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.
I could tell within 5 min of starting walking that it was a track for grannies.
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.
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.
After another 20 min I made it to the highest point.
Take the short track to the lookout – there’s a picnic table out there.
The track is then mostly flat to the Perry Saddle hut. It took me 4 1/4 hours to walk this section (excluding breaks).
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.
At the time it seemed ok, but 18 hours later I experienced Mao’s revenge.
The next morning started with low cloud.
If you are mountain biking the next section is a bit rockier, but still not steep. Even I could bike it.
The track goes through the Gouldand Downs. These do look quite spectacular, and make a nice change from all the bush on day 1.
The track is a cut above most tracks, as seen by the aesthetic condiserations given to the infrastructure.
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.
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.
One good thing about this track is that you do not have to get wet feet. All but the smallest streams are bridged.
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.
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.
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.
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 track just has a gradual descent for several km. Zzzz.
It took me 2.7 hours to make it to Lewis hut (mainly due to boredom).
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.
The vegetation changes to coastal palms and parasitic vines.
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:
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.
That afternoon I tried an American MRE snack – cheese spread on bread.
I went for a walk around the sand dunes.
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.
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.