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Heaphy Track

  • Submitted by: Thomas Brown, New Zealand
  • Submission Date: 26th Feb 2006

Heaphy Track

The bus that goes to the start of the Heaphy Track arrives in Collingwood from Nelson at 9.15am I think that is a bit late as it will be 10.30am--11am before we start walking, it will take us at least five hours to walk to the first hut as it is all up hill.
The day doesn't look to bad a bit overcast but quite warm, there was a young girl up the street, looked like she was waiting for the bus as she had her rucksack and was obviously waiting for a ride.
Snow in his "Shy" way! Sidled up to her and introduced himself, it turned out she was a twenty three year old German girl Leonie who was on her O.S.E She had been working on a Horse Trekking Farm for three and half weeks and now it was time to move on doing the Heaphy Track on her way.

The bus finally arrived, it was a small bus packed with people and rucksacks, we were not to know it then but these people all became our good friends as the trip went on.
It was a lovely drive up the Aorere Valley a beautiful farming area at the top of the South Island.
Gold was found in the early days and was a scene of great activity with thousands of people travelling to the area to seek their fortunes.

Kahurangi National Park
We arrived at the start of the 82km track just as it was starting to rain, a misty sort of rain but not to heavy.
We all got out of the bus sorted our gear out split into our different groups and headed for the hills.
It appears the German girl has adopted us I could tell this, as she was only two paces behind.
The first hut on the track is called the Brown Hut, which is practically where the bus drop's you off.
The hut we where heading for is called the Perry Saddle Hut and sleeps twenty-six and is 17km away at a height of 880mtr's.
Halfway between Brown hut and the Perry Saddle hut is the Aorere Shelter, this is going to be are first stop for lunch.
These Shelters are specifically designed for the tramper to rest between huts; they are pretty basic but are a haven if you are wet and feeling cold.
They give you a place out of the wind and rain to make a hot drink and a change of clothes should it be necessary.
The track is very good, winding for ever up, but not to steep it was first crossed in 1859 by a gold miner called Aldridge and surveyed as a Bridal Path in 1886 to link the Collingwood area with the West Coast.
I was glad when we finally got to the shelter it wasn't long before we had the Billy on and was having a tuna cheese sandwich and a cup of hot soup followed by a cup of tea and a muesli bar.
It is surprising how these short stops rekindle your enthusiasm to carry on; it also gives you a chance to get to know the other people you are sharing the trail with.

The next interest was a lookout point called Flanagan's Corner the highest point on the track at 915mtr's, by the time we got there it was getting quite cold and we stopped to put on some warm clothes.
How can you explain the joy you feel when you have reached the top of anything, it is not very high but it felt like Mount Everest to me, the view was looking across vast acres of forested hills and valley's, apparently on a nice day you can see Mount Taranaki but not today.
It was all down hill from here to the hut.
We eventually came out of the bush into open type tussock country interspersed with patches of beech trees.
You have good views here of the Douglas Range across the Aorere valley.

It is important that you get to the hut in good time as you have the choice of place you wish to sleep, preferably a bottom bunk for me.
It did not take long to settle into this hut and after a cup of tea I decided to have forty winks I must be getting old or something.
The hut was buzzing with people arriving from both ends of the track.
It looked like it was going to be a pretty full hut by nightfall.
There is a good cross section of countries represented Americans, Germans, English, French, Australians, Israeli's, New Zealander's, and probably others I didn't get to meet.
We were all sounding each other out on this first night together, its surprising the people you meet I was talking to one German called James who is a Physicist working on safety in Nuclear Power stations.
Another David from Manchester had given up working at the bank and was doing as many tracks as he could in NZ.
There was a young American from San Francisco in his twenty's I did not catch his name, he had walked from the Heaphy Hut to the Perry Saddle hut in one day he was a real character, everybody gave him a hard time about President Bush and what was happening in Iraq.
I found him very likeable easy going young man, he was eyeing up our Leonie but he didn't have a chance, our good looks and charm won the day and she cast him aside like a dirty towel!?

