Wild Weather Hike at Charming Creek

We’re moving on again! This time, northwards to Karamea. It’s a small town on the West Coast that’s a little off the beaten track, but it is also the base for adventures into the Kahurangi National Park like the Heaphy Track Great Walk and the magnificent arches of the Oparara Basin.

But like all “moving on” days we are going to do a bit of exploring along the way. Charming Creek has been recommended then recommended again to us by Steve and Ray at Bazil’s Hostel in Westport! They really do have an incredible knowledge of the area so we’d be morons to not follow their advice!

After breakfast and a work session at Bazil’s and one last morning surrounded by colourful murals, we pack up the van and hit the road north to Charming Creek. The drive is only about 35km, but within that distance we still manage to see something rather bizarre…

The world’s biggest washing machine

We’re following the coastline just a metre or two above sea level. The weather is pretty sh*tty with a low-lying fog making it hard to differentiate between the sea and the sky. Then we notice that the grassy and flax verges of the road are white too! What?! They are covered under a bed of sea foam! We stop the van to just watch the waves pushing more and more foam onto the side of the road. It’s like an ocean-sized washing machine here!

sea foam madness

A guy walks up to us and says that we should move on because this road could be underwater soon.

Further down the road, the sea foam has been blown across the road. A lady parks up on the side of the road  to take photos of the bizarre spectacle. (See, it’s not just us).

So it’s drizzling, the winds are whipping up, and the sea is acting a bit crazy… Something is happening with the weather today.

Can someone please explain what the hell we are seeing here?! Can someone please explain what the hell we are seeing here?!
Moments before the river started to rise Moments before the river started to rise
Follow the Charming Creek railway Follow the Charming Creek railway
A rollercoaster of a hike! A rollercoaster of a hike!

The Charming Creek Walkway

Soon enough, we get to the car park at one end of the Charming Creek Walkway. As we still have two hours of driving after this walk, we are only doing two hours of the walk to Mangatini Falls and back, rather than the entire six hours to the end of the walk and back. Enough excuses, let’s get on with it!

The wind is really blustering now, but under the initial shelter of the trees this doesn’t seem so bad.

make like a train

The Charming Creek Walkway follows an old railway line. At first we can only see the rails poking out from the grass and gravel. Then we start to notice bolts, then the wooden planks that connect the rails, then where the railway completely disappears into a roaring river gorge below!!

Rising river

It’s hard to miss the Ngakawau River below, especially as it is roaring and raging! An opening to the river banks invites us to have a closer look, but when we notice the water start to creep up and submerge some of the rocks are stood by, we decide to get the hell out of there! Even the wildlife is moving to higher ground! We should follow. They seem to know what they are doing.

GEtting a sneak peak at Mangatini Falls

Waterfalls and rockfalls

Luckily, the track ascends away from the river, but not necessarily away from the water. Along the steep gorge walls, small trickles of water turn into full on waterfalls. Mixed with the wind, the water is spraying right across the track that we have no other option than to run through.

Between waterfalls, there are sections of “rockfall” areas. Sign indicate where to not stop, so we power on over the remains of previous rock falls. The railway line is either bent in all sorts of awkward positions or completely disappeared under the rubble.

A note to the early pioneers: you are nuts!

Right now, it feels like the railway line has been constructed in the wildest place imaginable. But sheer determination has put this line literally through mountains, as we pass through a tunnel, and on the edge of a sketchy river, and along a gorge prone to rockfalls. Man, those early settler’s were nuts. They tried anything to get coal and timber!

Such a lush environment! Such a lush environment!
The reason for our anxiety... The reason for our anxiety...
Welcome to the railway cave Welcome to the railway cave

A swingbridge and Mangatini Falls

We see the spray of the grand finale floating onto the swingbridge ahead before we see the thing itself. Of all the swingbridges we have crossed on hikes in New Zealand, this is the one we would least like to fall from… (Not that that’s likely to happen).

As expected, Mangatini Falls is not the tiered shape we have seen on photos. It is almost one full and forceful body of water surging with all the force in the world into the fierce river below. We are getting drenched just looking at it from afar. It kind of reminds us of when we faced the Marokopa Falls back in Waitomo.

A railway tunnel to calmer waters

The main viewing area across the swingbridge happens to have the shelter of a long tunnel that we dive into to get out of the waterfall’s spray. On the other side of the tunnel is another waterfall – far less mental than Mangatini Falls. It pours delicately over the mossy rocks onto the railway line beneath our feet. Beautiful!

Reliving the wildness

This is as far as we dare go today, so we turn around and relive the awesomeness of this track! Honestly, there is so much to look at with this track with the battle between man’s intervention and nature that it makes Charming Creek Walkway a really stand-out track in New Zealand!

Remains of the good ‘coal days

On the way back past increasingly forceful falls and a rising river, we eventually make it to the calm section of the railway and get a closer look at the remains of old trains, buildings and bins (carriages) that transported coal and timber on this sketchy railway line. We can even see bits of coal along the railway line where the early pioneers dropped some. Tsk!

So, we did it! We survived Charming Creek! Now we understand that “Charming” was completely and utterly ironic!

The final stretch to Karamea

Back on the road. This may shock you but we tackle the winding uphill road to make our way to Karamea. The lush mountains and fog make for a pretty epic scenic drive.

We eventually arrive at the rainbow-painted Rongo Backpackers where we receive a great welcome from Nicky, Brian and some girls staying in the hostel preparing for the Heaphy Track. We immediately feel comfortable here in this quirky hostel where every wall is covered in art, poetry, quotes and a giant fish hangs from the ceiling with an Action Man in its mouth.

Laura and Robin

The forest always looks better after some rain
The forest always looks better after some rain Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Want more?

Yippe! What a trooper! Take a look at these articles:

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See you tomorrow, backpacker bitches!

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