As soon as I heard the name Karamea, I knew it was a place I wanted to visit. Its calming colours were calling me to its chest, so without much hesitation, I gathered my backpack and a trusty companion and off we charged to Karamea; the northernmost settlement on the west coast of the South Island.
We had heard of a great little hut in Karamea that could be reached by the Wangapeka Track, a secluded oasis in the Kahurangi National Park. It was a beautiful drive from Westport and as we navigated the Radiant Range we were treated to spectacular scenes of native forest spreading seawards. We looped through the hills, roaming along empty beaches, criss-crossing creeks and trawling through quaint little towns that piqued my curiosity. It took us just over an hour and half to reach the Wangapeka Road end, where we parked our car and began our walk into the wilderness.
The Wangapeka route traverses Kahurangi National Park. Following a river up into the hills, it crosses two saddles through the beautiful beech-forested valleys. The walk begins with a narrow path through regenerated farmland flats. Bush bristled thickly around us as we journeyed into silence; a tree-softened space where barely a bird was heard as we walked.
Once we crossed over a small section of river, the path began to expand as we moved deeper and deeper into the green glow of mature native bush. Mushrooms marked our way, yellow buttons pinging from the earth and turquoise disks twinkling in the moss.
After about an hour and half of walking, the track meets the river bed that expands generously and invites you further up into the hills, verdant bush exploding all around. The landscape filled us with energy and we found a sunny spot by the river to eat our lunch and bathe in its recharging rhythms. The last section of the walk took us through a grove of beech trees before eventually bringing us to Manunui Hut.
It was about three hours, roughly, to the hut. The path was well-marked and it was a relatively gentle walk; fairly flat. Hut Manunui is a standard 10-bunk hut in the Buller area. No booking is required and its elevation is 259m. There are two sleeping platforms and a small firebox. Outside there is a tap above a sink in an exterior alcove with a long drop toilet close by.
We were not the only ones staying that night. We met a lovely couple and a father with his two sons. There was a cosy communal atmosphere and we all got as snug as we could with the fire on full force, but it was a chilly June night.
The hills loom over the hut, and the next morning it was cloaked in shadows. Our morning was slow and it was difficult to peel ourselves out of our sleeping bags but eventually we set off around 11am. Going back the way we came, we retraced our steps to our sunny river-side spot.
After all the trees, we decided it was time for some sea breeze and ventured towards the coast. We discovered beach Wanganui, a fantastic stretch of golden sand and gentle waves which were being enjoyed by a handful of surfers. Here, we watched the sun go down perched on a huge tree, adrift and bleached by the sun.
We only skimmed the surface of what Karamea has to offer and I definitely intend to return. This warm northwest corner of the South Island has immense tranquility and beauty; a mesmerising charm that I suspect has many more hidden treasures.