We traverse the gravel beyond the last town to it’s end and arrive in paradise… The sunlit beach is golden and endless, the tree lined camping pitches have beach front views, we have a BBQ area and are allowed to have fires and the icing on the cake the previous occupants left their hammock, could life get any better…. We set up home then cook dinner on the BBQ watching the sunset out across the beach, bliss. Next morning we find the one downside to this beautiful campsite the sandflies (nasty wee bitey things) are bad here, still you can’t have everything. We head back toward Oparara and some natural limestone arches. The route is inland across 14km of twisty, windy gravel fun before arriving at a parking area. We did have a slight ‘moment’ earlier when a foreigner forgot what side of the road they should be driving on. They saw us coming panicked then swerved the wrong way driving straight for us before finally aligning themselves to the correct side off the road. It was tricky for Kev as apart from scrubbing off speed he had nowhere to go but the line he was following in the deep gravel but we got by unscathed….. We take advantage of the picnic tables and have lunch before walking to the first arch. A short walk then we round the corner and wow one of the largest natural arches in NZ Oparara Arch. It is hard to describe, think of a large steep sided gorge easily wide enough for a road with a river at it’s base, now hold that picture in your mind and place a roof of stone over the top (got the wow factor yet). We are mere ants clambering around on the side and take a zillion photos but I bet none will show the scale of this. We drag ourselves away to go and visit the other arch Moria Gate Arch. After a much longer walk, it had better be worth it type length we approach what appears to be a cave entrance. Clambering down amongst the rocks in semi darkness we emerge in a huge hollow looking out through the arch to the river and yes it’s worth it. This is not on the same scale as the previous arch but its no less impressive in it’s own way. The cave opens up and runs down to the river which carved it, we clamber along the riverbank into other chambers. and have this amazing space to explore with no one else around. Again we take a zillion photos. On the way back we read the information panels by the track. In order to build this route to the arches it was nessessary for the DOC workers to camp out in the bush and helicopter in sections of bridges to cross the river. We also read a great tale about a possom, it visited their camp one night they heard a crash and then silence. In the morning everything appeared normal until a trip to the dunny revealed where the possom fell, his escape route out also was easily marked…… Back at the car park we zoom up the 1km to the caves the panel informs us we need torches…. The crazing paving cave so called for the usual cracked floor is just that small with crazy paved floors made by ancient dried mud. The next cave Box canyon is accessed by a steep flight of stairs by the time I’m half way down I’m in darkness and use my head torch. It is huge and has lots of offshoots we go quite a long way out on one on hands and knees a lot of the time, laying stick markers so we don’t get lost, our reward being some glow worms before we turn back towards the entrance and daylight. Our day still isn’t over we have one small detour to Mirror Tarn a small but perfectly formed lake, the water is dark brown from all the tannins leached out of the bush. The effect of this dark still water is to make a perfect mirror reflecting the folliage all around it, we take some pictures where you could literally turn the picture upside down and it would look the same. Winding our way back to camp we still have our BBQ to look forward to and after sunset we happily fall exhausted into bed. Waking refreshed we plan a lazy day after doing our washing, that is until Kev notices one of our wheels is missing (no not that one) one of the outrigger wheels. A closer investigation reveals that where we replaced the pneumatics with solid tyres the extra weight has been too much and has cracked the storage bracket and it has bounced clean off. There is nothing for it but to repeat our journey to the arches in the hopes of finding it !! A hour or so later with one very stiff neck and aching eyes from staring at the road edge we take a lunch stop in the same car park before I resume the viligant watch for the other side. Here we chat to Bill who it turns out runs Wangapeka backpackers, he loves what we are doing and invites us to stay at his farm as their guest. Back at the campsite we morn the loss of the wheel it was a big blow to lose the whole lot fixing bracket and everything, at home Kev could easily knock another one up but here we need to find all the material first and somewhere to weld it plus of course a replacement wheel. . It may have to wait until Australia, our serious off roading is done here now anyway. We head out for a walk to take our minds off it meeting up with a few other like minded souls who we chat with whilst walking up to Scots Hill lookout on part of the famous Heaphy track. We light a fire tonight and spend a very pleasant evening watching an amazing sunset with the last few beers. Next day our time has to come to an end, we are short of food and head back to Karamea town stopping at the newly opened Global Gypsy cafe we bumped into the owner Sharon yesterday and promised to return. We sample some of their food as it looks delicous and chat with Sharon finding out we just missed out on a good music night two nights ago she has a resident musician Billy TK who has played with Carlos Santana and now lives in the hills around here. Our luck holds he is here for lunch too and spotting Sharons guitar proceeds to strum out some beautiful improvised blues sitting in the cafe’s courtyard. We stay for a few numbers soaking up the atmosphere before we move on, next stop is Bills farm.