.
If you wanted a bit more information about the area then Paul Murray’s website is a place to start (Paul is the owner of Rongo Backpackers, where I stayed two nights).