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Photograph of Karamea
Karamea township
Karamea is located in New Zealand
Coordinates: 41°14′52″S 172°6′42″E / 41.24778°S 172.11167°E / -41.24778; 172.11167
CountryNew Zealand
RegionWest Coast
DistrictBuller District
 • Total423

Karamea is a town on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. 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 population was 423 in the 2006 census, a decline of 18 from 2001.[1]

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".

Karamea Bight, the large bay formed by the curve of coastline north for 100 kilometres (62 mi) from Cape Foulwind, is part of the Tasman Sea. The Karamea River flows into the Karamea Bight[2][3] just south of the main township, and there is a large lagoon that completely clears of water at low tide, and completely fills with water at high tide. 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.[4]

Karamea township offers local services including a general store, supermarket, petrol pumps, information centre, cafe, hotel, camping ground, motels, backpackers and art & craft shop.

Little Wanganui, a small dairy farming village south of Karamea, includes a surfing beach and a river popular for whitebaiting and fishing. It includes a small tavern, community hall and volunteer fire brigade.[5][6]

Golden Bay Air flies to Karamea Aerodrome from Nelson and Takaka.


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 mining also provided a means to a living.

The 1929 Murchison earthquake 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. Tourism is a fast-growing segment of the local economy, and the region is often said to be "New Zealand's best-kept secret". One end of the Heaphy Track, one of New Zealand's nine "Great Walks", is at the Kohaihai River, about 20 kilometres (12 mi) north of Karamea. The western end of the Wangapeka Track is near Karamea. The Oparara Basin with the Oparara Arches, Honeycomb Caves and rainforest walks is also a popular attraction.


Karamea Area School is a coeducational composite school (years 1–15), with a decile rating of 5 and a roll of 93.[7] The school celebrated 125 years of settlement and schooling in 2000.[8]


Climate data for Karamea, New Zealand
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average precipitation mm (inches) 148.4
Source: World Climate [9]


  1. ^ Quickstats about Karamea
  2. ^ Peter Dowling (editor) (2004). Reed New Zealand Atlas. Reed Books. map 62. ISBN 0-7900-0952-8.
  3. ^ Roger Smith, GeographX (2005). The Geographic Atlas of New Zealand. Robbie Burton. map 128. ISBN 1-877333-20-4.
  4. ^ "Karamea Travel Guide". Jasons Travel Media.
  5. ^ "Little Wanganui". surfseeker.nz. Surf Seeker NZ.
  6. ^ "Little Wanganui River". adventureguide.co.nz. Adventure Guide.
  7. ^ "Te Kete Ipurangi - Karamea Area School". Ministry of Education.
  8. ^ "Jubilees & reunions: Karamea Area School". Education Gazette New Zealand. 77 (9). 25 May 1998.
  9. ^ "Climate Statistics for Karamea, NZ". Retrieved January 27, 2012.

Further reading[edit]

  • "Karamea: A Story of Success. Karamea District Centennial 1874-1974" by Dulcie Harmon (2007 Reprint, Buller Printing, Westport)

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 41°15′S 172°07′E / 41.250°S 172.117°E / -41.250; 172.117