Karamea Estuary Enhancement Project (KEEP)
Karamea Estuary Walkway
This short walk has been established near the Karamea township. It will take you back in time, connect you with Karamea’s natural assets, its river, estuary and wildlife, and may provide stunning views and possibly a sunset. In an hour you will be able to do the entire walk, but there are variations which can be completed in less time. You could simply have a picnic beside the carpark or the river. Take a walk before breakfast or after dinner. You may see locals whitebaiting or migrant birds feeding. Reasonable walking footwear is recommended for the loop track, but the track closest to the car park is developed to a high standard. The walkway borders the Karamea Estuary and the north bank of the Karamea River, and then returns to the car park via Wharf Road and Ray Street. Private land is crossed. Please respect and care for the public and private land and any plants and animals you may meet.
The track, revegetation and interpretation are ongoing works undertaken by the Karamea Estuary Enhancement Project - Kaiawhina o te Wahapu. KEEP's aims are to protect, enhance and promote the Karamea Estuary and surrounding area. See Directory for contact information.
Hokioi the giant eagle
This is a legend involving Karamea handed on to us from an elder of the Ngati Kahungunu tribe Te Maia, a chief living in Hataitai (Wellington), brought his people across the water to Whakatu (Nelson). Some time later he felt the need to have time to himself so he walked into the mountains behind the kainga. He came upon a spring where he drank and then he discovered a cave into which he climbed for a rest. Inside was a large nest with an egg in it. He lay down beside it and went to sleep. When the egg hatched, Te Maia helped the young one out and they were brothers. The mother eagle returned and accepted him. When the young one grew older he learnt to fly with Te Maia on his back.
There came a time when there were only the two of them. Te Maia had now become Te Maia Kahurangi - the man-eagle and regularly flew a circuit from Whakatu to Karamea, up to Onetahua (Farewell Spit) then back to the nest above Whakatu.
Because one corner of the triangular flight path was at Karamea (where the bones of Hokioi have been found), this is seen as having a spiritual implication. For that reason KEEP invokes Hokioi in an opening karakia when meeting. Hokioi is now identified as a spiritual guardian of the Karamea estuary.
In the short space of a few hundred metres you can see evidence of both Maori and early European history. Prior to European migration, Maori were using the Karamea River mouth as a resting place and food gathering source. While no evidence of pa sites has been discovered yet, there were huge piles of pipi shells indicating settlement.
Archaeological work has revealed artefacts from the 1300s but no habitation, unlike the Heaphy River 40 kilometres to the north. This site was a seasonal camping site en route from the major Maori settlements in the North Island to the southern West Coast rivers; the source of the highly valued pounamu/greenstone.
Surveyors and prospectors passed through prior to organised European settlement in 1874 when several shiploads of adventurous pioneers arrived from Nelson. These ships negotiated the hazardous Karamea River bar and came ashore in this area.
After the turn of the 20th century, the heaps of shells were used by farmers. These piles (or middens) were so large, the farmers brought in machinery to crush them before using the shells to lime their paddocks. Remnants of these shell heaps are still visible from the Northern Walk.
Karamea had a functional river port for 50 years until the Murchison earthquake in 1929. The earthquake made hillsides collapse in the headwaters and the gorge. The subsequent silting up of the river reshaped the waterway and navigation became extremely difficult. A wharf on the Little Wanganui River continued to be operational, although also affected by the earthquake, but coastal trading eventually gave way to transport over the Karamea Bluff on the unsealed road.
The walkway borders the estuary and the north bank of the river. You will find remnants of wharves and retaining walls from when the port was working. ‘Flagstaff’ at the northern end of the estuary is so named from the shipping days when a flag was raised indicating the tides and enabling passage over the bar at that point. The river mouth has since moved south and the estuary has silted up.
A railway line was erected around the edge of the old port site to bring rock from a quarry in the Oparara Gorge for protection of the town from the river in flood. This was a project undertaken in the Depression in the 1930s. Railway irons and a reconstructed bogey are remnants of that time.
Karamea Estuary's Natural Values
The estuary is of national importance and is a very productive environment supporting an enormous range of plants and animals. It acts as a filtering sponge, absorbing high water flows and gradually releasing them; trapping sediment, bacteria and nutrients.
The combined Karamea/Otumahana Estuary is distinctive as a large (400 hectare area) shallow bar-built mudflat/saltmarsh estuary. This is nationally uncommon and vulnerable. It is an important breeding, feeding and migration area for a large number of fish and birds.
The sand and mud flats of both estuaries are dominated by sea rush, saltmarsh ribbonwood and jointed rush. Some pingao exists naturally and KEEP has also planted some along the sandy stretch of the route. Pingao was used decoratively by Maori for weaving but is now often out-competed by the exotic marram.
There are more than 40 bird species recorded here, including shorebirds, waterfowl and wetland birds. It is the summer home for the godwit which travels to Siberia for our winter. Terns, gulls and oyster catchers nest here, and careful watchers may spot fernbirds, crakes, kotuku (white heron), royal spoonbills, black swans and bitterns.
Whitebait and other fish such as kahawai and flounder pass through here for spawning, rearing and feeding. There are large shellfish beds of cockles and pipi, which account for the pre-European midden sites you can see on the northern part of the track.
How to get there
The estuary is easily accessible from Karamea township. It is five minutes’ walk from the Karamea Tavern at the western end of town.
Car Park 1 at the end of Ray Street is the obvious starting point, though the loop track can be walked in either direction, or started anywhere along it.
Another short walk is shown on this map. This is an unformed walk along the northern spit of the Karamea Estuary.
Vehicles can be parked at the end of Flagstaff Road (Car Park 2).
Information in this booklet is also relevant to this one hour (return) walk accessing the Tasman Sea and the Karamea Estuary.
Another short walk is shown on this map. This is an unformed walk along the northern spit of the Karamea Estuary. Vehicles can be parked at the end of Flagstaff Road (Car Park 2). Information in this booklet is also relevant to this one hour (return) walk accessing the Tasman Sea and the Karamea Estuary.