("I am sitting in a room in the Perry Saddle Hut, the second one on the Heaphy track from the Collingwood end, it is 6pm, dinner time! There must be at least thirty people staying here tonight, some sleeping on the floor.
We are all sitting in the common room talking to each other and trying to make a scrumptious dinner all at the same time.
Its hard to make a nice dinner with dry food packs but all sorts of recipes are devised and consumed under difficult circumstances, it is a wonderful gathering of people from all over the world all getting on together sharing and helping one another it is brilliant.
It is just getting on dark there is no electricity here and the candles are coming out so that we can stay up a bit longer, the camp fire is going and the whole scene is of warmth and good company what more can a man ask.
Snow and I have brought up some gin mixed with a little Limejuice other people have brought up different drinks like whisky, port wine, vodka etc. Not very much as you have to carry it all on your back.
There are other people sitting around with torches strapped to their heads reading books seemingly in another world.
I am still sitting at the table here, most of the trampers have gone to bed the place is dark looking, only a few candles to give a bit of background, the fire is still going and there is clothing draped around all over the place people trying to dry things out for an early morning start.
I love the atmosphere the wind and rain screaming outside and the contrast of the people in the hut some trying to get to sleep others determined to be the last into bed, the chinks and noises of dishes being washed and the quiet voices muffled in the background, wouldn't be dead for quid's!")

("I will try and explain the average track hut, controlled by the Department of Conservation.
The huts are mainly one story split into two, a room for sleeping and a room for making meals and enjoying each other's company.
The bedrooms are usually one or two long benches with mattress butting up to one another there is no decorum here no segregation of the sexes and the beds are allocated on a first come best served bases, some huts cater for up to sixty people.
The kitchen come common room has some form of wood burner, gas rings for cooking, several sinks for washing dishes large wooden tables and bench type seating I suppose you could describe the complex as Spartan or utility.
The toilets are all outside and are of the long drop variety but are now housed inside a fiberglass enclosure with lots of light and are well maintained, also the place were you wash and clean your teeth etc. are also outside and usually consist of a sink with only cold water and are exposed to the elements apart from a small roof structure.
All rubbish that you bring in you must carry out.

There is not much scope for drying our wet clothes apart from hanging them over or around the fire if it is going!
In my opinion the huts are adequate for the purpose, although I would like to see more nails or hooks around the walls to hangs items of clothing on, the explanation I have from one of the wardens for a lack of hanging space is that the damp clothes might denigrate the structure of the building [Rubbish I say!]
The huts are a great asset to the outdoors and can only encourage people from all ages and backgrounds to enjoy the wonderful experience of travelling into NZ's Vast and beautiful and varied countryside keep up the good work D.O.C.")

It is the second day, we woke up to a brilliant morning it had been snowing over night and it was truly a lovely sight, everybody was thrilled.
We are not in any hurry as we only have thirteen Kilm’s to travel over easy country; it should take us about four hours mostly downhill.
The landscape is so different today passing through rolling red tussock clearings and patches of beech and pygmy pine.

We came across a pole on a bend in the track near to Cave Brook it had obviously been there a long time, over the years people passing this way and having trouble with there footwear had left there boots shoes Jandels etc. behind! And tied them to this pole, it looked quite unique standing in the middle of paradise! A colorful monument to people who have passed this way the pole surely has a lot of stories to tell.

Our first stop for the day is the Gouland Downs hut which has eight bunks, it will be lunch time when we get there we will relax have something to eat and drink, take in the scenery and try and solve the problems of the world.

The modern gas cooker that each person carries with them is a big improvement on the old Primus that we used to use.
The one I carry is tiny it is made from Titanium so it is very light, it has a built in piezo lighter for ignition I can only marvel at it's size and the big job it does.

The next couple of hour's will take us towards the Saxon Hut the newest hut on the track and is named after John Saxon who re-surveyed the crossing in 1886 as a pack horse-track the hut sleeps sixteen.

I found it quite hard walking and talking to Leonie on the track and as much as I loved her company and conversation! It was ok when there was space to walk side by side but most of the time it was single file.
I find it difficult enough to hear at the best of times but when you are trying to concentrate on your feet and straining to listen its easy to fall over.

