Enticing Kahurangi National Park in New Zealand

Never has a name been so deserved. In Maori Kahurangi means “treasured possession” and it won’t take you very long to work out why. Location scouts for the Lord of the Rings film trilogy settled upon Kahurangi’s Mount Owen as the setting for Dimrill Dale and also Mount Olympus which doubled as the rocky outcrop near Rivendell. New Zealand’s second largest national park is also one of its newest, designated only in 1996. Twenty years on, it remains one of South Island’s most popular spots for visitors and locals alike. Here are some of Kahurangi National Park attractions that draw local and overseas visitors.

Kahurangi National Park Attractions: Early morning cloud Kahurangi National Park Albert Palen
Early morning cloud over Kahurangi National Park: Photo © @albertpalenshoots

Kahurangi National Park Attractions

Happy trampers

While much of the park remains a wilderness, it is bisected by a number of walking trails, most famously the Heaphy Track. Attracting around 4000 hikers every year, this famous trail is one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks” and one of the main Kahurangi National Park attractions. Once, it was the route followed by Maoris searching for pounamu or greenstone. In 1846, Charles Heaphy and Thomas Brunner were the first Europeans to venture into the park’s north west coast. Later, it became a route to the Aorere goldfield.

Kahurangi National Park attractions: Follow the boardwalk near Gouland Downs on the Heaphy Track New Zealand
Follow the boardwalk near Gouland Downs on the Heaphy Track: Photo on Flickr by Kathrin & Stefan Marks / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

These days, trampers who attempt its 78km route will be richly rewarded with views of rugged mountains, verdant rainforest, tussock grasslands and palm-fringed beaches. Alternatives to the Heaphy Track include the 59km Wangapeka Track and shorter trails from the trailhead towns of Karamea, Takaka, Murchison and Motueka for those wishing to limit themselves to day hikes. The Tasman Wilderness Area is the most inaccessible part of the park; there are no huts and no formal trails, making this region one for experienced trampers only.

Kahurangi National Park attractions: Waterfall near Gouland Downs Hut on the Heaphy Track New Zealand
A perfect place near Gouland Downs Hut on the Heaphy Track: Photo on Flickr by Kathrin & Stefan Marks / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A geologist’s dream

The park is a geologist’s dream, but you don’t have to be an expert to appreciate the stunning rock formations that characterise large parts of Kahurangi National Park. Towering above everything are the twin marble mountains, Mount Owen and Mount Arthur, two of the Kahurangi National Park attractions. The former provides a playground for the most discerning of spelunkers as they explore New Zealand’s most extensive cave system. The country’s oldest fossil, dating back 540 million years, was also found here. The region’s limestone has been sculpted by water into myriad caves, stacks, arches and sinkholes. Remote white water draws skillful kayakers, while the Karamea River is a mecca for trout fishermen.

Kahurangi National Park attractions: Moria Gate Cave in the Oparara Basin near Karamea New Zealand
Moria Gate Cave in the Oparara Basin near Karamea: Photo on Flickr by trevorklatko / CC BY-NC 2.0

A haven for wildlife

The varied landscape, with its eclectic mix of beech forest, ferns, vines and palms, attracts a wide range of native species. Eighteen types of indigenous birds can be found in the park, including the great spotted kiwi, tui and bellbirds. The Kahurangi cave spider makes its home underground, while at night you might spot one of the area’s huge carnivorous land snails feasting on metre long worms. The smallest of New Zealand’s giant weta, similar to a grasshopper, can also be spotted by the eagle-eyed.

The Tui belongs to the honeyeater family
The Tui belongs to the honeyeater family

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About JuliaHammond

Website: http://www.juliahammond.co.uk

Julia Hammond is a Geography teacher turned travel writer with a passion for places. Winning Mail Travel's Deep South competition was the catalyst to write for a diverse range of publications including Bradt's Bus Pass Britain Rides Again. She’s written Kindle guides to Cape Town, Peru and London for Unanchor and advice on Savannah for Wanderlust. When not travelling, she can be found at home in Essex planning her next trip, her two golden retrievers curled up at her feet.

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