48. Walking the Heaphy End to End

Here I am again, on the Heaphy Track, this time with my sister and my 10 year old nephew. We’ve all biked and walked it in the past, so it’s starting to feel like an old friend. Every time it’s just as fun and interesting, or more so, than the last.

This will be the first time I’ve ever done it from the Kohaihai end, always having started in Golden Bay in the past.

I have read a couple of blogs of thruhikers on Te Araroa over the past year or two, which has influenced me to make changes to the way I tramp: 1. to carry a tent whenever I’m tramping (though not on the Heaphy); 2. to lighten up my gear and load (done – it’s fantastic!); and 3. to try using an umbrella in the rain while tramping. The umbrella is packed for the first time this trip!

Drowning story: In his book The Heaphy Track Chris Petyt tells of a teacher in the first half of the 1900’s who often tramped through the Heaphy route (it was a route for a few hundred years before a proper track was cut later in the 1900’s). One time he was late back to his job teaching in a school because of wet weather and high river levels. He was given a hard time by the school board for this, so, on a subsequent trip he must have felt the pressure on him, as he crossed a flooded river and drowned. Perhaps if he was living now he would choose to work for DOC, or be a guide, or some other profession that would allow him more flexibility with his time.

We are conscious of the weather, of course, in making decisions about whether or not to go tramping. The weather forecast for our trip is not great and there’s meant to be a storm the night we are at Perry Saddle Hut, but as it’s the Heaphy Track with all it’s bridges and huts, and as we’ll be almost out when it’s at it’s worst, we are not too worried. Actually it will provide a great opportunity to try out my umbrella. It’s just a storm, not a cyclone!

We stayed at the Last Resort in Karamea the night before leaving; Kevin also stayed. He drove us there and will pick us up in four days time at the other end in Golden Bay.

