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Karamea facts for kids

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Photograph of Karamea
Karamea township
Country New Zealand
Region West Coast
District Buller District
Ward Seddon
Electorates West Coast-Tasman
Te Tai Tonga
 • Total 357

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) northeast 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 southwestern end of the Heaphy Track.

The name Karamea is Māori – 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 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.

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

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.

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 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
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average precipitation mm (inches) 148.4
Source: World Climate
  • "Karamea: A Story of Success. Karamea District Centennial 1874-1974" by Dulcie Harmon (2007 Reprint, Buller Printing, Westport)


The population of Karamea town was 357 in the 2018 census, a decrease of 21 from 2013. There were 195 males and 159 females. 92.4% of people identified as European/Pākehā, 6.7% as Māori and 3.4% as Pacific peoples. 12.9% were under 15 years old, 4.2% were 15–29, 53.8% were 30–64, and 27.7% were 65 or older.

Historical population
Year Pop. ±% p.a.
2006 798 —    
2013 768 −0.55%
2018 714 −1.45%

The statistical area of Karamea, which at 3,128 square kilometres is much larger than the town, had a population of 714 at the 2018 New Zealand census, a decrease of 54 people (-7.0%) since the 2013 census, and a decrease of 84 people (-10.5%) since the 2006 census. There were 381 households. There were 393 males and 324 females, giving a sex ratio of 1.21 males per female. The median age was 53.3 years (compared with 37.4 years nationally), with 99 people (13.9%) aged under 15 years, 60 (8.4%) aged 15 to 29, 378 (52.9%) aged 30 to 64, and 177 (24.8%) aged 65 or older.

Ethnicities were 92.0% European/Pākehā, 10.5% Māori, 2.9% Pacific peoples, 0.8% Asian, and 3.4% other ethnicities (totals add to more than 100% since people could identify with multiple ethnicities).

The proportion of people born overseas was 16.4%, compared with 27.1% nationally.

Although some people objected to giving their religion, 65.1% had no religion, 21.8% were Christian and 2.1% had other religions.

Of those at least 15 years old, 54 (8.8%) people had a bachelor or higher degree, and 165 (26.8%) people had no formal qualifications. The median income was $19,900, compared with $31,800 nationally. The employment status of those at least 15 was that 219 (35.6%) people were employed full-time, 126 (20.5%) were part-time, and 27 (4.4%) were unemployed.


Karamea Area School is a coeducational composite school (years 1–13), with a roll of 87 as of February 2024. The school celebrated 125 years of settlement and schooling in 2000.

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