The bush enclosing the Karamea valley area in the northwest of NZ's South Island includes the kind of heart-of-darkness old growth that tweaks the primate brain a certain way. Gazing at its undulant, pea-green enormity from the road that skirts the limestone bluffs opens the mental portal; it is not until you have stood, dwarfed and dampened, in its midst that your ancestral monkey chatters uneasily and begins scanning the middle distance for glimpses of movement.
The drive winds for an unexpected distance through increasingly emphatic mixed podocarp coastal forest that seems to at once condense and amplify as you progress, both invoking and assiduously retaining the kind of downpours that are always imminent in this infamously pluvial district.
I wish we'd started at 4.30am on foot, but I'm um... with a bunch of other people.
Luckily the forest isn't here for us and takes the edge off company, swallowing the sight and smell of proximate strangers. The underlying Oparara Basin karst exhales magic through that heavy green pelt, redolent of hard, tepid, tea-brown water and the coarse moss that tongues the boles to knee-depth and drapes the pendant limbs fanning obliquely overhead.
While the track is relatively easy going for anyone with moderate mobility, there's no seating or shelter once you're in the thick of it, so have a thought for any less able companions. At the time the walk was heavily studded with bait stations and mustelid traps designed to mitigate the heavy mortality inflicted on native species by exotic pests; warnings were posted everywhere. Children seem attracted to these and I was forced to dissuade a couple of juvenile randoms from tampering with them along the way, so on behalf of New Zealand's remaining fauna, please do supervise your damn brats.
Annoying, I know, but you had to have the bloody things.
Petroica australis strikes again.
These slightly creepy little smoky bandits relish heavy-footed intrusion and jump out onto the path in expectation of the insects stirred by your passage. And well, to fuck with you, since they are highly territorial.
All South Island Robins sort of look exactly the same and after encountering their simulacra in a dozen different places, one starts to formulate subconscious notions about that material equivalence.
else for a moment. The arch opens out to regard the river in two directions. I'm not sure if
these are totally legit stalactites and not just calcified root intrusions, but I was cool with
whatever was happening here.
A skirt of uprooted and forsaken trees downstream spoke for the water in a worse mood.
This is how you exit- the same way you came in; slowly and cumbrously, no matter what. It's always easier going uphill than down, but my inner calamity-ruminator pictured getting stuck behind a logjam of sunburnt Germans while the place stoved in around me.
It may not be especially difficult or obscure, but the remote-ish Oparara Valley still possibly isn't for the faint of heart or those expecting a highly accessible, curated experience. Tree-fanciers, hardcore environment peeps and geology fetishists will get the most bang out of its baroque verdure. If you're one of us, don't miss it.