New Zealand has a bunch of “Great Walks” maintained by DoC (Department of Conservation).The Great Walks are the department’s premier walking tracks, through areas of some of the best scenery in the country. One of these, in fact the longest of them all at 82kms is the Heaphy Track, which runs from close to Collingwood on Golden Bay at the north of the South Island, and the Kohaihai River just north of Karamea on the West Coast.http://maps.google.com/maps?ll=-40.853871,172.37592&z=10&t=h&hl=en It’s a varied walk that runs through Kahurangi National Park and includes expansive tussock downs, lush upland and lowland forests, and stunning coastline.
My daughter and I walked the track 10th-13th January 2010, and it was a GREAT start to the year!
Day 1 we took the shuttle bus from Nelson, through Takaka and Collingwood to the start of the track at Brown Hut (on the Brown River).
From the hut we followed the well-formed track that rises steadily
through beautiful native bush some 17kms and 900m to the Perry Saddle.We understand that there are views north to Mt Taranaki on a fine day, but as it rained steadily for us we have to take someone’s word for it! We stopped for the night at the well-appointed Perry Saddle hut- (gas stoves, welcome fire, potable water and mattressed bunks.)
No great drama after day although my shoulder muscles reminded me I hadn’t carried a pack for a looong time, and there were hints of a blister or two.
We rose, fed and packed at a leisurely 6:30 and set out for the next stop, MacKay Hut about 24kms away over Gouland Downs to the ridge that looks down on the Heaphy River and out towards the coast another 21kms away (day 3 walk). The track across the downs heads west and traverses tussock and patches of low scrubby bush. The track crosses a few streams and during our day there we had showery rain on and off almost all day- luckily it wasn’t ever heavy enough to adversely affect the track or cause significant rises in the streams. Part way across the downs we came across what can best be described as a ‘shoe tree’. People have hung footwear of various kinds on an old tree trunk.
We morning teed at Gouland Downs hut and lunched at Saxon hut before pressing on through the MacKay Downs around the low bush-clad ridge to MacKay Hut where we spent the night. Again, a very well appointed hut, but this one with flush toilets! Gorgeous evening views towards the Tasman Sea and the Heaphy River mouth in the distance. There are entries in some of the hut intention/comments books that people have seen kiwi, and it seems this is not an uncommon occurrence. Lots of other bird-life, of course, and it was a delight to have a warbler come very close,
even to the extent of landing on my wrist and pecking at my bracelet in an inquisitive way.
Some inconsiderate plonker started clattering around 5:30 which I am sure most others would have loved to comment on, but had better manners than him! The walk on Day 3 was about 21kms but a pretty easy affair- the first half of it down-hill (easily) to the moth of Lewis River
and the hut named for a gentleman of the same name, then almost totally flat for the rest that follows the Heaphy River to its mouth. One fascinating feature of the down-hill section were the ‘bush imps’ that people have sculpted from the moss-covered outcrops next to the track. It also crosses an exposed coal seam. We had lunch at the Lewis Hut (shared it with a few weka) next to one of the West Coast’s ‘black rivers’.
Many of the rivers on The Coast either start in or are fed by streams that flow from swamps and they are stained a dark brown.
The southern rata were in magnificent display as we got lower down, and the walk through the nikau forest was cool and very pleasant, although Kimberley was experiencing quite severe discomfit with her knees, later found to be caused by her boots. But she soldiered without complaint which came as no surprise.
After dinner at the Heaphy Hut we went down to the beach at the river mouth to await the sunset. It was beautiful, and wasn’t in any way spoiled by the consumption of a nice bottle of Pinot Noir- very civilised! (Lots of envious people in THAT hut!)
Our 4th day was a short 16km coastal track that took us through nikau forest, across sandy beaches, over rocky river beds and ended with a steep little ball-breaker over the Kohaihai Saddle just before the Kohaihai River and the park at the road-end. We spotted a bull sea lion on a sandy beach below the track and it was funny to see a young German lady start to run to put distance between herself and it, even though we were on a track some 10 metres above the beach!
It was very nice to sit down, get the packs off, remove the boots and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done as we waited for our transport to arrive. Shonagh (Kimberley’s Mum) and her friend arrived about half an hour later and we made a quick dash to the Karamea pub and skulled a couple of cool draughts before a nice lunch and a couple more.
Very enjoyable, and a delight to spend 4 days wandering in our wonderful country with my baby! Thanks, Kimberley.
Note: DOC (Department of Conservation) have recently opened the Heaphy Track up for mountain-biking over the winter season.