An overlook of the mountain range we would be crossing.
The Heaphy Track is the other hike that I really wanted to do, but didn't, last time I was in New Zealand The start and finish are almost 300 miles apart, which was just too far apart. You can hire a shuttle to get back, but I was cheap and didn't want to do that. This time, I had a little extra cash, no car to get back to, and another reason to be that far north on the west coast.
On top of Mt. Perry, looking for a view of . . . anything (photo by Celeen).
I was a little anxious about this hike. I was taking Celeen out on her first multi-night hike. She had tried one before, sprained her ankle, and didn't react as well as she could of. She doesn't like it when she doesn't have choices. I'm not always the most patient so I was a little worried that I'd get cranky. Other than a few hiccups, I had nothing to worry about. Celeen did great.
Looking down the Perry Saddle at sunset from Mt. Perry.
This hike was unlike any other I had done in New Zealand because we did all of the climbing on the first day. After climbing up 915m of silver and red beech forest, it would almost all be flat or downhill. I'm not sure if I like that, but it was nice to do the hardest part while we were fresh. Of course, it wasn't nice to do the hardest part while we were fully loaded. Our walk up was the definition of partially cloudy. We had a little bit of sun squeezing between the clouds. It was dry, which is expected of the eastern slope. When we got to the top, we whimsically decided to do a recommended side trip up Mt. Perry. It was a mixed bag. We mostly saw clouds pushing in from the west obscuring everything, but there were some great views and a great sunset mixed in.
Our lunch stop, Gouland Downs Hut.
Our second day started out misty and stayed that way. It felt like we were walking in the clouds the entire day, which was not surprising. We were walking on a flat plateau over to the western slope which is notoriously rainy. We took our lunch at a quiet little hut that we had hoped to camp at to see kiwis, but it was already booked. Instead, we had to settle with seeing this weka wonder through camp looking for food.
Just past the Gouland Downs Hut, we were able to explore a couple small limestone caves. Then, we crossed a large creek and moved on to the heart of the plateau. The plateau, probably isn't a plateau by definition. It has mountains on both sides. I don't like the word downs, but it might describe it more accurately. The hike took us away from the fern and beech forests and into a giant area filled with tussocks, flax, streams, and swing bridges to cross those streams. Every plant was dripping wet from soaking up water from the mist. So were we. I don't remember a single animal.
The tussock downs we would cross.
A close up of the dew on everything (photo by Celeen)
One of the many creeks in the tussock downs that are prone to flooding.
Sand fly infested rest stop.
Our campsite at James Mackay Hut where we were expected to have gale force winds.
Our second night on the trail was one of the most interesting nights. Our warden would not stop talking about the weather forecast for terrible rain and gale force winds. When we asked about why all of the tents sites were built on wooden platforms, he just answered you'll see once the rain comes. Apparently, it floods.
Descending to the Heaphy River.
Walking across a swing bridge.
Another swing bridge.
The storm didn't come while we were asleep. The next morning, we were told to expect it by late afternoon. We had two areas to cross that flood frequently so we got up extra early to try and get to shelter before the worst came. The first part of the hike was a descent to the Lewis Hut on the Lewis river. Along the way, we saw so many varieties of moss and watched the canopy trees go from beech to rimu and huge nikau palms. They palms were huge. After the Lewis Hut, we joined up and kept crossing the Heaphy river on our way to coast.
A dead nikau palm leaf and me (photo by Celeen)
When we finally got to the Heaphy Hut, we breathed a sigh of relief. We were drenched, but had not been dumped on. Thinking back, I'm not sure a dumping would have really changed anything. We took a long lunch break and during that time the rain came down hard. We were supposed to continue on to the next shelter, but the ranger had told us that the Heaphy Hut was the crown jewel of the hike where the Heaphy River crashed into the Tasman sea. The hard rain wasn't convincing us to move on either. We took a quick stroll in the woods to see how much wetter we would get and decided to push on.
West coast forest.
As we walked on, our choice was rewarded. The hard rain let up and then, unbelievably, the sun started to wink through the clouds. We could not believe our luck. We walked along the beaches to our final, and best, night on the trail. We stopped at a shelter that was sand fly infested. We had considered sleeping in the shelter and letting the tent dry out, but the sand flies disagreed. We set up on the beach, laughed at the hundred sand flies gathered on the tent, and watched a great sunset which was only out done by the clear skies and meteors we saw that night. It was the only clear night we had. We heard waves crashing while we slept. I love the beach at night.
Invasion of the sand flies.
Our beach on the final night got just a little bit of sunshine.
Sunset on the beach
Final morning's walk.
Because we had walked extra the day before, we had a very short walk in the morning. It started out misty, but got warmer and sunnier as they day progressed. Just as we got to the final section, it cleared up making the end of the trail seem like an oasis even though the wet days weren't that bad. I just love sunshine.
Giant tree that a ton of other plants were growing on.
Last look back over the coastline that we had walked.
The Heaphy Track was good. At first thought, I think some of the other tracks I have done are better, but I think my bias towards those tracks might have to do with the amount of sun I saw on those tracks. The Heaphy was a great place for Celeen to learn. For non-learners and learners alike, the amount of diversity from one side of the mountains to the other is just amazing. I wish I knew more about the plants to appreciate them more.
The Kohaihai River meets the ocean.
When we got to the end, we had a couple hours to pass before a cheap transport option would arrive so we set off to explore. On our way to the Zig Zag trail which I can only imagine is entirely too many switchbacks, a man was dropping off a hiker and offered to give us a ride to town. We were just hoping for a ride to Karamea and then would figure out how to get to that our night's lodging near Westport later. However, our driver was actually going to Westport, so we skipped Karamea and went right to our hostel, the best hostel I've ever been in, the Old Slaughterhouse.
The end of the Heaphy Track.
Heaphy Track (78.4km) by the numbers (map)
Day 1 (17.5km):
- Brown Hut to Perry Saddle Hut 17.5km
- Perry Saddle Hut to Gouland Downs Hut 7km
- Gouland Downs Hut to Saxon Hut 5.4km
- Saxon Hut to James Mackay Hut 11.8km
- James Mackay Hut to Lewis Hut 12.5km
- Lewis Hut to Heaphy Hut 8km
- Heaphy Hut to Katipo Creek Shelter 8.1km
- Katipo Creek Shelter to Kohaihai River Shelter 8.1km