The Gouland Downs area is vast area of limestone caves rocks and underground water, covered in tussock, swamps, hebes, a large variety of shrubs and trees mostly of the stunted variety it is very beautiful but very easy to get disoriented in misty weather if you wander off the trail.
We will be walking through this kind of country for the next twenty kilometers.
The ground and trees in this area are covered with thick luxurious green moss and we came across stunted stumps that looked like people out of fairy books someone had placed pebbles in appropriate places for eyes etc. they looked very good.

We arrive at the Saxon hut; it took us about four hours of very pleasant walking.
I really enjoyed it here; the hut is nicely placed and has a great outlook of low hills in the immediate surroundings and of higher peaks in the distant.
There is a short walk down to a mountain stream with some nice pools for swimming and washing when the weather is good.
Some people obviously thought the weather was ok as they went bathing the next morning I was not one of them.

When the sun started to go down I went to sit on the bench seat outside to listen hopefully to the call of the Kiwi.
It certainly was a lovely night sitting outside there in the dark listening to the calls of the Morepork, the Weka, the scream of the Possum and other noises I coudnt identify.
The stars were out, glistening in the night, it was also a full moon, you could just see the snow on the tops. ("Have you ever been out in the great alone when the moon is awfully clear and the icy mountains hem you in with a silence you most can hear?")
At last everybody went to bed, but Snow left instructions for me to give him a call if I heard anything.
Well I did hear the Kiwi calling it was a great thrill as I had only heard them once before, I crept in the hut to whisper to Snow and it seemed that everybody jumped out of their sleeping bags and came out to listen, for a few minutes.
I stayed outside for another half hour or so and although I was wrapped up well, it started to get cold I could feel the chill filtering up and through my old bones, the Kiwi's did not call again so reluctantly I crept into my bed to dream of the next day.

When I'm away on these trips I seem to wake up at 6am it was no different today I like to get up early and get breakfast on the go it is a lovely time of the day with only a few like minded people moving around.
The kitchen is soon buzzing with everybody having their breakfast, washing up, packing there rucksacks, some were missing down at the creek having a cold swim and a wash Brrr. Not for me.

It is a long walk today approx. 14km to the Mckay hut where we will stop for lunch and another 13.5km to the Lewis hut where we will stay the night it should take us about six and half hours of reasonable walking.
We started off about 8am the first part off the walk is quite flat for about 3km's, we pass the sign that marks the boundary between the Nelson area and the West Coast.
It was quite a long climb out of the valley through the bush, ("mostly Manuka and Beech") the track once again not to steep.
We finally reach the top and the track levels off and it is really pleasant walking through tussock countryside the track we are walking on here crunches under your feet, as the ground is a crystal like material.
We arrived at the Mackay Hut in good time; the hut named after James Mackay a warden on the Collingwood Goldfields in the 1860's.
From this hut you get a good view of the Tasman Sea and the Heaphy River mouth, way down glimmering in the sunlight a site for sore eyes.
After a good rest and lunch we carried on to the next hut.
It is all down hill from here 12km's and a descent of about 600mtr's we get our first view of the Heaphy River it is a lovely walk with lots of interesting features.
The bush has changed again and we see our first Nikau Palms we are certainly getting closer to the coast.
We finally arrive at the Lewis hut set high on the terrace above the Heaphy River.
They say the sandflies can be quite bad here but on this occasion we were not bothered too much by them.

The Lewis river join's the Heaphy not far from the hut, these are both beautiful and wild rivers set in such unspoiled wilderness as you will find anywhere in the world they are not muddy, but crystal clean waters tumbling through a labyrinth of rocks and boulders some of enormous size and irregular shapes, on their journey to the sea

The Lewis hut has only twenty beds but as some of the group are walking through to the Heaphy, there will be enough room for our party.
There is a great feeling of togetherness with the people we are associating with on this trip we have all bonded well, you would think we have all known each other for a long time.
We are now one big happy family, we know all about one another, what we do, how old we are, and when and where we are going and who we are going with.
We are getting on well with Leonie, sharing each other's food, she keeps trying to off load her "porridge" onto me which I hate she is a lovely girl we have so much fun together.

