Oparara Arches, New Zealand

Exploring the ancient Ōpārara Arches

Last Updated: 15th August, 2023

Nestled in the heart of New Zealand’s Kahurangi National Park, the Ōpārara Arches are an incredible sight to behold! Carved over millions of years, these limestone formations tower over the lush rainforest and Ōpārara River, and make for an exciting and memorable adventure on the West Coast of New Zealand!

What are the Ōpārara Arches?

The Ōpārara Arches are a series of magnificent natural limestone rock formations located in the Ōpārara Basin of New Zealand. Carved over millennia by geological forces, these arches stand as awe-inspiring examples of nature’s architecture.

The Ōpārara Arches consists of two main arches, the Moria Gate Arch and the Ōpārara Arch.

Ōpārara Arch

The Ōpārara Arch is the more well-known of the two arches in the Oparara Basin. It is thought to be the largest natural rock arch in the Southern hemisphere – measuring approximately 219m long by 79 m wide by 43 m high! What sets the Ōpārara Arch apart is its magnificent shape, with a huge interior cave and incredible stalactites. Visitors can view this arch from a designated viewing platform, which provides a stunning vantage point to appreciate its scale and beauty.

Ōpārara Arches, New Zealand

There is a lovely walk that takes you from the carpark and through the dense native forest until you reach this magnificent arch. The walk is short and easy, and an incredible way to see this hidden gem!

Moria Gate Arch

The Moria Gate Arch is the smaller of the two arches, but is equally (if not more) impressive to see! Its name is inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” series, and it definitely has an otherworldly feel to it!

Moria Gate Arch, Oparara Arches, New Zealand

This arch is an impressive natural formation with a width of about 43 meters and a height of around 19 meters. It is characterized by its unique shape, resembling a natural stone bridge with the whiskey-coloured Ōpārara River flowing past at its base.

Where are the Ōpārara Arches?

The Ōpārara Arches are found in the heart of the ancient Kahurangi National Park, on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island (phoooah, that hurt my brain writing that!). This stunning section of untouched native forest is located north of the small town of Karamea, at the very tippy-top of the West Coast.

How to get to the Ōpārara Arches

Because of the isolated location of the incredible Ōpārara Arches, the best way to get to see these ancient rock formations is by car! They are about a 3 hour drive (176km) north of the tourist hot-spot of Punakaiki, or 45 minutes (25km) from the small township of Karamea.

If you have been previously travelling around using public transport, your best bet is to hire a car for a few days from Greymouth or Hokitika to explore this section of the coast! This is by far the best way to make the most of this area of the West Coast, as many of the attractions here are off the main tourist path!

Ōpārara Arches Tours!

If you are still keen to see the arches but are stuck on transport, or would love to experience these incredible rock formations alongside a knowledgeable guide, then there are a bunch of awesome tours available to make this a memorable experience!

Ōpārara Guided Tours

This awesome company offers a range of tours around the Ōpārara Basin, so that you can pick and choose your perfect day out! Choose from the Ōpārara Basin Eco Tour, which includes pick up from your accommodation and a day of exploring most of the Ōpārara Basin, or the Honeycomb Hill Cave/Arch Guided Tour, which includes an explore around the protected Honeycomb Hill Cave system!

Other Cool Things to See in the Ōpārara Basin!

1. Mirror Tarn

This small, tranquil tarn (a mountain lake) reflects the surrounding lush forest and towering cliffs. It’s a great spot for photography and a peaceful place to appreciate the natural beauty of the region.

Mirror Tarn, Ōpārara Arches, New Zealand

This Tarn can be viewed along with the Moria Gate Arch along a short and easy loop track that takes you through the lush rainforest to each natural attraction. This walk takes around 1.5 hours to complete, and is an awesome way to explore the area!

2. Ōpārara Basin Trails

Apart from the arches themselves, the Ōpārara Basin features a network of walking tracks that allow visitors to explore the diverse landscapes of the area. These trails lead through ancient rainforests, along the banks of the Ōpārara River, and offer opportunities to spot native flora and fauna.

Walking track, Ōpārara Arches, New Zealand

3. Honeycomb Hill Caves

The Honeycomb Hill Cave system is another geological marvel in the area. It was discovered in 1976, and is made up of 13.7 kilometers of passages and 70 entrances. It features a series of interconnecting chambers with unique limestone formations, as well as incredible collection of ancient fossilized Moa Bones! These caves are protected , and are only accessible by guided tours. These tours are available to explore the caves while learning about their formation and the creatures that inhabit them.

4. Crazy Paving and Box Canyon Caves

Just a few minutes from the famous Ōpārara Arch are these two caves! These caves are perfect for an adventure with younger kids, as they are located pretty close to the car park, with only a 5-minute easy walk through the forest to see them.

forest surrounding Ōpārara Arches , New Zealand

These caves are both super fun and interesting to visit, with unique characteristics. The first cave that you come across is the Crazy Paving Cave – and you will understand how it got it’s name! The floor of this cave is made of fragile, deep sediment, which has dried out slowly and cracked. These cracked edges curl up, creating a floor that looks like it is covered in large paving stones! Just slightly further down the trail is the Box Canyon Cave. This cave is also interesting to visit, and has been shaped over millions of years water to be box-shaped!

History of the Ōpārara Arches

The Ōpārara Basin is formed from a bed of granite that is over 350-million years old! This is then overlaid by a narrow belt of limestone, with a layer of blue-grey mudstone on top. The limestone itself is around 35-million years old, was formed from deposits of shell debris when the area lay under the sea! The incredible limestone arches and caves you can explore today in the Ōpārara Basin are the results of water erosion gradually wearing away the limestone rock, creating underground passages that eventually collapsed to form these remarkable natural formations!

inside the caves at Ōpārara Arches , New Zealand

Thanks for reading my post on the incredible Ōpārara Arches! I love finding incredible natural wonders off the tourist path, and this felt like a step into another world! If you are keen to read a bit more about the walking tracks in the Ōpārara Basin, check out my post here!

If you are looking at extending your West Coast adventure, and would like to see other awesome things to do while your here, check out my guides on Things to do in Punakaiki and Hokitika!

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