Kahurangi National Park: The Complete Guide

Bridge over Kohaihai River, Kahurangi National Park, New Zealand
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Kahurangi National Park

Address
7073, New Zealand
Phone +64 3-546 9339

The Kahurangi National Park is New Zealand's second-largest national park (after Fiordland). Its forests, mountains, and coastline contain immense geological and vegetational variety. Being in the remote north-western corner of the South Island, much of the park is total wilderness, difficult to get to, and rarely visited. But for nature and outdoor lovers, that's the biggest appeal of Kahurangi.

Things to Do

Kahurangi is an outdoor enthusiast's dreamland. Dozens of hiking trails throughout the park offer a wide scope of landscapes, but the most famous is undoubtedly the multi-day Heaphy Trail, considered one of New Zealand's "Great Walks."

If you make it over to the western side of the park near Karamea, don't miss the complex of limestone caves at the Oparara Basin. Believed to be around 35 million years old, the caves, arches, and channels are equally rewarding to experienced cavers and travelers wanting a short walk. Hike through native beech and podocarp forests to find caves that are home to carnivorous snails, blue ducks, and more.

A wide variety of birds and animals call this diverse ecosystem home. Great spotted kiwi, giant weta, and large cave spiders can all be found in the park. Mangarakau Swamp is a large wetland area at the southern edge of the Whanganui Inlet and south of Farewell Spit. This is a particularly good place for bird watching, where you can spot wetland birds like the Australasian bittern and fernbird.

Murchison, the southern inland gateway to the Kahurangi National Park, is one of the most popular white-water rafting spots in New Zealand. At the confluence of the Buller and Matakitaki Rivers, and with the Gowan, Mangles, Matiri, Glenroy, and Maruia Rivers nearby, there are many options for a range of experience levels. Some more challenging trips start deep within the Kahurangi National Park.

Best Hikes and Trails

Keen hikers can complete the multi-day Heaphy Track through the park, but even travelers with more modest outdoor ambitions (or less time) can enjoy some of Kahurangi's easy-to-reach treasures around the edge of the park near Golden Bay and Motueka.

  • Heaphy Track: A major draw of Kahurangi National Park is this long-distance hike. It follows ancient Maori trails through the forest-covered mountains, once used to access the greenstone reserves of the West Coast region. The Heaphy Track is one of the New Zealand Department of Conservation's Great Walks, meaning the infrastructure here is good with well-marked trails, bridged rivers and streams, and hut and camping accommodation facilities along the way. The full trail takes between four and six days to cover 49 miles, depending on your pace, but a shorter two-day hike can also be done on the western side of the park.
  • Mount Arthur: One of the highest peaks in the park (5,889 feet), Mount Arthur offers a mountain summit hike with spectacular views that can be done in a day. Access is via the Flora Car Park, a 40-minute drive west of Motueka. Be warned that the road up there is a challenging drive and four-wheel-drive vehicles are recommended year-round. The hike itself is also strenuous, taking about four hours each way.
  • Moria Gate and Mirror Tarn Loop: This easy trail packs a lot of impressive sights into a 90-minute loop. The Moria Gate is a giant natural arch made of limestone that hikers can walk through, and you'll eventually come to the reflecting pool of Mirror Tarn. Keep an eye out while you're walking for the native giant snails that often cross the path.

Natural Springs

While parts of New Zealand are famous for their bubbling hot springs, Te Waikoropupu Springs (or Pupu Springs, as they’re known) are spectacular cold springs. Without the steam associated with hot springs, visitors can see deep into the clear deep blue and turquoise waters. They are a short drive from Takaka and are sacred to the local Maori people, so visitors should not touch the water. From the parking lot, a boardwalk through the forest and over streams leads to the springs.

On the Tasman Bay side of the Takaka Hill, the Riwaka Resurgence is a similar cold spring. It's smaller than Pupu Springs and, although it is sacred to Maori, swimming is allowed. However, the waters are extremely cold, so a quick splash after jumping from the rocks is all most visitors can manage—even on a hot summer day. While the Resurgence itself isn’t far beneath the summit of Takaka Hill, it can only be reached by driving along the Riwaka Valley Road, before ascending the Takaka Hill road.

