Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Karamea is the northernmost town on the West Coast of the South Island and is on the same latitude as Picton and a little higher than Wellington and is just over an hour's drive (100 km) from Westport. It's also the end of the famous Heaphy Track.

The Museum didn't open until the afternoon, so I missed this delight and instead went to their tiny library and spoke to the girl in charge that day.

Since earthquakes are topical, we chatted about Christchurch and got around to the 'Murchison earthquake' on the 17th of June 1929, which according to her history lessons should have been called the 'Karamea earthquake' since it was nearer to their town than further south. Silt from the shattered hills filled the river mouth and shut off transport by sea forever, their major transport route. The only alternative was a road route opened in June 1916 but the earthquake damaged this and it was not operational for a year.  I guess it was back to pack horses for a while. South of the town had a small forest on the flats. The earthquake heaved these trees up and dumped them down breaking their roots and the forest died. But no people died in Karamea like they did at Murchison and I don't think they mind it being named the 'Murchison earthquake'.

The first settlers to Karamea arrived on the 'Charles Edward' to Nelson on the 27th of November 1874. They were part of the Vogel scheme of 'special settlements'. The land they were first alloted on a high plateau turned out to have an impervious layer and nothing grew. So much hardship. They later discovered that the Karamea River Flats were fertile and settled there. Today, farming is still the major economic force and for others it is difficult to make a living and about a quarter of the population turn over every five years or so. But such a lovely climate and the isolation will always tempt people to replace those leaving.

The Karamea Museum is open 1 to 4pm Wednesday to Saturday but can be arranged for other times. Price $3 for adults, $1 for children over 5yrs.

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