Wednesday 8 April 2015

North- To The End Of The Road

Ok, back to it. Just so you don't get confused, these next few blog posts are from the last couple of weeks when we travelled from Westport up to Kohaihai and then returned heading south to Lake Kainere for Easter (& where we still are and still sitting it out in the pouring rain- I know the West Coast has something like 200 days of rain a year but this is ridiculous!)

We left Westport, heading north along the coast, bound eventually for the DOC camp at Kohaihai at the end of the road and where the Heaphy Track ‘Great Walk’ starts. It’s only a little over 100kms to the end of the road but, as has become our custom, we only move 40-50kms before setting up camp again. With no itinerary and all the time in the world to get there, we enjoy the luxury of not being in a hurry.

Our first stop is at the Gentle Annie Beach Campground which is just over the river from the tiny beach settlement of Mokihinui. The campground was on the corner of a working farm, a large grassy open area with smaller sites surrounded by hedges (no powered sites), and just across the road from the beach. The cafe come resident’s lounge was called the Cowshed Cafe and was in fact located in an old cowshed.

A 4km gravel road led down to the Gentle Annie Beach, leaving the main highway just over the Mokihinui River bridge and just before the long and winding climb over the Karamea Bluff. Later we took a drive over to Mokihinui where there was a collection of older houses and holiday baches. The Tavern looked like it may only be used over the summer holidays (and during whitebait season no doubt). The photo, middle right is looking back over the river mouth to our camping ground.

Across the road from the campground the beach was lined with diftwood in all directions. Great big piles of it snaked along the tide lines off into the distance. In some places the row curved far into the paddock where rough seas had carried it through gaps in the sand bank. West Coast’s iconic nikau palms grow randomly through the paddocks, spared by the settler’s axe many years ago, although providing little shade for the stock they are a visual treat. Hundreds more poke their heads out from the thick native bush behind.

Abandoned houses make interesting photo subjects….

We couldn’t believe our eyes one morning when a neighbour opened their door to let three large dogs out. It wasn’t a very big caravan, I don’t like to think what it was like inside especially when they all came running back from the beach covered in water and sand and went racing straight inside! I did feel rather sorry for them when they were tied up together though, one was a young dog who kept moving about and tangling the other two up or dragging them form side to side.

We did a couple of short walks while in the area (short being the operative word!) Not far inland, along side the river is the tiny farming settlement of Seddonville. Seddonville, you might remember, is where the 80km Ghost Road bike trail and tramping track finishes- it starts at Lyell, in the Buller Gorge where we stayed.

The Chasm Creek Walkway is a short 2km track that runs along the river bank & beside the road (obscured by bush) just before Seddonville. It was once a rail corridor for the line used to cart timber & coal from mills & mines further up the valley. We were a little worried whether we’d get to see the tunnel and the glow-worms on the walk as there was a notice saying the footbridge was closed.

We took a chance and while the first 500 metres- apart from the splashes of red from the flowering rata vines- was very non-descript, just a bit further on the most amazing and beautiful moss hanging gardens came into view. Growing on both sides of the rock cutting before the entrance to the tunnel and also overhanging the tunnel opening were many vibrant shades of green & rust coloured mosses which draped and smothered the surrounding rock faces, while behind a fine layer of water seeped down the walls keeping everything moist and spongy. A curtain of water also dripped down on us as we entered the tunnel. In some places the moss was at least a foot deep.

The tunnel was short and and the track finished at the bridge just on the otherside- we’d chosen the right end to walk from- you could also walk in from the road closer to Seddonville but this would have been frustrating, seeing the tunnel across the closed bridge and not being able to get there. The bridge had been boarded up and there was no way around it. It was obviously the old rail bridge over Chasm Creek and closed for safety reasons. It didn’t look like there were going to be repairs done to it any time soon, if at all. Which would be a shame as it a good little walk to do if you’re in the area.

After Chasm Creek we drove further on into the valley, past Seddonville and down a gravel winding road(what’s new?) for about 10kms. This brought us to the northern end of the Charming Creek Walkway which starts in Ngakawau 3hrs walk away and follows the corridor of, once again, an old railway. Just over the bridge from the carpark are more remnants from an old coal mine and timber mill. Charming Creek Walkway is rated as one of the South Island’s top five day walks but I can’t confirm whether this is true or not as we decided to give it a miss. Perhaps we’ll walk it the next time we’re in the area.

