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South Island: The Heaphy Track & Oparara Basin

We got a fair bit of walking down today, even though the weather wasn’t the best with occasional showers getting more frequent as the afternoon wore on. Driving north from Karamea we headed towards the start of the Heaphy Track, passing farmland seemingly populated more by pukeko and weka than cows and sheep. We were also getting acquainted with that well know friend of the West Coast, the sand fly.

Arriving at the DOC car park and camp site there were only a few vehicles there already, including a couple of nice looking caravans that obviously belonged to serious whitebaiters. Over the next week we would see dozens of vehicles parked near by to rivers and streams as the Coasters took their chance to catch whitebait. Timing our exit between rain showers we got our wet weather gear on and headed off on the Heaphy Track.

MG 7104Photo by Brendon & Keryn

Crossing over the Kohaihai River.

We had no intention of walking any significant distance on the Heaphy. Instead we took our time around the Nikau track which loops near the start of the track and then walked a way up the track towards a lookout over the beach in the next bay. It was wet but under the forest canopy we kept mostly dry. We looked at Nikau palms and large trees that were often being slowly killed off by the strangling rata that had taken root in their upper reaches. The Kohaihai river was flowing past the track quite fast, the water a dark brown colour.

MG 7122Photo by Brendon & Keryn

Checking out a tree growing between all the Nikau.

MG 7138Photo by Brendon & Keryn

The fast flowing Kohaihai River.

MG 7147Photo by Brendon & Keryn

A patch of light in the forest.

Leaving the Nikau grove the path headed uphill after first crossing a small stream. The stream led out to the river via a sandy beach that was quite pretty in its seclusion. We walked up until we got to a picnic table and viewpoint, a good time to hide under some trees and have a snack before returning the way we had came.

MG 7236Photo by Brendon & Keryn

The small beach.

MG 7245Photo by Brendon & Keryn

Tiny berries in the track side vegetation.

MG 7247Photo by Brendon & Keryn

All growing on a small section of branch.

MG 7251Photo by Brendon & Keryn

The view from the bridge.

Coming back to the car park I spotted a couple of weka so watched them for a while. They didn’t seem much interested in me, they did get close at times but mostly were just looking through the grass for something to eat. We had lunch at the car and then Keryn and I went for a short walk to the beach. The rain was holding off but there was a good wind blowing foam across the beach. The brown river emptied into the ocean causing the waves near the river mouth to be the colour of tea as they crashed towards the beach.

MG 7270Photo by Brendon & Keryn

The car park weka.

MG 7284Photo by Brendon & Keryn

Keryn on the beach.

MG 7325Photo by Brendon & Keryn

Tea coloured waves.

MG 7328Photo by Brendon & Keryn

Foam on the beach.

MG 7333Photo by Brendon & Keryn

West Coast Forest from the beach.

With plenty of time left in the afternoon we took a road inland to visit the Oparara Basin and its various limestone features. We took walks to the Oparara Arch, the Crazy Paving and Box Canyon caves and one final wet walk to the Mirror Tarn.

The forest in this area was dense and lush, this was definitely some of the most attractive forest I’ve ever walked in. The light rain actually helped with the atmosphere, I don’t think it would have been quite so nice looking on a sunny day. walking up some stairs we were joined by a friendly South Island robin who seemed especially interested in Elaine’s shoes. We passed moss covered trees and the track followed the Oparara River upstream towards the arch. At one riverside spot a tree reached out over the water and in the branches pretty little orchids were flowering. Nearer the arch we passed a small chocolate box waterfall and further on we were briefly joined by a pair of tomtit. The arch itself was massive and impressive, and underneath its cover we could watch a dramatic waterfall falling into the river.

MG 7341Photo by Brendon & Keryn

Looking to the Oparara River through the lush forest.

MG 7348Photo by Brendon & Keryn

The visiting robin.

MG 7362Photo by Brendon & Keryn

Flowering orchid.

MG 7392Photo by Brendon & Keryn

The waterfall underneath the arch.

MG 7397Photo by Brendon & Keryn

Keryn underneath the arch.

On the return I diverted and climbed through the bush to photograph the small waterfall seen earlier. It really was almost a cliché with the chocolate water, hanging ferns and mist in the air. Still, even a cliché is worth a photograph or two.

MG 7409Photo by Brendon & Keryn

The chocolate box waterfall.

MG 7420Photo by Brendon & Keryn

A glossy fern.

We decided not to walk to the other nearby arch, the Lord of the Rings referencing Moira Arch, and instead drove a short way up the road to the track for the two caves. Only a few minutes from the road and with torches to hand we explored first the Box Canyon cave. A large opening was entered via stairs and then we were on the dry cave floor walking into the darkness as the cave turned in a large S bend. At the end it was pitch black and we could see a few glow worms above. The walls were high and smooth, carved out by long gone water.

MG 7425Photo by Brendon & Keryn

Inside the Box Canyon cave.

The next door Crazy Paving cave was smaller and tighter. Mud on the floor had dried out and cracked to leave uneven patches of crazy looking paving.

MG 7432Photo by Brendon & Keryn

Some of the crazy paving.

Done with caves it was back to the car. We had one more walk to the Mirror Tarn and I set off ahead of the others in what looked like a break in the rain. This wasn’t the case and the Mirror Tarn was more like a rain covered black lake than any sort of mirror. It was still worth a visit.

MG 7439Photo by Brendon & Keryn

The not-so-Mirror Tarn.

A little wet and with darkness coming we headed back to Karamea. Rather than cook we visited the local pub, the Karamea Village Hotel, for a meal. I wasn’t expected much but my nachos were really good and everyone else seemed to enjoy their meals. With whitebait fritters on offer a few were ordered and I tasted them for the first time. They were OK, perhaps in need of some kind of sauce. There weren’t many people in the bar and most left as we ate. Paying for drinks at the bar I spied a book on top of the till, “From Timaru to Stalag VIII B” by Jack Hardie. I nearly bought a copy, I would have earlier if I’d realised that the author was one of those that had recently been at the bar. If you follow the link you’ll read that Jack is “Now living in Motueka, he still goes whitebaiting on the West Coast for a few weeks each year”, so I guess this was his yearly whitebaiting trip. I’ll have to pick up a copy sometime. Dinner was followed by decadent desert, I’ll be eating at the Karamea Village Hotel next time we’re back this way.

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One thought on “South Island: The Heaphy Track & Oparara Basin

  1. Today I finished the Jack Hardie book Timaru to Stalag viiiB.

    I bought it at the Karamea pub after riding the Heaphy in June 2012.

    But only started reading it yesterday.

    It is an amazing human story , written brilliantly and although not judgmental the detail the author gives is horrifying about people and their leaders. For example why would the UK command have sent 39 trainee flight crews to their death over the UK on night flying exercises.. And ther average age 22!

    The German POW commanders and guards come across despicable.

    I thoroughly recommend this book.

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