Where to Camp

There are 13 different campgrounds throughout Kahurangi National Park, nine of which are considered "Great Walk" campgrounds because they're along the Heaphy Track for hikers to stop along the route. Most campgrounds require advance reservations, although a few of them operate on a first-come, first-served basis.

  • Kōhaihai Campground: This coastal camp is near Scotts Beach for easy access to swimming or windsurfing. It's also conveniently located near the trailheads for several short, day, or overnight hikes. This camp allows and requires advance reservations, which fill up quickly in the high season.
  • Courthouse Flat Campground: Located in the interior of the park, it's a scenic drive through Kahurangi forest until you reach Courthouse Flat. The campground isn't accessible to RVs, so it's only open to tent campers arriving by car. Nearby activities include caves to explore, gold mining, and several hiking trails. This is one of the camps that you cannot reserve a site at.
  • Brown Campground: For hikers embarking on the Heaphy Track, the Brown Campground is the first of nine campsites along the trail and is located at the trailhead, making it ideal for spending the night and getting an early start. The next campground is a four-hour trek away.

Where to Stay Nearby

Unless embarking on the Heaphy Track (which requires staying in Department of Conservation huts through the park), the towns of Motueka, Takaka, and Collingwood are the most convenient places to stay around Kahurangi National Park. Motueka, on the Tasman Bay side of the Takaka Hill, is the biggest of these gateway towns and has a variety of accommodation options. Takaka and Collingwood in Golden Bay are smaller but offer various types of accommodation, from campgrounds to boutique hotels. Murchison is a more suitable access point if you're keen on white-water rafting.

  • White Elephant Accommodation: One of the homey lodging options in Motueka is the White Elephant, which offers private suites and shared dorm rooms for travelers on a budget. It's about 20 minutes by car to the edge of the national park.
  • Golden Bay Motel: A no-frills accommodation in Takaka with spacious rooms for a comfortable stay at the gateway to the national park. Golden Bay Motel is less than 4 miles from the gorgeous Pupu Springs, with other trailheads not far away, either.
  • Collingwood Park Motel: The best part of this motel is that it's located right on the water and overlooks scenic Golden Bay, offering some unbeatable views. It's about 15 minutes from the north edge of Kahurangi National Park by car.

How to Get There

The nearest big city to the Kahurangi National Park is Nelson, with direct flights from all of New Zealand's major airports. From there, you'll have to drive to one of the gateway towns, which are Motueka, Takaka, Karamea, Tapawera, and Murchison. Each gateway town has access to a parking lot where you can leave your vehicle and hike in.

Most travelers will prefer to have their own vehicle as accessing this part of the country is difficult with just public transport. The drive from Nelson to Motueka is only 30 minutes, but getting from Nelson to Karamea takes four and a half hours. There are some shuttles that run between Nelson and Motueka and Golden Bay.

The Heaphy Track can be started in Karamea (on the west side) or Golden Bay (on the east side). It's not a loop trail, so you'll need to arrange transportation from the endpoint back to where you started.

Accessibility

Even though most parts of the park are rugged backcountry, there are areas accessible to travelers with mobility challenges. There's a wooden boardwalk that leads to the famous Te Waikoropupu Springs, which is fully accessible to wheelchair users, although some assistance may be needed due to the incline. On the other side of the park, the remote Kōhaihai Campground has wheelchair-accessible campsites available.

Tips for Your Visit

  • The best time to visit the park—and also the peak tourist season—is in the warmer months from October to April. This is when most people hike the Heaphy Track, although the park is still much less busy than other destinations in New Zealand.
  • The weather in New Zealand is fickle and can quickly change. If you're out hiking on a sunny day, you should still pack a light rain jacket, just in case.
  • Dogs are not allowed in the national park or on any of the trails.
  • If you're camping, water comes from untreated taps or directly from the stream. Make sure to treat the water or boil it before drinking.
  • Wasp season is from December to April, so keep an eye out for hidden nests while you're hiking around to not disturb them.
  • If you're a fan of "The Lord of the Rings," you'll find some of the real-life filming locations in and around Kahurangi.
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Kahurangi National Park: The Complete Guide