It is the northernmost settlement of any real size on the West Coast, and is located 96 kilometres (60 mi) north-east by road from Westport. There is no other connecting road to the town - the road north ends at the Kohaihai River some 20 kilometres (12 mi) from Karamea, at the south western end of the Heaphy Track. The Karamea River flows past the town to the south and into the Karamea Bight, part of the Tasman Sea.
The name Karamea is Maori - despite local jokes suggesting it was named by an Italian for his love - and is thought to either mean "red ochre" or be a corruption of Kakarataramea, "the smell of speargrass leaves". The large bay formed by the curve of coastline north for 100 kilometres (62 mi) from Cape Foulwind is called Karamea Bight.
The Oparara River runs through the area, and the Oparara Basin Arches, large natural river tunnels, are a well-known tourist destination, though tourism in the area is limited compared to most other parts of New Zealand. The Karamea River flows into the sea just south of the main township, and there is a large lagoon which completely clears of water at low tide, and completely fills with water at high tide.
Karamea township offers local services including a general store, supermarket, petrol pumps, information centre, cafe, hotel, camping ground, motels, backpackers and art & craft shop.
Maori occupation in this area seems to have been mainly seasonal. The first Europeans and Chinese would have been early gold-miners in the 1860s. The first true settlement of the area took place in 1874 when the (then) fine harbour and sea provided the only means of contact with the outside world. This original settlement was on the South Terrace but poor soil forced the inhabitants down to the river valley. One side of the river (Umere) was known as the Land of Promise, the other side (Arapito) as the Promised Land. Farming was to become a major industry, but timber, flax and gold also provided a means to a living. The Murchison earthquake in 1929 caused the silting up of the harbour and cut the community's road link for about two years. Dairying remains a major industry of Karamea. Sphagnum moss, possum control, fishing, fine furniture production, horticultural tomato growers and a plant nursery also provide income, while the service industry employs approximately a quarter of the workforce. Fruit grown in the area includes tamarillos, which can be grown here due to the area's mild and frost-free microclimate.
Tourists visit Karamea 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 (or finishes) at the Kohaihai River, which is about 20 kilometres (12 mi) north of Karamea. The Wangapeka Track also begins (or ends) near Karamea. The Oparara Basin with the Oparara Arches, Honeycomb Caves and rainforest walks is also a popular attraction. Tourism is a fast-growing segment of the local economy, and the region is often said to be "New Zealand's best-kept secret".
|Climate data for Karamea, New Zealand|
|Average precipitation mm (inches)||148.4
|Source: World Climate |
- Peter Dowling (editor) (2004). Reed New Zealand Atlas. Reed Books. map 62. ISBN 0-7900-0952-8.
- Roger Smith, GeographX (2005). The Geographic Atlas of New Zealand. Robbie Burton. map 128. ISBN 1-877333-20-4.
- Quickstats about Karamea
- "Karamea Travel Guide". Jasons Travel Media.
- "Te Kete Ipurangi - Karamea Area School". Ministry of Education.
- "Jubilees & reunions: Karamea Area School". Education Gazette New Zealand 77 (9). 25 May 1998.
- "Climate Statistics for Karamea, NZ". Retrieved January 27, 2012.
- "Karamea: A Story of Success. Karamea District Centennial 1874-1974" by Dulcie Harmon (2007 Reprint, Buller Printing, Westport)
- Information centre, Karamea
- Karamea Community Website
- Karamea Area School
- Karamea (West Coast Notes) Article on the settlement of Karamea and its history, pub. in the Otago Witness, 18 August 1898.