After the traffic light in the middle of nowhere we went on the road to nowhere today. Or rather to the end of the road on the island. Life at the top of the South island has a different beat. People are different, life is harsh, but also less hurried. Our B&B is close to a coal mine and the last road north.
North of Westport there really is not that much anymore. Highway 67 continues to Kareamea and then becomes a gravel road. Westport – Karamea is about 100 km , but because it rings a mountain range it takes about 90 minutes to get to Karamea, Karemea is only a small village, population 650. A village that seems to be slowly dying but has found tourism as a rescue. What they found just north of Karamea is Honeycomb Hill and the Oparara basin. the honeycomb hill is a cave with many many fossils and the village of Karamea have the only licences for the guided tours. Oparara bais is one of those ancients forest you will not find much in Europe anymore. That is where we went. As we did not make reservations we did not visit the cave, but we did go to see the arches.But before we went there we got some petrol in Westport to avoid running out. The first petrol station north after Westport is Karamea and can you just imagine if it was closed? We did buy provisions in Karamea and met two people that had business meeting in Karamea. When I asked after the type of business the answer was tax business. Tax people are everywhere even at the end of the road!
On to Oparara, the first 10 km was easy. Good sealed road which turns into a gravel road and snakes its way further. At the speed of lightning (35 km/h) you have to drive another 15km. On both sides the walls of green are close to the road and thankfully very little traffic. At the end there is a large parking area. Where we were one of 7 cars,
We first had lunch there and then walked the Moria gates trail. Moria Arch is a small sandstone arch over the river. The walk is about 90 minutes and is pretty as a picture. So we walk this way over nice wide well maintained paths and you see a sign: Access to arch through the cave. “Sweet” you think, “they throw in a cave. How much more fun can it be?” But then where is this cave? The entrance way turns out to be bout the size of a walnut! Really it is tiny and almost a hole in the ground. So you go through and then you slide through the entrance over stones on your bum to avoid breaking your ankles. No way I was going to walk that. Too high, too wet to bloody scary! But how wonderful, beautifu and breathtaking it was down there. The river, the light, the stalactites and everything. A miracle wonderland. The camera was doing overtime.
Then we had to go back through the walnut and follow the path to the mirror lake, which was pretty but not nearly as impressive as Moria. When we arrived at the parking area we saw two Weka’s. Weka’s are also known as the non-nocturnal American shortbeak Kiwi, named due to American tourists mistaking this also brown bird for the Kiwi. And I do admit they do look kinda similar……. sorta………..from a distance…….if you squint your eyes…………and look into the sun……….so I can totally understand the mistake. Ther eand then we decided that we wanted to see Oparare Arch also. That one is bigger and not that far for a walk, So we did a quick calculation: There, back trip back and yep we’ll make it to Westport before sundown. So we walked. A totally different path. Less easy and more wild. Large parts were stairs and some parts where we felt that genetic kinsmanship to a chamois was beneficial. Rocks and tree branches, finding balance and taking good care (we have hands, use them!) All of a sudden the arch is there! High above us. Wild, rough and with a completely different atmosphere to Moria. The river angrily works its way past this magnificent structure. One cannot keep a conversation going in this noise. A south island Robin decides to have a look at what on earth has entered its territory. Every tme when I wanted to take a picture the little critter flew away again. Of course the bird took an instant liking to SO. He sat next to his shoe and posed for pictures. Irresistible that man of mine, even the birds like him.
After this adventure we went back over the gravel road to Karamea. The car had changed colour from blue to greyish it was so utterly dirty! In Karamea we treated ourselves to ice-cream and drove back to our B&B after dinner in a Fish and Chips cafe. Oparare was a tip form our B&B host and we are ever so grateful that we listented. It was magnificent and we recommend it to all travelers that want something different.