Judy and I had already visited the start and finish of the Heaphy Track when we were in the South Island last year. Our visits can be found in the blogs Mokuhinui and Golden Bay. The West Coast end we walked up the track for several hundred metres and at the Golden Bay end the couple of hundred metres to the Brown River Hut. We decided at this point that we would like to see the middle part of the track. All 78 kms of it.
So over the past months we have been planning and purchasing the equipment necessary for such a trek. 40 litre Back Packs, Walking Boots, Rain Jackets and Leggings, Sleeping Bags, Food (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and warm light and quick drying clothing. Although we already had some of this gear we needed to upgrade, to take advantage of the more modern light and smaller equipment. Also we needed to trial some of the gear to find out if it was suitable. In particular the food, boots and wet weather gear. We also needed to keep fit, so walking every day up to 10km, no matter what the weather was like.
We decided to fly down to Nelson with Air New Zealand. Spend the night there in a motel. Fly across to Takaka and shuttle out to the Golden Bay end with Golden Bay Air, to stay in Browns Hut overnight. The next day we would start the walk and five days later arrive at Kohaihai on the West Coast. From there we would fly back to Nelson from Karamea with Golden Bay Air and stay in the motel the night before returning to Auckland on Air New Zealand. We booked the huts with the Department of Conservation and the flights with Air NZ and Golden Bay Air.
All this with the threat of COVID 19 hanging over our heads. It made things a little unsure, not knowing if an outbreak should occur and Auckland be closed down etc. For this reason when we went down to Opotiki to do some house sitting for a couple of weeks we took our caravan so that we would have some options if things turned nasty in Auckland.
On Sunday the 15th Nov 2020 a friend delivered us to the Airport. We must have looked lost as we made our way to the automatic check-in machines because a lovely lady came to our rescue and helped us get our gear booked in. I knew we weren’t allowed to carry gas for our little stove but I thought the Lithium Ion Batteries we had to charge our phones and power our torches would be best stowed in the hold of the aircraft. Not so. They were packed at the bottom of our back packs being heavy little items so it entailed removing all our carefully packed gear from the backpacks on the floor of the airport with a swirl of people making their way round us. We placed the batteries in our carry on luggage and repacking our gear. Our lovely angel lady was very helpful and not once did she show any frustration with us, or mention that we should have read the instructions on what to pack in our check in luggage. Eventually we were able to hand over our backpacks and could sit down with a cup of coffee and slowly unwind as we waited for our plane.
Our plane to Nelson, The pilots, I noticed, were both women. As we taxied out I was amazed at the speed these women travelled at. I’m sure there must be some speed limit on the tarmac and when we hit the runway it was power on and up. No stopping to rev the motors up, check flaps or what ever they normally do. And as we came into Nelson it was a quick left hand bank and down on the runway with barely a bump. Brakes on and we were in front of the terminal. By the time we travelled down to the front of the plane to disembark the pilots had long gone. We had a good flight down with good visibility though not much to see as the flight was mainly out over the Tasman Sea. Just Cape Egmont and the top of the South Island and Farewell Spit as we came into land. We collected our backpacks from the luggage roundabout and walked to our motel about 1km away. We were finally on our our way. Great excitement.
Day 1. Monday looked like a good day weather wise. We had our last shower for five days. Watched a bit of morning TV. Slung our backpacks onto our backs. Left our city clothes with the motelier and walked back to the Nelson Airport. Check in time with Golden Bay Air was 0910. Nobody there, and as the time ticked by it became apparent that the pilot when he/she should arrive was going to do the booking in. Eventually she arrived along with a second male pilot at 0930 after having flown over from Takaka. We weighed our packs. Mine was 10.5kg and Judy”s 11.0kg. Limit is 15kg. The aircraft was a Piper single engine 4 seater. Our packs went in the luggage area behind us. We were in the rear 2 seats, the pilot and the other pilot in the front. We took off and flew down the coast towards Abel Tasman Park and then across the Takaka Hill. No stopping for road works this time. It was good to see all the places we had stopped at on our trip down south last year. Rabbit Island, Mapua, Motueka, Kaiteriteri, and Abel Tasman Park. See our other blogs.
