The Heaphy Track was the second of New Zealand’s great walks to be ticked off by yours truly, having completed the Abel Tasman a couple of years back. I was up at the top of the South Island once again so I decided to give it a whirl; I’d heard positive reviews so expectations were high. The Heaphy also has a bit of history in my family; my mum, aunt and grandparents having completed the walk over 40 years ago. I imagine it would be almost unrecognisable today.
My very first comment: this is probably the cruisiest type of ‘trekking’ I’ve ever done (tramping as they call it over here). The huts were perhaps the most impressive I’ve seen on this type of hike (although we camped), while the track was incredibly well maintained. There were machines in operation along the way that looked like they tidied up and compressed the path. I personally prefer a little more ‘wilderness’ in my hikes but I can imagine the work that goes into this track would appeal to many.
Secondly, I was expecting a little more in the way of the spectacular views I’ve come to expect of New Zealand. While the ocean vistas and tussocky planes were certainly appreciated, the vast majority of the walk took place in forest. Now don’t get me wrong, I LOVE forest, it just gets a little repetitive after 3 days. There were none of those breathtaking mountain or lakeside views that can make up for hours of trudgery and make a trip worthwhile even for a brief glimpse.
With those observations out of the way, the Heaphy Track is still a pleasant hike, worth a look if you’re in the region. It’s a great fitness booster and could be a decent challenge if you took it on in 3 days or so. We chose to stick to the typical 4 day option and this is how it turned out…
Transport to the track from either end can be a bit of a pain in the ass. I was looking at shuttle options which run through Motueka (from Nelson) and cost around $65. Fortunately, I met a German girl who happened to be doing the trek at the same time I’d planned to. She had a couple of friends dropping her off and then picking her up from the other side. Absolute bonus.
I was picked up in Motueka around 10 and we were dropped off at Browns hut a couple of hours later. This marked the start of the track on it’s Eastern end. Practically the whole first day was up a gentle gradient to the Perry Saddle Hut and our campsite for the night. It took us around 4 hours to cover the 17.5km.
This was the campsite for the night. The highlight came at about 8pm. An older English fellow who was hiking with his son decided it was going to be more comfortable sleeping in the shelter there than a tarp his son had set up. It was raining pretty hard at the time. About an hour after he’d hunkered down to sleep, one of the young girls staying in the hut came out to brush her teeth. She stopped just before the sleeping Englishman and shone her headlamp directly on his head for a good 30 seconds. This of course woke him up and he peered up in a daze to try and work out what the hell was going on. She finally realised what she was looking at and moved on. I’m in tears just writing about the incident.. I don’t know why but fuck it was funny.
My new tent held up to the rain soaked night and we awoke on the second morning to find a relatively clear sky. This was to be a rare occurrence. There were very few stretches of sunshine throughout the whole 4 days, thick cloud hung about for the majority, usually spewing out hefty doses of rain.
After a light breakfast we packed up at a leisurely pace and were on our way for the day. 2 hours in we were still enveloped in forest and growing a little skeptical about the ‘views’ we’d read about on this track. A few minutes later we were out of the treeline and strolling through tussocked planes stretching across rolling hills for as far as the eye could see.
There were also some pretty awesome swing bridges along the way…
We covered the 24 odd kilometres to James Mackay hut in 5:45, stopping a few times along the way for snacks and pics. Now, I feel like I’ve already done enough complaining in this post already but I have 1 more to make. The ‘campsites’ at James Mackay are in fact elevated wooden platforms. Presumably they’ve done this to level out the fairly uneven terrain at this spot but these wooden slabs don’t make great sites to pitch a tent. Particularly so if you don’t have a sleeping pad..
Besides this minor grievance it was a nice venue with a distant glimpse of the ocean. The sunset was also pretty awesome..
Practically all downhill.. The 21km to Heaphy Hut took us 4 hours 45. Awesome campsite. Completely separate to the hut with a little shelter and fire-pit for those clear nights. We didn’t get one of those unfortunately, although we did get a fire blazing for a couple of hours. At this site, you’re camping in proximity ot the Heaphy river, making for a nice change of scenery. The river also provides a nice little refresher if you’re game. Be warned, it is damn cold.
This was the first time either of us were introduced to the little New Zealand terroriser known as the sandfly. Holy shit. Sitting here writing this 4 days after a night at this spot and I’m still scratching like a meth addict.Those little fuckers are fierce. Completely relentless. Make sure you pack the most powerful insect spray you can find.
The final day was probably the most impressive scenery wise. The morning had us walking through palm filled forests with abundant birdlife singing out harmonic melodies. There were also a couple of gigantic fig trees just off to the side of the track..
This forest trundled lasted about an hour before we finally reached the notoriously rough West Coast ocean.
Definitely the most scenic part of the trek. A day trek/overnighter from Kohaihai to the Heaphy Hut would be well worth it. A few more bridge crossings and we were finished.
The final days hike took us 4 hours on the money. Our ride was waiting for us at the finish and we were promptly on the way to Westport. Just in time for a sneaky pint or two.