The people staying in the hut tonight are Leonie, Snow, Tom, Sue, Emily, Maree, and Bas. Grandma and her three daughters and Caroline the granddaughter, Natalie & Bernardus, the Frenchman Gaz and the English girl.
Sixteen of us altogether.
What a team of people we all seem to get on so well together, I suppose the odd one's out were the Frenchman who in my opinion was inconsiderate, he had a girl friend who he didn't look after.
The English girl seemed to be in another world it appeared that they both might have been on the happy baccy or something.
Sue who we took a liking to right from the start when we first met her going up the big slope towards the Perry Saddle hut, greeted us as only a woman who had experienced everything in life could, with that warm all encompassing smile that "weighed” us up in seconds and said what are you three up to.
Maree and Bas."Are a team" I got lots of pleasure watching them make breakfast together helping each other every step of the way.
Maree and I had some intimate moment's together sitting on the veranda talking about nothing in particular watching the stars twinkling in the sky.
Bas."Has a big personality", he is being what a Kiwi is all about a bit of Barry Crump, cant do enough for you, a heart of gold, you feel warm inside just being with the man.
Caroline was a bundle of knowledge, she has been studying Geology and gave Snow, Leonie and I some lessons on the track as regards to the surrounding rock formations etc. She is the third generation of the family walking the track with us.
Natalie is a Gisborne Maori living in Australia; she seems to make a living organizing events.
Her partner Bernardus is an Aussy.
We were all jealous of the way Natalie looked after him with massages every night after the long day walks, we could see and hear his groans of agony and pleasure as she pummeled and stroked the pains away.
We have a girl from the Philippines she has lived in NZ. For twenty-five years almost a Kiwi? Her name is Emily and has never walked a track before.
We passed her going up the Perry Saddle hill she had the most enormous pack and we didn't think she was going to make it, but later on the people she was with went back to give her a hand.
She was a real character and we had a lot of fun with her once we got to know her better, she loved the walking and can't wait for the next trip.
The oldest tramper is a lady from Warkworth Auckland in her 80th year she is travelling with her three daughters's two from Australia, one from Christchurch and her granddaughter from Riversdale.
Grandma is a lovely old lady the walk was a birthday celebration.
Snow in particular looked after her as regards the drink department and took great pleasure in pouring her a wee Gin, which she was very delighted with.
She was only a small lady with a very big heart, as far as I could see her pack was as big as anyone else's and she was never far behind ln the walking department.
The whole family was a delight to be with.

We all settled quickly into hut life, that is the routine of unpacking the rucksack, spreading the sleeping bag out ready for tonight, placing the food etc. in a suitable place in the kitchen for later on.
Hanging our wet clothes if any, to dry around the fireplace.
The girls washing their knickers etc. and hanging them out on the knicker tree?
So many little things's to do.
Well we have all had our dinner and have done all the washing up.
Some are sitting reading and some "talking" reminiscing about the day or talking about different adventures they have experienced.
I like to sit outside on the veranda looking into the night searching for I know not what.
I must have been missed inside as first Leonie came out and sat with me for awhile talking about her home life in Germany and some of her plans for the future she is great company, it is lovely mixing with the young ones.
Next came Emily the Filipino girl she told me her life story which was very interesting, we all love Emily as she has such a lovely way about her.
Emily went away and I thought I would be able to concentrate on searching my soul? When Maree another one of our girls appears wondering what I was up to and so she sat for awhile and we had a pleasant half-hour together.
"Aaar"! Well time to go to bed again its been lovely sitting out here watching the river go by, the noise it makes as it tumbles it's way along, "why is it we have to go to bed"? The stars are out again twinkling in the moonlight; no Kiwi calls tonight but the sounds of this splendid wilderness are all around us.

