Kayak and hike through fascinating limestone formations and ancient native forests in the southwest corner of the Kahurangi National Park.

Oparara Arch, New Zealand

Just north of Karamea, on the northern extremity of the South Island's west coast highway, the magnificent Oparara river basin offers explorers a 'lost world' experience. The basin is one of the finest features of the Kahurangi National Park. For a million years the Oparara river system has been sculpting the 35 million-year-old limestone into an intriguing complex of caves, arches and channels.

The tall forest contains native beech and rimu, and is thickly carpeted with mosses and ferns that squeeze their root systems through cracks in the limestone to gain a hold. Unique ferns and algae live around the arches and cave entrances. Birds, insects and fish flourish in the untouched environment, which is home to the rare short-tailed bat, the giant land snail, the cave spider and blue duck.

A number of walking tracks, ranging in length from 10 minutes to one hour, lead to fascinating limestone river arches, spectacular caves and a beautifully reflective mountain pool. The largest arch, the Oparara Arch, is 219 metres long with sides 79 metres apart and a roof 43 metres above the river that carved it. The popular Box Canyon and Crazy Paving Caves feature delicate limestone formations that can take thousands of years to grow one centimetre.

The intricate and extensive Honeycomb cave system can be seen by guided tour. These caves are famous for containing ancient bones of moa - giant flightless birds that are now extinct.

The ecosystems in this area, while rugged in appearance, are quite fragile and visitors help preserve nature's creations by keeping to the tracks and resisting the temptation to touch the highly sensitive limestone cave formations. All insects, fossils, native birds and plant species are protected.

Height restrictions apply at the entrance of Oparara Road, affecting campervans. Alternate transport can be arranged at at the Karamea Information Centre(opens in new window) and Rongo Backpackers.

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