The Heaphy Track

I was told that I had to do this track and ‘you have to go to the South Island for real tramping’.  I walked it in December, just before the main holiday rush.  It’s a Great Walk, and you have to book all the huts and campsites before you go.

There’s a 14km unsealed drive in from the Collingwood end.

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On the drive in pause at Bainham to check out this awesome little shop THAT STILL SELLS THINGS!

I could tell within 5 min of starting walking that it was a track for grannies.

The start - Brown Hut

The start – Brown Hut

The track was used as a bridle path and has an increadibly small gradient and is very smooth.  You could even push a wheelchair up it if you wanted.

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The view about 4 km up

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The track is all like this

The problem with the small gradient is that the track is VERY long and monotonous.  After 3 hours I reached Aorere shelter.  The longdrop here has toilet paper, like all the other toilet facilities on the track.

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You can camp here.

After another 20 min I made it to the highest point.

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Is that it?!

Take the short track to the lookout – there’s a picnic table out there.

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View to the east

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View to the west. You can see the hut.

The track is then mostly flat to the Perry Saddle hut.  It took me 4 1/4 hours to walk this section (excluding breaks).

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New hut built in 2012

The new hut is FLASH AS.  There are 2 boot rooms, 3 bunk rooms, cooking facilities, and the banks are separated so you don’t have to sleep next to anyone.  You can even have everyone in the kitchen at once!  I made sure to nab a bunk with its own window.

Because I am a masochist I spent the afternoon reading a very dry textbook I had brought with me about stastical models of the Industrial Revolution.  Future visitors – please bring more books and magazines to this hut!

For dinner I had a Chinese army ration.

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Mystery meat and rice

At the time it seemed ok, but 18 hours later I experienced Mao’s revenge.

The next morning started with low cloud.

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Not actually cold or wet

If you are mountain biking the next section is a bit rockier, but still not steep.  Even I could bike it.

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Most of the track is like this

The track goes through the Gouldand Downs.  These do look quite spectacular, and make a nice change from all the bush on day 1.

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The downs

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On this section I met some rangers on a quad bike. So much for getting away from it all.

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About 45 min from Gouland Downs Hut there is this pole with old boots on it. Who brings spare boots on a tramp?  Or a stiletto??

The track is a cut above most tracks, as seen by the aesthetic condiserations given to the infrastructure.

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Pretty footbridge! Not ‘Bridge, 1x, DOC, for the use of’

After 1hr 40 min I was at Gouland Downs Hut.  This sleeps 6 and is a much more normal hut – 1 room with an open fire.  If I did the walk again I would stay here on the first night.

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You can camp here too.

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View from the hut

Apparently there are some caves near here, but I didn’t go exploring.  In the next section of track you go through a small section of mossy forest before going back out on to the downs.

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About 500m of this

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Then back to this

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Granny’s wheelchair could still manage here

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The view from one of the bridges

One good thing about this track is that you do not have to get wet feet.  All but the smallest streams are bridged.

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This mile marker was the only interesting thing for several km. It is 7 miles from Perry Saddle.

Just when I needed it I came to Saxon Hut (about 1 1/4 hours from Gouland Downs) thanks to official issue Chinese ration food poisoning.

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This is where most people walking the track in 5 days stop for their 2nd night (if starting at Collingwood)

After this the track is a bit rougher and narrower – you couldn’t drive a quad bike down it.  The first few km are agonising – winding in and out around a feature – it’s about twice as far as if they’d just cut the track in a straight line.

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An hour of this. So boring!

After that it opens up again.  There was some standing water on the track, but nothing very bad.P1060714

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This is one of the roughest sections

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Muddy conditions

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Cool bit with big boulders

When you reach a large section of boardwalk you are about 3km from the hut.  There are markers 1km either side of all the huts but at James Mackay there is a marker 2km out.  Don’t make the mistake I did of becoming all excited, only to have my hopes smashed when I saw I had twice as far to go as I initially thought.  This section took me about 5 hours to walk in total.

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James Mackay hut. Note stalls to the left – flush toilets!

This is an older (ultra cramped) hut – barely enough room for everyone’s packs, and if you arrive late you will be sandwiched together on one of the big bunks with 10 other people.  However the flush toilets could make up for it.  You don’t even have to walk in the rain to get to them!  So luxurious!  But not tramping.  As a note for all trampers – please wash so you don’t stink out the hut like a wet dog.  There’s no excuse for not doing it when there’s a huge supply of free water and heating.  Soap only weighs 10 grams!

The next day the rain had eased and I started in low cloud.  The track was through bush and reasonable condition.P1060720

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The average incline

The track just has a gradual descent for several km.  Zzzz.

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First view of the river mouth

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The Heaphy River

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Still same boring track

It took me 2.7 hours to make it to Lewis hut (mainly due to boredom).

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Lewis Hut. Flush toilets AGAIN!

From here it is an easy walk to Heaphy hut – a few hills but very small.  The first bridges have just been replaced with this incredible new bridge.

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The Heaphy bridge.

The vegetation changes to coastal palms and parasitic vines.

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Cool huge tree

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Most of the track is like this

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Lovely view crossing Gunner Stream

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There is a short section in the open

After 1.7 hours I made it to Heaphy hut.  Around the hut there are many wekas.  They are reasonably tame – when you approach they just hide rather ineffectually like this:

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The ninja skills of a fridge

The hut is very new and large.  Once again it has enough room for everyone and flush toilets.  In its setting it rather reminded me of a mission station.

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Mowed lawn and everything!

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Whale bones under the verandah

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View from the hut. It’s as good as it looks.

That afternoon I tried an American MRE snack – cheese spread on bread.

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Given that it’s shelf stable for 3 years it’s very good!

I went for a walk around the sand dunes.

P1060751 I met a pair of oystercatchers that dive bombed me, sending me running away at great speed.  Be careful of nesting birds! In the evening there were a lot of sandflies and my jungle strength 80% DEET repellent was barely effective.

The next morning I had a cold breakfast thanks to the hut running out of gas.  Dammit!  I made an early start down to Kohaihai.

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P1060756Dramatic coastal scenes

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Most of the track is like this. Very little is on the beach.

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More pretty streams (and still dry feet!)

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P1060759I haven’t seen anything like this since I was in the Solomon Islands

    The sun came over the hill at about 10am. P1060761

The last section is probably the seepest on the whole track, but it only gains about 60m, and in comparison to most tracks is still very well graded.  Just before the finish there is a lookout.P1060762

Conclusion:
This is a good track for new/inexperienced trampers or those that want an easy tramp.  With the Great Walk level of hut servicing you could almost make it without bringing any toilet paper of your own.  There are also companies that provide fancy catering if you want even more luxury.  Some people like going to huts with a lot of other people in them.  I am not one of those and prefer to go to remote places that don’t have anyone else in them.  As an experienced tramper I found the track quite boring and not challenging at all.  I was at the huts by lunch time every day, and barely broke a sweat.  At the moment it is well down my list of good tramps – the Tararuas or Mt Taranaki are much better.

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