I was up early again getting ready to make breakfast, I must say it was pretty easy to make, we were living on dehydrated food Snow and I, this particular dish is "Egg and Bacon beans and hash browns".
All you have to do is boil some water and pour half a cup into the packet and leave it for ten minutes to reconstitute, I found it very good Snow wasn't to sure.
I was a bit careful making the toast this morning as Grandma had told me that if I made toast again before 6.15am she would cut my throat.
It was an easy day today as we only had a three hour walk to the Heaphy hut and the ground we have to walk over is all pretty good going.

This part of the walk is truly amazing; it is really "Lord of the Rings country”.
The bush here is heavy subtropical in its nature, it is a mixture of the Podacarps, rimu, kahikatea, matai
The other broad-leafed species include rata, mahoe, kamahi, pigeonwood, hinau, pokaka, and pukatea.
But the tree that stands out the most are the giant Rata, we spent many minutes marveling at these huge trees.
The other tree that is famous to the area is the Nikau Palm a tall fern like tree with a bulbous throat at the top of the tree, just below the fronds.

I find it difficult to describe this piece of bush as it is filled with delight around every corner.
The growth is so exotic at times you are walking through grotto's or tunnels of lush native tree's and plants interlaced with the vines supplejack and Kiekie these plants grow in profusion here and at this time of the year the supplejack has shoot's that you can eat, they taste very much like peas, we where searching this delicacy out, as we walked along on our merry way.
It was here that Caroline passed some of her knowledge on to us as regards to the geology of the area it was all very interesting.
The river is always near on this section of the track, we are walking down the true left bank with the river on the right hand side and the limestone bluff's above us on the left, we are getting closer to the sea and river is very wide here.
The sound of the surf as it pounds on the beach is getting louder as we stroll along towards the point were the river pushes its way into the sea, the sea trying with all its might to reject it and sometimes sending waves back up these beautiful waters.
We finally reach the Heaphy Hut named after Charles Heaphy who in 1846 along with Thomas Brunner were the first Europeans to travel the treacherous coastal portion of the track we know today.
The hut is well placed, well back from the sea but close to the river in a nice grassy area surrounded by Nikau Palms.
The river mouth is at the junction of two pounamu (greenstone) Maori trails that extend back in time for 500years.

Once we had settled into the hut Snow, Leonie and Caroline decided to play cards a game called 500.
I not being a card player decided to go for a wander down the beach which looked a wild and wonderful place.

The river is quite wide here almost like a lagoon and there are some lovely places to go swimming.
Where the river enters the sea it becomes quite narrow and almost seems to force its way into the quite violent waters.
The beach, which is extensive at this point, is covered with driftwood thrown up by the sea.
I continued walking towards the sea, the tide was well in and there was a narrow gap between the waters edge and the sandhills, to close to be able to walk along in the comfort of not getting washed away by the waves.
The sea here is very dangerous with strong undertow's, certainly not the place to go swimming.
I climbed to the top of the sandhills and lay down in the long grass out of the wind it was a lovely warm day and I fell asleep content in the environment I found myself in.
When I awoke sometime later, some of the others had decided to come down the beach for a walk and a bit of exploration.

Eventually we all gathered together where there was plenty of driftwood and decided to build a fire, one we could all sit around and watch the sun go down.
We had a wonderful time gathering the wood together for this fire and carting logs to sit on, it just amazing being together with a few people in the middle of nowhere doing the simple tasks, how rewarding it can be.

We decided to go back to the hut for our evening meal, we where all sitting around eating.
We are now a tight group of people confident and relaxed in each others company when the door opens and in walks Jochen a 20year old German boy wearing a white shirt with his rucksack and a guitar slung over his back.
It must have been quite traumatic for him walking into this den as all the attention turned immediately to him, and I suppose because he had his guitar was ordered I think by Sue to attend the party around our campfire later on which he did, he was like a breath of fresh air.
What a lovely time we had sitting around that fire reminiscing about the day, telling jokes, swapping our life stories, speculating on what tomorrow might bring, singing into the night.

Later on after the sun had gone down and we were altogether in the warmth of the hut still talking on, the door opened and Bernardus walked in looking very proud of himself with a teashirt full of mussels.
I can tell you at this point he was the most popular guy around for miles, he had walked a long way to get to this delicacy and had to wade into deep waters around the rocks, probably quite risky on his own.
Anyway Caroline, with a bit of help from her friends soon had the mussels steamed open and we all had a great feed, some of them we cooked on the open fire on a shovel which imparts a smoky flavour.

