Moria Gate Arch in remote Kahurangi National Park. © Anna Gorin

Ōpārara Basin: limestone caves with cathedral-like passages and magnificent arches


This is ancient, ancient land, up here. North of Karamea, the last-gasp town of the West Coast, a stopping spot before hitting the world famous Heaphy Track.

The Ōpārara basin itself is drained by its namesake river and is reached by a rough mill road that takes you into the best parts of the Kahurangi National Park. But the Ōpārara Basin is an attraction in itself.

Nature has been at work for millions of years sculpting the limestone rock into the most wonderful collection of caves, archways and channels. As a walk-through, it’s like an outdoor cathedral, both stunning and slightly spooky all at once.

The highlights for most who trek the old forestry track into the bush are the Honeycomb Hill Caves which are pretty much as they sound: elevated caves with the most amazing patterns rendered within.

You’ll need to have your mind on the job: there are 70 different cave entrances in this complex (and it is complex) and 13km of ‘galleries’ or areas to walk through. Not likely to find a Pokémon, either.

These caves were home to the ancient and long extinct moa, and the area is world-renowned for the dark and complex passages having delivered up the bones of not just moa but up to 50 other types of extinct birds.

You’ll feel time pressing in on you as you consider all this, and make your way back out into the eerie light filtered via the dense forest and bush. Most of the area is covered in mixed beech and podocarp forest; that’s above, while beneath your feet the forest floor is a thick carpet of mosses, ferns, and plants.

Respect is a must – these natural wonders have taken millions of years to form and can be undone in careless seconds by an unwary or unwitting visitor gaffe. You don’t want to be that guy, eh.

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