47. Walking the Heaphy with Mum

Mum and I spent the last two nights in April staying in Perry Saddle Hut on the Heaphy Track, coming in from the Golden Bay end.

Our reason for the walk was to see the takahe which were released on the Gouland Downs last year, and are doing really well, even laying eggs. We had great luck at Perry Saddle with the ranger keeping us informed of the takahe Hyde’s movements.

We walked to Gouland Downs Hut on our middle day hoping to see more takahe but were out of luck as they stayed right out of sight.

On our second evening one of the rangers brought a takahe egg in a lined container to the hut for all of us staying there to see, then we followed him up to the ranger’s hut and watched Hyde pecking on the lawn for half an hour or so, until it got too dark and cold. What a beautiful bird with it’s bigness and jerky movements and it’s blue and red colouring. (I took photos but they didn’t come out – too dark by then). The egg was lovely, quite big, and variegated in it’s colouring. The rangers weren’t sure why the egg hadn’t hatched as they had only just come on duty in the last day or so, but were keen to find out themselves.

Our first day of walking – a kahikatea with berries sat right near the start of the track, just over the Brown River bridge.
The track led upwards on a gentle gradient for 17 kilometres to Perry Saddle Hut. This track has a mountain biking season which is about to start – May 1st, the same day we will be walking out!
It seemed to be clearing up, but it didn’t last; for most of today it kept raining down on us.
Black and orange fungi made for interesting colours and textures. I’m not sure what they are, but mean to get around to looking them up before long!
We stopped for lunch at the Aorere Shelter, where we had interactions with the local birdlife – weka and a south island robin.
Yes! The must-have photo at Flanagans Corner, the highest point on the Heaphy Track.
We saw this powelliphanta shell sitting on the bank by the track – someone had obviously carefully placed it there. This is just the shell, but usually they have a native snail living in them, which is carniverous! You’re not meant to take empty shells away as the living snails eat them for the calcium.
I think these are mingimingi berries, but haven’t seen them pink before so not totally sure.
The final kilometre approach to Perry Saddle Hut. It was nice to get there and dry out, though the fire wasn’t working very well and most people were cold. There was a Dad staying who was walking through with his young son; they were taking five days for the walk. This Dad was from America; he said he’d had high hopes of New Zealand, but the reality he found was that in many ways New Zealand was just another America, with some of the less desirable American traits manifesting in New Zealand culture as well.
Next morning we asked the ranger in the ranger’s hut above the main hut about seeing takahe. She told us the solo female Hyde was at Perry Saddle and that we would probably soon see him on the lawn if we stuck around. But we wanted a walk anyway, so set off for the Gouland Downs in the hope of finding other takahe, thinking we could see Hyde later in the day.
After walking along this short stretch of river that seemed to be part of the track we noticed a bridge in the bush right next to us! Funny!
First glimpse of the Gouland Downs.
Sundew peering up at us in circles. Like the native snail, these plants are carnivorous, and trap small insects using glands that coat their leaves.
Yes! Another must-have photo, at Boot Pole corner.
I know someone who’s boots once fell apart walking the Heaphy, so in desperation she found a new pair from this pole which enabled her to finish the walk in relative comfort.
We ate lunch at Gouland Downs Hut, and waited, and waited, but not a takahe to be seen 😦
Mum walked among the tussocks looking for takahe, while I had a mini play in the Goblin Forest, or the Enchanted Forest, depending on who you’re talking with. Mum found tussock leaves spread around – takahe pluck each leaf and just eat the nutritious part near where it comes out of the plant – and also some of their poo, which was pretty much just pure tussock.
The Goblin Forest is mainly beech trees which lie among limestone formations and caves. The Gouland Downs is a peneplain – meaning it was once a sea floor. The limestone here is remnant rock that formed in the sea and never eroded away – it formed after NZ split from Gondwanaland in one of the periods when we lay beneath the waves.
Walking back across the Downs to Perry Saddle Hut, we watched this native fern bird hopping about.
It was a truly lovely day, but there was still a bit of water around from the recent rain.
A final view of the Gouland Downs from Picnic Table Corner.
Back through the bush…
…to Perry Saddle Hut.
I went down the track to take a look at the spa.
Yep, this is the track.
Hmm, it would be inviting on a hot day, but that’s not today which is growing colder by the moment.
A lovely sunset around the hut.
We went up to the ranger’s hut to watch Hyde for a while, then came back and spent another cold evening before the fire. There was an Australian mother and daughter who had come over just to walk the Heaphy and we talked quite a bit with them. There was also another woman from Buenos Aires but she went to bed early.
There was a decent frost the next morning, and it wasn’t even light when the first mountain bike came hurtling through without stopping. The next group of four, following behind, stopped to rest and complain that no-one was supposed to bike the track before light, to keep kiwi and powelliphanta using it protected. I wondered if there was also a bit of competitiveness going on, everyone wanting to be the first through for the mountain biking season.
Just as we left, Mum and I caught sight of Hyde right by the hut. She saw us and moved off into the bush where we quickly lost sight of her.
We stopped for morning tea at Aorere Shelter, much different to being in the rain a couple of days ago. We brewed a cup of tea at the table outside.
Lots of mountain bikers passed us, sometimes they stopped to talk. Two were English students coming in for a stint of volunteer work looking after the takahe.
We counted at least thirty mountain bikers throughout the morning but started losing count, too!
A weka preened and fluffed it’s feathers, quite a treat to watch. I took a video, which came out really well.
Continuing on down the track, really nice views through the trees.
Neither of us noticed this flower on the way up – must’ve been heads down, tails up!
We spot the farmland – not far to go now. Around here, I noticed Mum’s pack was a few kilograms heavier than mine – oops, bit late to realise it now!
That’s a fossilised worm trail (in the shade). I could also see a hollow where a bivalve had once sat.
Back under the same kahikatea we saw at the start.
Dying or dead beech trees – we wondered if this was due to the long months of little rain we just went through.
Brown’s Hut and the end of the track.
We stopped at Langford’s Store on the road out for a cappuccino and a look around – you could look for hours at everything contained in the spaces here.
Then on to the Mussel Inn, where we ate soup and warmed up by the fire, a great way to end our trip.

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