When travelers talk about the “West Coast” of New Zealand, they’re usually talking about the more popular tourist destinations of Hokitika, Franz Josef, or Punakaiki. Just north of these towns are two other places that seem to be visited less frequently: Westport and Karamea.
Karamea is currently one of my favorite places in all of New Zealand. The limestone landscapes, the peaceful isolation, and the abundance of walking trails in the area are the main draws of a place like Karamea. The road from Westport to Karamea is particularly great for walkers, with tons of short walks along the way.
While I wouldn’t recommend spending much time in Westport, it is necessary to go through this little town in order to get to Karamea (unless you’re arriving on foot via the Heaphy track). The 98 km road from Westport to Karamea is slow. It’s made even slower thanks to the incredible scenery, which will have you stopping your car every 10 minutes.
The road from Westport to Karamea in only takes about an hour and a half, but I’d suggest leaving most of the day (at least 5-6 hours) to make the drive. Besides stopping off for scenic views and photos, you’ll definitely want to make time for some beautiful walks.
Here are 3 short walks worth stopping for on the road to Karamea!
Charming Creek Walkway
The longest of the four walks on this list, the Charming Creek Walkway is also the best one. This walkway is a total of 19 km return, so it could easily be turned into a full-day hike instead of just a stop-off on your drive. However, if you are looking to do a shorter walk, just head out to Mangatini Falls and back.
The track follows an old railroad line, and one of the first things you’ll come across is a collection of old mining relics. I didn’t realize there was a big waterfall when I began the walk—I thought it would just be something small. I enjoyed the walk for what it was, a peaceful tramp through nature. So when I reached the swing bridge and began to cross, I was totally surprised to see the rushing waterfall in front of me! Honestly, I almost cried because of how beautiful it was.
Continuing on the path, you’ll get a closer look at the falls, as well as the chance to walk through the 50 m tunnel in the rocks. It takes almost a full minute to walk through this tunnel and does end up being quite dark. After the tunnel, turn around and go back the way you came from to keep the walk short.
Location: The Ngakawau trailhead is signposted along the main road, about 35 km north of Westport
Distance: Allow 2 hours to Mangatini Falls and back
My friend and I had some trouble finding this spot from the road and almost gave up on it. I’m glad we made our way there though, because this place currently holds up as one of the best views I’ve had in New Zealand. After driving out on a gravel road, winding around past the B&Bs and cabins, we parked up. There isn’t a lot of signage around, so it’s easy to think you’re in the wrong place.
We started up the big dirt road, and after a short walk came across the maze. Yes, a maze. This is a great little walk, and at the top of the hill you can wander through the tall plant labyrinth. Try to find your way to the outer area and you’ll get an absolutely awe-inspiring view of the water, beaches, rocks, and hills surrounding you.
You can continue on past the fence post and downhill to get closer to the beach. It doesn’t seem very safe to make the entire trip down to the beach, but the rest of the walk is still enjoyable.
Location: Drive past the tiny town of Mokihinui and over the bridge, turn left onto DeMalmanche Road. Keep driving until you get to a small carpark near the hill—there will be a sign saying no vehicle entry.
Distance: 10 minutes up to the maze
The trail to Lake Hanlon is much easier to find than Gentle Annie. There’s a small parking area across from the trailhead, with a sign post directing you the right way. The short path leads you up and over the hill, and then down to the lake. It only takes 10 minutes or so to get there.
I wasn’t as excited about this walk at first, but the lake completely changed my mind. The water is like one big mirror, reflecting the trees and sky right back up out of it. There’s only a small wooden deck for viewing, but it’s the perfect place for some stunning photos.
Location: Right off the main road, about 20 km south of Karamea.
Distance: About 10-15 minutes one way
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