We landed at the Takaka Airport and there was a wait while two mountain bikers (a young Couple) arrived on another plane from Wellington with their bikes. There were a lot of mountain bikers on the track. From December the bikes are banned until sometime in 2021. We all piled into the shuttle with the bikes on top of the luggage trailer and set off on the 50 minute trip for the start of the Heaphy Track arriving some time before 1300hrs. We took a photo of the COVID QR Code for our app and turned our phones off to conserve batteries. There was to be no more cell phone coverage until we arrived at the end at Kohaihai. And then only if you climbed a small hill. However our phones were to be used to take photos along the way. Brown River Hut where we were going to spend the night was 350 metres in along the track and so we moved on to there. We were the only people staying there for the night. There is no power or gas at Browns Hut but it does have water and a loo. We filled the afternoon in with doing puzzles. Made up our first dinner of Nasi Goreng using one of our Back Country food packs. Just tear the top off the packet, pour in some boiling water, Wait 15 minutes and voila; Dinner. Bed time about 2100 when the light faded and a great nights sleep.
Day 2. Muesli for breakfast. Same as every morning on the tramp. Milk powder was mixed into the individual servings. So just add water and eat. Another Lovely morning, Sun shining and the bush all round. Just wonderful. 1/2 a km down the track was a bridge over the Brown River. Picture below of the Brown River.
From here the track rises steadily over 15km about 800 metres all through really lovely mature Beech forest. I really thought this was going to be no trouble but I found this part to be the most difficult part of the tramp. Judy on the other hand had no difficulty. It was hot and I had my shirt off trying to cool down. There were lots of rocks about 6 inches in diameter strewn over the track and I was concentrating on these looking through the bottom portion of my glasses and each step was a step up. We had to cross several small rivulets with stepping stones. Judy gave me her walking sticks and I really needed them. We stopped numerous times to make a cup of tea, have a biscuit and generally to let me recover a little. I spent some time that night wondering if I had chewed off too much and if I would be able to continue. However I never had this problem again for the rest of the trip and was able to make good progress each day.
Eventually we came to the highest part of the entire track at 930 metres. From here it was a gradual descent of about a hundred metres over 2km to the Perry Saddle Hut. The track here is very uneven over rock and I made slow progress. There were several trampers making their way up the hill to the lookout point at the top. Judy pressed on without me and I was very pleased to see the Perry Saddle Hut. However I was unable to raise my legs high enough to mount the steps unaided but was able to get up by pulling myself up the rail. I immediately found a bed to lie down on and spent the next 30 minutes recovering. This hut and all the other major huts along the track were fully booked out, mainly by NZs. A good proportion of them Mountain Bikers. The huts were very good. This hut, The McKay Hut and the Heapy Hut are relatively new and have gas hobs, fresh water, loos, double glazing and comfortable bunks. The vegetation about the hut was stunted bush. Looked like manuka. Each day we walked through changing landscapes. All spectacular.
After my 1/2 hour rest I came out to the lounge to talk with the other trampers, have another cup of tea and watch others come along the track to join us. As the afternoon progressed the wind picked up and by the evening it was blowing quite hard. The sun was covered in cloud and the rain started. However we were comfortable. We ‘cooked’ up another Outback Meal and played cards with a couple of young doctors from England. They were here on a work visa and were going to head back to England in 2021. With COVID being the way it is in England I think they would rather have stayed on.
Day 3: Perry Saddle Hut to Saxon Hut. By the morning the rain had cleared and we set off on the next leg to Saxon Hut 12.5 km away.. The walk is relatively flat, The first part through the stunted vegetation, then through spectacular tussock plains, and the last through beech forest. Just after the half way point and the Gouland Flats Hut there is a steep gorge to go through with a bridge across the river. But before we get there, there was Picnic Table Corner.
It was just after this that we noticed some rain coming our way. We stopped and put all our wet weather gear on as it started to spit. Our wet weather gear, rain jacket with hood and leggings worked really well and kept us dry. With over 2 metres rain per year it pays to have some good wet weather gear. However more to come on this matter. A short distance on we passed the tramping boot post where past trampers have tied their boots to a 3 metre high post. Looked like some really good boots there. I would have taken a picture of it but didn’t want to bring my phone out into the heavy rain. There were also some lovely Mountain Daisies I would have liked to photograph as well. Gouland Flats Hut is an older type hut and was a good place to stop in the shelter of its porch to eat a biscuit and watch the pouring rain. There were also three mountain bikers there who had stopped for the night and were waiting for the rain to ease before continuing. On we tramped across the tussock plains and up into some young beech forest. Here we came across a small rivulet that had expanded due to the rain and the stepping stones were just visible under the water. I managed to get a boot full of water crossing. I emptied it out and wrung out my sock. A few hundred metres there was another stream and we plowed through getting both boots full and yet another even deeper and I plowed through again, the water coming up to my knees. Judy kept up behind me and so we both had full boots. Saxon Hut appeared out of the rain and mist and we made it to the veranda before again draining our boots and wringing out our socks.
