Kahurangi National Park: The Complete Guide

person in red on the bridge over Kohaihai River, Kahurangi National Park, New Zealand
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Kahurangi National Park

West Coast 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 part of its appeal.

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.

Aside from the famous Heaphy Track that attracts around 4,000 hikers each year, Kahurangi is one of New Zealand's more understated national parks. It's not as well known as nearby Abel Tasman, or the highly popular Tongariro or Fiordland National Parks in other parts of the country. But that lends it a more peaceful quality that nature lovers will truly appreciate.

About the Kahurangi National Park

Established in 1996, Kahurangi is one of New Zealand's newest national parks (consider that its first, the Tongariro National Park, was established in 1887). It was formed from parts of the pre-existing North-west Nelson Conservation Park. Local Maori have inhabited areas of what is now the park since around the 14th century.

Kahurangi is geologically interesting, with significant portions of limestone and marble, studded with caves, arches, sinkholes, and other dramatic features. The vegetation is also highly diverse, even differing from one side of the park to the other. Beech forests are dominant in the east, while podocarps and ferns appear more in the west. Nikau palms are found in the coastal parts of the park.

Because of this diversity, a variety of birds and animals are also supported in numerous habitat types. Great spotted kiwi, giant weta, and large cave spiders can all be found in the park.

What to Do There

  • Heaphy Track: A major drawcard of the 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 on the West Coast. The Heaphy Track is one of the New Zealand Department of Conservation's Great Walks. This means the infrastructure here is good, with well-marked trails, bridged rivers and streams, and a good standard of (albeit basic) hut and camping accommodation facilities. The full trail takes 4 or 5 days to cover 49 miles, but a shorter two-day hike can also be done on the western side of the park.
  • Te Waikoropupu 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.
  • Riwaka Resurgence: 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, even on a hot day, so a quick splash after jumping from the rocks is all most visitors can manage! 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.
  • Mount Arthur: One of the highest peaks in the park (5,889 feet), Mount Arthur offers a relatively short and easy mountain summit hike, with spectacular views. 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.
  • Oparara Basin: 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, giant cave spiders, and more.
  • Mangarakau Swamp: This large wetland area is on the edge of the park, at the southern edge of the Whanganui Inlet and south of Farewell Spit. This is a particularly good place for bird watching: wetland birds like the Australasian bittern and fernbird can be spotted.
  • Whitewater rafting: 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.

How to Get There

The nearest city to the Kahurangi National Park is Nelson, about a 1.5-hours drive to the east. Flights to Nelson run from New Zealand's major cities. Nelson isn't all that close to Kahurangi, however, with closer gateway towns being Motueka, Takaka, Karamea, Tapawera, and Murchison.

Most travelers will prefer to have their own vehicle as accessing this part of the country is difficult with just public transport, but some shuttles run between Nelson/Motueka and Golden Bay, to access the park from the Golden Bay side.

The Heaphy Track can be started and finished in Karamea or Golden Bay. Shuttles must be arranged to the start/end points, as this is not a circuit track. Note that while Golden Bay is already quite remote, Karamea on the West Coast is even more so. Although it doesn't look so far from the nearest city, Nelson, on the map, it takes about 4.5 hours to travel between the two places because of the mountains in the way.

Where to Stay

Unless embarking on the Heaphy Track (which requires staying in Department of Conservation huts through the park), Motueka, Takaka, and Collingwood are the most convenient places to stay to see parts of Kahurangi. 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.

What to Do Nearby

The Kahurangi National Park is located in a fantastic part of the country for nature and outdoor lovers: it's close to both the Abel Tasman and Nelson Lakes National Parks. As well as the expected abundance of hiking trails, both parks offer attractions for shorter trips, families, and less active travelers. Abel Tasman is famous for its golden-sand beaches, which are among the best in the country. Water taxis and cruises can be taken up the coastline. The Nelson Lakes National Park is a high-altitude park dotted with 16 pristine lakes. Rotoiti and Rotorua are the most easily accessible.

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Kahurangi National Park: The Complete Guide