The Oparara Basin has been called a ‘lost world’. After travelling along a narrow, winding road that tunnels through thick native rainforest and over a low mountain pass to reach the basin it’s not hard to see why. Rich podocarp forest, an antiquity from the time of the dinosaurs, lines both sides of the river and hangs out ghostly, moss and lichen ecrusted branches over the dark, tannin stained waters. Along it’s course through the basin, the Oparara River has carved out three massive limestone arches and numerous cave systems.
20 minutes easy walk from the car park the river flows for more than 200 metres through a natural tunnel nearly 80m wide and 40m high. This spectacular arch is one of the largest in the Southern Hemisphere and the scale of it is difficult to comprehend from the ground.
A much smaller but equally beautiful arch in a fantastically tranquil setting, about 30 mins easy walk from the carpark.
Return via the loop track and visit Mirror Tarn, a forest pool of dark, tannin stained water totally surrounded and sheltered by tall trees that shelter the surface of the water, creating a surface reflection so perfect it’s often difficult to see where the land ends and the water begins.
This part of the basin is open to guided tour parties only due to its extreme ecological sensitivity. The Honeycomb Hill Caves are a maze of 13 km of tunnels with over 70 entrances. They contain many geological phenomena such as cave coral, stalagmites and stalactites and a large variety of rare cave wildlife including New Zealand’s largest spider (up to 15cm accross). The greatest treasure though is the collection, the largest in New Zealand, of sub-fossil bones of extinct native birds such as the Moa which are found on the floor of the caves, undisturbed for thousands of years.
Honeycomb Hill Arch is the basin’s third and remotest arch, accessible only by guided kayak tour.
For more information and details on tours, please visit The Oparara Trust.
These interesting caves are open to be explored by the more adventurous (torch/headtorch essential) and contain many interesting rock formations and diverse subterranean wildlife. Access is from a second car park, 2.5km up the valley from the main car park.
Explore a former forestry area on converted access roads with many areas of regenerating bush and regrowth. About 30km return trip. Easy going on straight, well formed tracks with some climbing involved. There are several nice viewpoints.
Access to the basin is along a narrow, winding, gravel road. It is suitable for 2wd vehicles, but care should be taken as there are some blind corners.
Transport can be arranged from Rongo with Karamea Connections.
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