Inside the floor was quite wet where the previous occupants had tramped in wet from outside. There was a good stash of firewood beside the fire and a shed outside full of dry wood. I cut a pile of kindling, found some old magazines to use for the fire and got out my waterproof matches. Gloom, gloom and double gloom. The matchbox was wet and absolutely no use in lighting those waterproof matches. Judy in the meantime had discovered that our back packs that we had thought were waterproof were definitely not, and all our clothes etc were sopping wet. At that moment of utter despair a couple of fellow trampers appeared in the doorway. He declared himself an excellent fire lighter and soon had the fireplace roaring. Disaster averted. It was not long after that our clothes were hung up round the fire drying and we were joined by several mountain bikers who also had clothes to dry. I dried out the match box and as clothes and other things dried they were stuck into spare plastic zip-lock bags that we had emptied.
It rained all afternoon and into the evening. We sat around and talked sharing memories and story’s until it was time for bed. This was our most disturbed sleep with our fellow campers getting up in the middle of the night to visit the loo and then returning. There would be a long ZIIIIP as the sleeping bag was unzipped and RUSTLE RUSTLE of sleeping bag, a quite period of five minutes and then RUSTLE RUSTLE, ZIIIIP. I got up about 0530 hrs and stayed up watching the sun appear and listening to the bird song. Another beautiful morning. The wekas running round and a resident Takahi that would come quite close.
Day3: Saxon Hut to the McKay Hut. 11.8 km. Our shortest days walk. Most of it reasonably flat with a small hill in the middle and the most varied, vegetation wise. From hill to Swampy land. None of the track has any steep climbs, except for our last day tramping along the coast. But apart from the last hill they were no more than 10 metres high.
Day 4 McKay Hut to Heaphy Hut. Our longest days walk of 20km. 12.5km of it gently descending to almost sea level at the Lewis Hut. The track then follows the Heaphy River bank for 8 km to the Heaphy Hut and river mouth. The track here is lined with Nikau Trees. A truly magnificent walk. Along the way is a massive Rata Tree. It must be at least 3 metres in diameter.
Day 5; Heaphy Hut to Kohaihai. From Heaphy Hut to Kohaihai is 16.5km and time to take 5 hrs. We were due to be picked up by the shuttle and transferred to the airstrip at Karamea at 1230hrs. We thought we had better get an early start so had our bags etc packed the night before and planned on leaving at about 0630. That would give us about an hour for stops and lunch along the way. It was a surprise to find we weren’t the only ones up at that time but found the kitchen/dining area quite busy. After a quick breakfast and teeth clean we hit the trail. The weather was great as we wound our way through the Nikau Palms. It was quite flat for a good period but some steep little knolls soon appeared and the noise from the Tasman Sea was constant to our right with the occasional view out to sea and longer stretches of sandy beaches. Near the end of the track there is a modest hill to climb and a good look out area to view the carpark and end of track as we crossed the apex.
So that was our walk finished. Unfortunately the weather had become too bad for a flight to Nelson so Golden Bay Air arranged to shuttle us back to Nelson in a van. We had planned for this disappointment by scheduling our flight from Nelson to Auckland the next day. We had a pleasant if long trip back to the motel where we picked up our city clothes, booked in and enjoyed our first shower for a week and a comfy queen size bed. The next day was Sunday and we walked back to the airport, booked our back packs in and spent the day exploring Nelson City. The flight left early evening and we flew up the North Island following the coast to our left. Our friend very kindly picked us up at the airport and dropped us back home.
Just a few lessons we learnt. We were very glad we had very good boots with ankle support and good rain jackets and over pants. We would have a rain cover to go over our back packs in future and an inner liner or rubbish bag liner for the inside. Items inside would also be enclosed in zip lock bags and possibly a cigarette lighter as well as the waterproof matches. We would have walking poles for us both and we would both have an inflatable pillow. Apart from the first day when I found it very hard going we managed quite well. We are both reasonably fit and in reasonable health. I would modify our training in future, more in line with my wife’s ideas, going for longer walks and carrying our fully packed packs. It was a great trek and we are pleased we have done it. We met some amazing people along the way. The younger folk gave me an optimistic view of our future here in New Zealand. We have some good hands to run things in our retirement.