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The Oparara Arches, Kahurangi National Park

The Oparara Arches, Kahurangi National Park

Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, down the bumpiest of gravel roads, lies the Oparara Basin, home to a series of arches and caves amidst a wild limestone environment in Kahurangi National Park. Is it worth the journey? Keep reading to find out (although you’ve probably already guessed it is worth it, or I might not have written a whole post about it).

NOTE: The road to the Oparara Arches is currently closed Monday – Friday for maintenance. It’s open weekends and public holidays. If you’re reading this and it’s fully open already please let us know in the comments at the end of this post.

Oparara Arches

Once you reach the Oparara Arches car park (hopefully with your power steering still intact — we weren’t so lucky) there are a few different tracks to tackle. First up we headed to the Oparara Arches, which sit at the end of a lush forest track. One thing you’ll notice is the colour of the river that the track follows. It’s a deep brown colour due to the minerals in the area (or there is a massive whiskey factory upriver and it’s all just industrial runoff).

After 20 minutes or so a massive arch comes into view. You can walk right into the cave and see the arches from the inside. It’s quite a large cave with a river running straight through it. It’s a really cool place to explore — it can get a little dark though so it pays to bring a torch (or a phone).

Moira Gate Arch

The second cave / set of arches we went to was again down a forest track. At this point we realised the horrible gravel road had claimed our power steering. We weren’t sure if that was all that was wrong, so we were a little stressed. The Moira Arch cave was really cool though and briefly took our minds off our car troubles. There’s a longer loop track that takes you to Moira Arch and a small lake if you want a bit more of a walk. You can also visit some caves in the area (another couple of kilometres down the road) but we skipped them in favour of getting back to civilization as quickly as possible. It turned out the car was fine — it a bit hard getting in and out of tight car parks until I eventually got it fixed though!

Getting to the Oparara Arches

Karamea, close to the end of the road on the West Coast, is the closest town to the Oparara Arches. From Karamea it’s another 25 km north, some of which is along one of the tightest, bumpiest gravel roads I’ve driven on in New Zealand. There are several signs saying it’s not suitable for buses and campervans, but we did see a couple of campervans. It must have been an awful drive for them (and anyone who encountered them on the road). This road is closed Monday – Friday and open weekends and public holidays for the time being.

You can also visit the Honeycomb Caves, located in the same general area as the Oparara Arches. You need to take a tour though as there is no public access. Hopefully we’ll do it next time!

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Jon Algie

I'm a South Island local -- born in Timaru and raised in Dunedin. I left the island in 2006 and returned 10 years later. Having seen a good chunk of the world I realised how special this place is -- the most beautiful island in the world! Seven years (and almost 400 posts) later I'm still helping locals and tourists alike plan their trips around the South Island.