We have travelled many kilometers along this old trail which is a very beautiful walk, it is made easier for us these days by the many board walks and swing bridges which the old miners and travellers did not have the benefit of.
A lot of the adventure perhaps is lost from these improvements, but it means more people can enjoy these magnificent area's set aside for our enjoyment.

The last stage of our trip is along the coast towards the Kohaihai River about a five-hour walk 16.5klm's along some of the best exciting coastline you will ever see.
The walk is mostly through the bush close to the roar and vision of the Tasman Sea.
But from time to time it is possible to walk long stretches of the beach and enjoy the breeze blowing through your hair, if you have any left?
It was at one of these beaches that Leonie decided she wanted to go for a swim in the very inviting waters of the Tasman Sea.
The weather was not particularly good but quite warm and cloudy so although it was hard for Snow and I we had to avert our eyes while Leonie climbed into her bikini.
She was a lovely site in this remote area walking down to the water and enjoying the thrill of practically a whole beach to herself splashing around in the moderate surf that the sea was offering today.
Further along the track we caught up with Sue and Emily and later with Maree and Bas. After taking photo's of each other we carried on enjoying this most beautiful walk.
Further on the German Boy Jo. Caught up with us and walked with us for a while.
We stopped at Scotts Beach picnic area for lunch it was lovely here the sun had decided to come out and we enjoyed sitting here for awhile in this glorious area.
People walk into this spot with their tents and surf fishing gear to spend there holidays away from the rest of the world.
Leonie, Snow and I enjoyed the last section more or less ambling along and enjoying all the stops we could find, we took photo's overlooking all the key spots knowing we were coming to the end of this very enjoyable excursion into this very beautiful part of the south Island of New Zealand.
Snow and I had planted two cans of beer at the end of the track before we left to fly to Collingwood it was well worth the effort and "my" did Leonie, Snow, and I enjoy them.

I haven’t mentioned the birds we heard and saw as we travelled along, ("apart from Leonie")
First some of the native birds we saw.
Weka, South Island Robin, Fan Tail, Shags, Pipit, Tui, Bellbird, "no Pigeons".
Native birds we heard.
Kiwi, Morepork, it was a great thrill to hear both these icons of NZ. Bird Life.
Well are walk is over all we have to do now is get on the bus back to Karamea were we have left our vehicle.
The bus or van in this case was waiting for us at the Kohaihai Department of Conservation Camp Grounds.
It is a great service and it wasn't long about 20km's that we where back at our van which we left at the tiny Karamea airport.
We had decided to spend the night with all the others at the backpacker’s resort.
First of all we had to go and pick up Leonie's luggage which she had couriered down from Collingwood.

I think Leonie found it a bit embarrassing picking her gear up, as she had booked into this particular place on the phone, but we didn't experience any problems and off we went with her tiny bit of luggage to our new accommodation.
But first of all we had to go to the local pub for a beer and to report in to Josie and Pam to tell them we were missing them and that we are safe and enjoying ourselves.
We are so lucky having understanding wives?!!!
There was another reason for going to the Pub, Grandma and her family where flying back to Nelson and this is the place the bus left for the airport and we wanted to say are good-bye’s.

Snow and I had a room to ourselves there is eight beds altogether and we had most of our bits and pieces spread all over them.
Leonie was camped in with the girls and Bas.
It was brilliant having a shower and a change of clothes.
After five day's in the bush with no showers and only cold water it is heaven, getting in the shower with all that soapy hot water.
We had decided that we would all have dinner together at the resort dining room and afterwards have a party in the resort lounge.
We all had a great time both at dinner and at the party, as usual Snow and I both behaved ourselves.
Next morning we all had breakfast together and said our good-bye’s to the people traveling back to Nelson on the bus with promises to email each other.

All that was left now was Leonie, Jochen, Snow and myself, we had decided we would travel together down south to another adventure walk called the Copeland Track which will be the third part of my story.