105 Days on the Road
We don’t think there has been a day in New Zealand where we’ve needed to hike so little to see so much! Arches, caves, viewpoints, forest, wildlife, cascading streams, beaches, rivers: Kahurangi National Park really treats us today!
To access it all, we are staying in Karamea in the colourful, creative and friendly Rongo Backpackers. Paul, the owner, among several managers of the backpackers have all recommended that we get ourselves to the Oparara Basin. They insist that we borrow the hostel’s car to get down the 16km of narrow and steep gravel road to access the Oparara Basin, rather than taking our big and bulky campervan. We are definitely not going to argue with that!
Swapping the van
Breakfast eaten and work done, we hop into the Toyota Estima, which feels super tiny compared to the beast we have been touring all over New Zealand. Plus, it’s automatic! Easayyyyy!
Laura is in charge of the paper map today, because there is no data coverage for G Maps right now, but the road is super easy to find off the Karamea – Kohaihai Highway. This road really is a gravel road right from the beginning. To assure us that we’ve done the right thing not bringing the camper, a sign says: “Not suitable for campervans and heavy vehicles”.
Bushwalk by car
Nonetheless, this gravel takes us on quite the journey! It feels more like a bushwalk for your car rather than a road. Dense native vegetation covers everything but the road, growing in size the further up the hills we climb. We don’t see a single soul for the whole 16km, which is a good job considering we stop for photos a few times, especially for the untouched forest views.
Dining with birds
A huge information centre of information boards and picnic tables marks the start of exploring the Oparara Basin. We drive on a little further ahead to a smaller car park which is the entrance to two caves.
Before running off into the caves, we snack on Robin’s specialty Budget bread sandwiches, which attracts three weka, a flightless native bird, who are almost climbing our legs to get some bread. It’s amazing how birds in New Zealand are not scared of humans. In fact, it has made them a little sassy!
Crazing Paving Cave
As much as we’d love to continue dining with weka, we have some caves to explore. A 5 minute walk into the forest brings us to the Crazy Paving Cave. At first, we think the “crazy paving” just refers to the manmade paving slabs put through the cave network for people to walk on, but the deeper in we go we realise there is, indeed, some natural crazy paving! The clay-like mud has dried to make individual squares on the floor, all curling up at the corners.
This cave is meant to be a cave spider’s and weta’s place to party, but we think we only see one spider… But, we mean, it’s dark and we have bad eyesight, soooo….
Further into the Crazy Paving Cave, we have to really crouch to explore all the caves, then side caves. All the while, the crazy paving lines the rest of the floor where tourists like us haven’t trodden on them.
Box Canyon Cave
The Crazy Paving Cave is a fun little adventure in itself, but it’s only the beginning. Once we find our way back out of the Crazy Paving Cave, we follow a boardwalk up some stairs to another cave, The Box Canyon Cave. This one is just a cave like we all know and love – a big cave.
Down some stairs, we walk into the mysterious cave then wipe all the mystery away by putting our headlight on to reveal curved walls that appear like frozen waves in the rock. A few stalactites hang from the ceiling, reminding us of how we essentially spent five days in the Waitomo Caves earlier in this trip.
After a hundred metres or so, we come to the end of the Box Canyon Cave, but just take the time to be nosy and look in what we can only describe as “side rooms”. Some of which have still pools with beautiful reflections once a torch is shone on them.
Man, we have seen two amazing caves and we are not even at the grand finale yet!
Fairy tale forest
The Oparara Arch walkway begins in the main car park with the information centre. The 25-minute walk to get there is absolutely stunning though. We feel like we are never going to get to this arch we’ve heard so much about because the forest is too Goddamn beautiful!
Streams cascading over mossy rocks make this place look like a fairy tale. The ancient rimu and kahikatea forest towers above our heads with other bits of vegetation growing off the trees. A small side-track takes us down to a river beach, with actual sand and pearly white rocks. Across the river rapids are layers of limestone. We try to keep an eye out for the rare blue ducks that are meant to be living it up along the Oparara River.
The arch before the arch
The Oparara Arch
Eventually, we are faced with a towering mountain. Oh wait, no. There is a hole in that mountain. That’s the Oparara Arch!
Water droplets fall from the ceiling splashing on our heads as we enter the arch. 200m long, 49m wide, and 37m high: this arch is ginormous! The river gushes through as we view from a rocky balcony above. Stalagmites and stalactites try to connect the floor to the ceiling around the arch edges. This place really does take our breath away.
The great thing about this all is that we get to enjoy the views all the way back to the car park where a few badass campervan drivers have parked up. We drive back along the gravel road, again not seeing a soul.
Potluck dinner at the Rongo Backpackers
Back at Rongo Backpackers, tonight is potluck dinner! This is a dinner concept we love. Everyone makes a meal to share with everyone else and we have a buffet of marvellous creations. It’s something we also did at the Bare Foot Backpackers in Takaka. Tonight’s pot luck dinner had a massive emphasis on curries including ours! Love it!
Tomorrow, the weather looks like it is going to be miserable with a capital M, so instead of doing the Heaphy Track, as planned, we are going to host a radio show at the Rongo Backpackers and check out their permaculture farm. See you then!