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New Zealand's best-kept secret.

For anyone who wants a fabulous experience so far off the beaten track that you almost wish you hadn’t set off before you actually get there, Karamea is an absolute killer. First of all – this small village of about 600 inhabitants is situated right where the road ends for good. You don’t get much further than Karamea – actually the only means you need to continue in any direction except back – is your own two feet. Karamea – welcome to paradise is how the beckoning road sign welcomes back its 600 inhabitants when they’ve taken a road trip to the closest town, 1.5 hours’ drive away, and the scarce number of tourists with narrow interests who choose to go all this way to get a glimpse of the concealed beauties of paradise.

Anyone who takes the trouble will definitely find the long drive worth its while. The scenic drive in itself is pretty amazing. Mountains, forests, bush land, coastal areas, farmland – narrow roads – solitude.

The road to paradise is an attraction in itself. Most excitingly: ever so often a kind of “speedy Gonzales” attempts suicide by crossing the road at full speed. The stretch of road is full of my favorite bird, the flightless Wekabird.

The Wekabird is a gift from the Universe to us all. It is a tall, slim creature with a sharp beak and with long claws on its feet. It is just so funny, and seems to be fully aware of the fact that it inevitably is going to wander off to a new life if it doesn’t make a fast run for it when it crosses the road right in front of the large machinery that comes in its way. Unbelievably – this bird survives most of the time, and you actually get to see a lot of them.

Anyway, the people of Karamea love them – and only occasionally chase them off their properties despite of the enormous damages these critters may cause to their plants, fruit trees, berries – even domestic cats. This bird is ready to put up a fight with almost anything, and it doesn’t give in to claws and teeth of aggressive cats. Many a Karamean has lost their fat gold fish to Wekabirds. They’re good fish catchers – patiently waiting for the right moment to grab a goldfish by its beak, then dividing it into suitable pieces to make it easier to consume, and then voluptuously swallowing each big bite as if this was the last fish on earth.

The Weka stays where people stay. It is, like most birds in New Zealand, totally protected, so just laying a hand on one will have consequences. If you choose to take any of the walks in Karamea’s Jurassic-like forests, you can be sure to come across these birds on the different paths. They are not afraid of people, and gladly take any food you have to offer them. They might possibly go for a bite of your finger as well unless you are careful.

Karamea is snuggled into the warm northwest corner of New Zealand’s South Island. In a way the small village is a secluded haven, hard to reach, but yet so beautiful and quiet and filled with the best New Zealand has to offer with hospitable, helpful and friendly people. A place situated between mountains, the wild Tasman Sea, decorated with the river flats of the Karamea River and the coastal plains. The best part is probably the pristine beaches where one can go jogging or walking for hours, just observing the wild ocean waves, the wildlife, the long stretched sandy bays and beaches and the special kind of flora that has settled on the edge of the long and wide stretches of white sand. No, you cannot in any way even consider taking a swim, even if it is tempting. The currents in these waters are extremely strong and unpredictable. Surfers go to certain “safe «areas, which are not really safe for the not so experienced ones, and the rest of us have to stay off the seashore at arm’s length.

The area caters for the tramper and caver, birdwatcher and botanist, geologist and mountain biker, hunter, fly fisherman, the loner and fisherman, the more adventurous kayaker, the crazy surf dude and rafter.

Karamea has a relaxed ‘off the beaten track’ feel. The area is a natural wonderland, with the beginning or end of the famous Heaphy, Wangapeka & Karamea-Leslie Tracks. Due to a stable climate, never too hot never too cold, Karamea can be visited all year round to enjoy the many scenic attractions in the region, which is enveloped by the Kahurangi National Park. One of New Zealand's nine "Great Walks," the Heaphy Track starts at the kohaihai River, which is about 20 kilometers to the north of Karamea. The Heaphy Track is so special that I guarantee – you won’t find anything like it. A path through a fantastic one in a million kind of forest sets you right into Spielberg’s Jurassic Park movies, and if you didn’t know better you’d really believe that some kind of dinosaurs were ready to appear behind the next curve. The trees, the ferns, the bush land and the grasses – everything is special.

You can walk for an hour and you get to a fantastic beach – but beware – even worse than dinosaurs are the little buggers that actually do attack you – sandflies! Small bloodsucking insects that just attacks your body by the thousands and start biting and sucking! You might soothe the pain by covering your bare parts with insect repellant and leave the beach and get back on track before long. These pests only live on the beach, you normally get rid of them the minute you enter the forest again. The Wangapeka Track also begins near Karamea. The Oparara Basin with the Oparara Arches, Honeycomb Caves and rainforest walks are popular attractions for both locals and visitors.

Luckily, there are a couple of stores in Karamea, including a well-equipped supermarket. There is a gas station, a couple of restaurants, some bed and breakfasts and two bars. The best way to get fresh food is to go directly to the source, the farmers. They have a lot of delicatessen for sale – dairy products, all kinds of vegetables, fruits including passion fruit and tamarillos, the main berries. Blueberries, gooseberries, strawberries, raspberries, boysenberries – what more could you wish for? If there is no one home, just get what you need and insert a fair amount of money in the honesty box!

Sphagnum moss, possum control, fishing, fine furniture production, horticultural tomato growers and a plant nursery provide income, while the service industry employs approximately a quarter of the Karamea workforce.

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