Located on the north-western corner of the South Island, within Kahurangi National Park, is the Heaphy Track. At approximately 80 kilometres in length, the Heaphy (named after 19th century adventurer Charles Heaphy) is the longest and most diverse of all Department of Conservation walks.
It was a busy year for us, but we were feeling the “call of the wild” so we went with a company that organises everything for you. The guides even carry the food so we only had to manage our packs with a change of clothes and a sleeping bag. All we had to do was get to Nelson (well, and a little bit of training before hand of course!!!) We decided we would do the 80 km track in 5 days. That would give us more opportunity to enjoy the scenery.
Brown Hut to Perry Saddle Hut at the Heaphy Track
The Heaphy Track begins in the north at Collingwood at Brown Hut, and finishes at Kohaihai River on the West Coast. Every day was different, and although the first day was the hardest, we were treated to native beech forest and heard the sound of Bellbirds and Tuis. We walked uphill through podocarp and beech forest to Flanagan’s Corner (the highest point on the track at 915m). En route, grand views of Aorere Valley opened up. We were told that on a clear day it was even possible to see Mt Taranaki from up there. From Flanagan’s Corner, it was a gentle stroll on to Perry Saddle Hut. I couldn’t believe that the water was so pure that I could drink direct form a mountain stream.
At the end of the day, we stayed the night in a Department of Conservation huts with a coal fire, kitchen and fresh water. Warm and cosy as! We didn’t think we would like the “shared hut” experience too much, but it was great. Everyone shared stories and experiences, hints about the trip, what to look out for, what to avoid, what the weather had been like for them. It felt like one big family. Of course, because we had guides with us, we very well looked after and a good nutritious meal of fresh local foods (salmon and couscous or Thai chicken curry for example), and wine, soon revived our weary bodies (and also attracted some rather envious looks from the others who only had dehydrated meal packets).
Perry Saddle Hut to Saxon Hut
Day two was easier, with only 4 hours of walking to Saxon Hut. The track passed through kamihi and beech forest before reaching the wide expanse of tussock covered land known as the Gouland Downs, past ‘the enchanted forest’, a limestone outcrop with caves and waterfalls.
Saxon Hut to Heaphy Hut
The next day afforded beautiful views down to the Heaphy River mouth before we descended gradually to the Heaphy River through ferns, and vines and beech and sub-tropical podocarp forest, meeting a cheeky Weka who nearly ran off with my lunch!
Meandering along the banks of the Heaphy Track River, passing giant rata and kahikatea trees on day four was magical. Being a shorter day, our guide was up for a detour just off the track to discover a stunning cave on the way to Heaphy Hut. The hut, one of the new ones installed only last year, was clean and airy, situated on the river mouth with grass area going down to the water. Prime coastal frontage! This is a truly magical spot, and was made even more memorable because our guide took us to the beach that night for a bonfire and marshmallow story telling session. What a great way to relax and unwind and to get to know your fellow trampers. That was an experience I will never forget. We even saw a Morepork in the early hours of the morning, sitting just outside the hut window.
Heaphy Hut to Kohaihai River
On our final morning we walked along a coastline studded with nikau groves to the track’s end at the Kohaihai River. The tide was out so for part of it was could walk along the beach. This is a spectacular coastal walk – rated as one of NZ’s best day walks, and I could well see why. Breakers crashing on to craggy outposts and rolling along stretches of empty beaches so that the spray diffused the sunlight into a watercolour.
The van was already there to meet us and whisk us back to Nelson. Quite a long drive, so plenty of time for a snooze! Tired and sore after the Heaphy Track, certainly, but with a tremendous sense of achievement.