During our trip to complete the Heaphy Track, we decided to start in Karamea and walk it the opposite direction as most. Our trusty NZ Frenzy guide raved about this charming little area so we made an effort to make the 100km detour that many tourist skip on their way down the west coast.
As we made our way along the coastline our first stop was Charming Creek Walkway. Known as one of the best short walks in the South Island, the path followed the old Charming Creek Railway that used to haul timber and coal to the railhead at Ngakawau between 1929 and 1958. Remnants of the tracks could be seen all along the path, with abandoned wagons and bins as if they were in the same position as their last use.
The railway was known for a few disasters, where one in particular had the locomotive jump the tracks and fly into the rushing waters of the Ngakawau Gorge. On a few occasions you could see where the last trips were likely made as twists rails were floating mid-air over the side of the gorge. Today the water was calm and a stunning turquoise color, but when the heavy rain hits the area flash flooding can happen quickly and that beautiful water turns to a beer colored brown.
Continuing on down the path we passed a few railway tunnels cut into the side of the mountain. With light at the end of the tunnel a torch wasn’t required but was helpful in ensuring we watched our footing along the tracks.
About 4km down the path a large suspension bridge provided views up and down the canyon, with a spectacuclar view of Mangatini Falls. Just as we were taking a few photos, a beautiful rainbow appeared at the bottom of the falls!
Continuing on a little further, we passed through another 30m railway tunnel and into the section called The Verandah. The sounds of water thundering off the canyon walls echoed through the Upper Ngakawau Gorge as we approached the old Watson’s Mill. Rusty steam boilers and other relics were scattered along the track.
From here we decided to head back to the carpark as we were told the remaining section of the 10.5km walk was not nearly as scenic. With our belly’s starting to rumbled it was time to find something to eat. At the end of the road we pulled into Charming Creek Café. With whitebait in season we were in search for some patties and sure enough their specialty on the menu was Whitebait burgers! Topped with beat root, salad and aioli it was the perfect meal on the West Coast in the quaint little café.
Making our way into Karamea our next stop was to the Oparara Basin. A 20min detour off the road to the Heaphy Track the unsealed road ended at a carpark with a beautiful new picnic area with information panels on the three attractions of the area – Oparara Arch, Moria Gate Arch and Box Canyon/Crazy Paving Stones Cave.
We headed down the track towards the Oparara Basin through native bush along the root beer colored river. As we rounded the corner, the giant archway appeared into view – the largest in all of Australasia – and we raced up the path to get a closer look.
Photos don’t do it justice, but it was a massive cave. I pictured people finding shelter under here hundreds of years ago, building little tents and accessing their water supply from the stream. After admiring it from above, we headed down to the river bed to get a closer look and imagined what it would have been like to live here.
Making our way back to the carpark, we set off down the next track towards Moria Gate Arch. Despite feeling like it could be a Lord of the Rings film location, it was named Moria long before the movies were filmed in New Zealand, however shares the name of the Dwarven underground city beneath the Misty Mountains. A short walk through moss-drapped trees and ferns, it lead us to a rocky pit taking us underneath the archway.
With a beach on either side, it’s no wonder the perfectly formed archway is popular with photographers. The reflection in the water only adds to its beauty. Apparently the cave is filled with glow worms, but considering it was several hours till dark we weren’t able to stick around to see for ourself.
Our last adventure through the Oparara Basin was to two caves just 2km from the carpark. Another quick jont down the track led us to the first one – Crazy Paving Stones Cave. Seemed like an odd name at first, but once we were inside the small cave we knew where it got its name. On either side of the paved walkway was this unique layer of dried mud that resembled tile work that had been smashed. It is also home to cave spiders and wetas but luckily we managed to miss them this time.
Just a few hundred meters over was the Box Canyon Cave. Much different than the first, it was wide and tall, opening up into a giant tunnel that went on a few hundred meters into the darkness. We’ve seen quite a few pretty awesome caves in New Zealand, and it never seems to get old as they are all a little different.