Our next stop heading north was Karamea but not before crossing over the Radiant Range on a 26km winding and sometimes narrow road that winds its way up and over the hills. Who would live in Karamea I wonder- not many I find out later- having to drive all this way to get to civilization and then its only Westport (sorry Trev). Karamea is about as far as one can get away from it all in New Zealand (by motor vehicle at least). A place of endless wild beaches fringed with nikau palms and feeling like a remote Pacific Island (when the sun is shining).

All through the hills great swathes of mature native trees lay fallen like pick-up-sticks in no particular order. Other trees have had their top halves ripped off. And right beside the dead and dying, corridors of trees are the living; standing tall and green, the lucky ones, spared from nature’s powerful fury. This is the aftermath of Cyclone Ita which roared across New Zealand during Easter 2014, hitting the West Coast especially hard. We’re going to see quite a bit of devastation and windfall on our travels.

We emerge from the hills at Little Wanganui and decide to have lunch at the Little Wanganui River mouth, freedom camping is allowed along the road to the mouth but from what we saw there aren’t too many spots to park up at other than right at the mouth itself where we found a fire still burning from the last overnighters. The sea is very rough and the incoming tide pushes the waves up the river threatening to snuff the log fire out with each surge. It must be a man thing- the hunter/gatherer gene, but David adds a few more pieces of wood to the fire.

This was one of our more interesting lunchtime views; straight out onto the rolling surf, we watched as the waves crept closer and closer to the burning log but left before it was wiped out.

Two surfers were looking for a ride and swum across the mouth and out into the white water dodging a flotilla of large bobbing logs and a raft of smaller driftwood along the way.

We stayed for a couple of nights at the Karamea Domain campground, a pleasant enough spot beside the Karamea River and across the playing fields from the school. There was a lawn bowling tournament on beside the drive into the Domain. They all stopped to gawp as we squeezed by.

Karamea is certainly small, I’m not too sure what I was expecting but it wasn’t one hotel, a small garage with fuel pumps, a police station, two churches, a Four Square supermarket, a couple of tour company businesses, half a dozen accommodation houses and many dairy farms. This is really the back of beyond and I take my hat off to the people who choose to live this far away from a reasonably sized city, it would definitely be a life-style choice in my opinion. Tourism and dairy farming looked to be the mainstays that keep people out here.

We passed the local cop taking the school students through their bike riding skills on the tennis court when we left the Domain.

We did a spot of bird watching while exploring the huge estuary that the Karamea River opens into, an estuary that was formed during the 1929 Murchison earthquake when the Karamea Port was blocked off.

An Australasian Harrier Hawk keeps a lookout for dinner along a feeder stream.

David spotted a White Heron/Kotuku flying over the Domain and we were lucky enough to spot it again when we went to check out Flagstaff Beach. It was feeding on the estuary edge and no amount of stealth disguised our approach before it lifted and flew further away.

Flagstaff Beach was barren and windswept, I had heard that there are often large pieces of driftwood and tree stumps littering the sand (which would make great photo subjects) but it wasn’t to be this day. Maybe they are further north.

My little black stickman makes an re-appearance albeit with his pant legs rolled up- winter must be approaching!


  1. You have given us memories with this post. We stopped at the Karamea Domain Camp a couple of years ago. Also stayed at the POP at Seddonville Hotel. (Probably too tight for you to get in though) The locals were certainly friendly, and invited us to the Anzac Morning celebrations, then back to the pub for a cooked breakfast with everyone.

    1. Yes, we looked at the Seddonville POP, a little too small and a little too quite around there for us. Not a soul in sight. :)

  2. Hi Shellie & David, Yes this (for us) is another must return area, was unable to see the Oparara Arches as the road is not suitable for Motorhomes, & I didn't have the bike on the back. Surprised your photographic eye didn't catch the rainbow paint job on the Karamea backpackers building. Ahem no good complaining about Westcoast's legendary & the sandflys.... Enjoy!

    1. You'll see from the latest post that a large vehicle is not necessarily a handicap to get you to the Arches! Although I definitely wouldn't recommend it. You missed a treat and you'll have to return- but I'm not so sure about cycling in, that seems like too much hard work!

      I was going to take photos of the Backpackers & the hotel but as has been the case a few times these past few weeks, we seem to be always in a hurry, racing ahead of the rain. We'll just have to return at a more leisurely pace. And I was expecting rain on the West Coast but after the summer they've had I thought it might have lasted a little bit longer- long enough for us to complete our visit anyway! :)


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