Wow, wow, wow. I don’t think I’ve said wow so many times in the space of 3 hours. But this was true wow territory.
To be honest I’ve been struggling with writing this blog. This was such an awesome experience and I’ve been having much trouble to find the words to describe it and do it justice. I don’t think even the photos will be able to portray just how marvelous this experience was but bear with me and we’ll give it a go.
Karamea is a little town literally at the end of the road at the top of the West Coast. It is home of the world-famous Oparara Arches and subsequently the Honeycomb Hill Caves. The Caves are a protected ecological area and can only be accessed through a tour with a guide.
The road into the valley is a forestry road and was created thanks to the loggers from the 1940s. To say it is a hairy drive would be a bit of an understatement. Thankfully we didn’t meet anyone coming the other way – that would really have added some excitement to the day.
We met our guide – the lovely Bill, at the top car park and headed off into the bush. For the first section we’re following the old tram-line from the logging days through re-generated forest. It is great to know it is re-generated and be given an actual timeline to get a better understanding and appreciation of the growth. Bill tells us this forest is around 27 years old yet the trees are still towering above us.
The track then veers off to the left and we enter untouched virgin forest where the loggers didn’t go and this is where the wow starts. I feel like I’ve entered a film set and stepped into Jurassic Park.
This is what we call a Podocarp forest in New Zealand – 200 years and older with huge Rimu, Beech, Kahakaitea and Miro trees stretching so tall that you can hardly see the tops and the forest floor carpeted with an array of moss and ferns.
I’m sure I’ve died and gone to heaven. If our trip ended now I’d be more than happy just to have experienced this. Sounds odd possibly, considering we are out exploring the native bush on the West Coast all the time. But to be in amongst virgin forest as dense and untouched as this is truly magical and something I never ever get sick of. The energy the forest emits, it really does give you a sense of peace and serenity.
We cross the swing-bridge leading over the Oparara River. Old school swing-bridge and definitely a favourite – maximum one person at a time crossing gives us time to enjoy the stillness of the water and bird song.
Another short walk and we finally reach the entrance to the Honeycomb Hill Cave system. I’m tingling with excitement and perhaps a little apprehension at being underground. There was no need for the apprehension – plenty of head room and we have our hard hats with lights to show the way. Bill has a torch with him and continually shines it back and forth for extra light.
Wow – yes that word again. My brain can’t believe what my eyes are seeing, this is so magical. The stalactites and stalagmite are amazing – so many variations in size and shape. Times like this I wish I’d studied geology as there is more to this than just any old standard stalagmite etc but the terminology is unfortunately beyond my current understanding. We can however appreciate these wonderful varying formations for the wonderment that they are.
Heading deeper in the caves it opens up but there are channels heading off that lead to other caverns. We follow one of the channels, taking care as it narrows not to touch the walls if possible as it can be fragile and the oils from our skin aid in the erosion. Making our way through the channels there are more even narrower channels heading off from these also – it is a maze of tunnels and you definitely don’t want to get lost in here!
One of the most fascinating things about the Honeycomb Caves – if the caves themselves weren’t enough but it is the discovery of Moa Bones in the caves. These have been left where found and we feel incredibly humbled to see the bones from these mighty creatures long extinct.
Being in a cave wouldn’t be complete without glow-worms and there are plenty of these little fellas here too. These are something I can never get sick of looking at – another one of those wonderment of nature – boy we are getting nature wonderment overload here today – if that is at all possible of course.
The nice thing about this walk underground is we do a loop so don’t even double back on ourselves. The opening where we exit though is yet another breath-taking moment in time. Hopefully this photo helps give some concept of the beauty of this region.
The track back to the car is however the same as the trail we came in on – disappointed, most definitely not, back through that stunning Podocarp Forest and enormous giants of the forest – back to the car for a well-earned cuppa and homemade cookie thanks to the Oparara Arches Trust. Yes this is the dorkiest shot possible of us all!
Jan and Stephen run Breakers Boutique Accommodation on the Great Coast Road north of Greymouth. They enjoy getting out and about, exploring the many wonders of the West Coast – named by Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel as one of the top 10 regions to visit in the world.