The track first led over a hill to Scott’s Beach, then from there it was just little ups and downs and along to the Heaphy Hut, 16 kilometres away, by beaches, through nikau forests and sometimes through scrub. Even though it’s May, it’s really warm weather!
There was a hole in the track at one point that dropped away to the rocks below. We filled it with lots of stones and jumped on it to pack it well, then later told a ranger we met about it. He thought it was one they had already fixed before – that maintenance just goes on!
We watched this small plane fly over and guessed it was carrying people back to the Golden Bay end of the track having finished their walk, or dropping them off to start their walk. This is a common way for people to travel to one end of the track or the other as the drive around takes 9 or 10 hours, a whole day.
Nikau palms are everywhere along the west coast section of the track. They are really beautiful.
So is this! It’s karamea granite with it’s characteristic potassium feldspar crystals, pretty in pink, white quartz and glinting bits of mica.
All the rivers on the Heaphy Track are bridged, making it an easy, manicured track to negotiate. There is just one left of the old style swingbridges; this is because the river beneath is easy enough for cyclists to drag their bikes through, and for walkers to boulder-hop. Tourism and cyclists have had a huge impact on the improvement of the Heaphy Track over past years.
You can see the storm damage from the supermoon/kingtide storm early in 2018 that hit the West Coast and Golden Bay. It did a lot of damage to the track along here which was slowly repaired.
Kawakawa! – The holes in this plant are made by a small caterpillar (kawakawa looper) that lives in symbiosis with the plant – they only eat certain leaves and leave the rest, which contain higher levels of some repugnant chemical they don’t like, which ensures the plant has enough leaves left to collect sunlight to photosynthesize.
A wetland lies just before the Heaphy hut.
Nikau palm leaves litter the forest floor around the hut – it wasn’t like this last time we were here as we could carefully pick through the forest to play hide-and-seek and look for powelliphanta (native snails) and kiwi. I think the same storm that did all the damage to the track must have also blown these down.
There are structures built out of driftwood all along the beach in front of the Heaphy Hut.
Weka footprints – there are lots of weka around here.
Sea foam from the receding tide – this is a beautiful beach!
The trail left by a 10 year old in the sea foam – lucky it’s replenished every 6 hours or so!
Evening comes, we’ve found reception at the end of the beach to phone home, time to retire to the hut.
We went back and cooked our packaged food – nice and light!
After dinner we went back out kiwi spotting but had no luck; we didn’t even hear any call in the night. The hut was full so we had a few chats. Some of the people came from Auckland and the Far North, where we are heading at the end of June. They said it rarely goes below 0 deg celcius that far north, even on the coldest nights – yay, we might get a summer-like winter, that’s the plan!
We left pretty early the next morning – hey, we were up before these shags!
I took heaps of shots of flowers, fungi and plants. My sister and I sometimes pointed plants out if we knew their names. We saw this nikau palm in flower – wow!
This is the dying flower of a nikau palm.
We started seeing these huge rata trees as we walked closer to Lewis Hut – they must be 1000 years old!
We stopped to eat at Lewis Hut and this little piwakawaka/fantail played around us.
The fungus werewere-kokako – named this by Maori as the colour matches that of the wattle of the native bird called the south island kokako. The south island kokako, also known as The Grey Ghost, is the subject of mystery and intrigue in the South Island of New Zealand with people regularly reporting sightings of this supposedly extinct bird – though not one person has yet managed to back their sighting up with film footage. Hmmm…
Heading uphill to Mackay Hut, we got nice views of the Heaphy River.
We reached this coal seam, which lies exactly one third of the distance between Lewis Hut and Mackay Hut. Getting there!
Not long before Mackay Hut there’s a short path leading to a view point – you can see the mountain range on the other side of the valley and the Heaphy River mouth, beaut!
James Mackay Hut
There’s another track that leads onto the hill above this hut – you can see all the way back to the Heaphy River mouth from here too! We had the hut to ourselves for the night so could spread ourselves out as we liked! I gave the hut a jolly good sweep, doing most of it that evening.
Next morning, we started off in the rain and it wasn’t long before we hit our first creek. We ploughed through, getting wet halfway to our knees. Soon we reached these boarded sections which were just a little covered in rainwater – I believe in high rainfall they can become impassable – though I suspect that’s a bit dependent on just how wet you want to get!
We met a group of women before reaching Saxon Hut, who told us they had only just left there, hoping the rain would clear, so the fire should still be warm for us to have lunch. They were right! It was nice to sit in the warmth and eat and brew a quick cuppa. We swept up before moving on – amazing how much mess we made of the floor just having lunch!
I tried out my umbrella and loved it. As in, really loved it! It stopped the rain from dripping down between my pack and my back and kept both me and my pack much dryer than we otherwise would have been. I’m sold!
My nephew checking out the water depth with a walking pole – yep, it’s straight up and down, so it’s about a metre deep.
Heading in to cross the bridged Big River.
I have actually crossed this river where it meets the sea too, being part of the route along the coast from the Anatori River to the Kahurangi Lighthouse. Kevin and I were both pretty sick when we did that walk, but of course working around our jobs we had limited time so ploughed ahead and did it anyway, rather than missing out. Looking after ourselves, we stopped after crossing the river – which gets to waist deep for a short couple of steps – finding a small sea cave to change into dry clothes before walking on.
The Goblin Forest, or the Enchanted Forest – seeing this for the second time in two weeks is funny! It’s the same patch of forest I explored while tramping here with Mum. The rock structures are limestone that used to lie at the bottom of the sea which helps give it a surreal feeling.
My nephew and I both wanted to go through the caves, so we lay our packs on the track and covered them with my umbrella to keep the rain off while we went exploring.
We went through two dry caves in the end – not the one with the river running through today! It was nice to be out of the rain, until my nephew shone his torch on a large weta and decided not to be there any longer. My sister had gone ahead to check whether or not there were takahe on the lawn outside Gouland Downs Hut, and found there were! She signalled us to be quiet as we approached.
We had great luck with seeing the takahe – there were two that pecked at the grass while we watched for about half an hour, fascinated by them, until moving on.
You can’t see the rain in the photos, but it was raining pretty hard by now, and grew steadily worse as the day went on.
The track ran with water from here onwards until we reached Perry Saddle, and no doubt through most of the night as well. There was a school group at the hut; one of the students told us it had been like that on their side too, heading up to Perry Saddle from Golden Bay.
The creeks grew wider though never got deeper than our knees.
A quick stop at Picnic Table Corner – still lovely even without the usual extensive views over the Gouland Downs.
You can just see Perry Saddle Hut in this photo, yay, our shelter from the rain. From this distance we could see a few people milling about on the deck and guessed there was a school group in. It’s a popular track for school groups being remote, lovely, gently-inclined AND safe.
By the time all the students and teachers arrived the hut was feeling positively cramped. A fellow tramper, up from Golden Bay, tried to convince the group to leave all their boots in the porch like the rest of us, but they just couldn’t get that one, so there were circles of boots around the hearth and the floor was soon a swimming pool. One of the teachers started mopping it all up, so I took a turn and mopped out our room. One of the parent-helps fixed the fire, which he said was choked up with coke melted together. This was great – the hut including the floor dried out through the evening.

Fantastic though it is to see kids getting out and about, neither my sister nor I slept well; one small group of kids stayed up very late talking and laughing; and we were in with the teachers and parents, or they were in with us, and several of them snored. Also the storm grew worse and it got really windy.
We were up next morning well before dawn and on our way with the first light, hardly anyone else up yet making it easy to eat breakfast and pack up.
It’s always a relief to leave a crowded hut and back into the fresh air.
Sunrise – looking good! No rain – and it even looks as though it might clear up. This is the view of our route today and though my camera doesn’t show it well, those mountains in the distance are the Dragon’s Teeth. My sister and her oldest child, my niece, walked along the base of this range a few weeks ago with friends of theirs, navigating their own route along over a few days.
The view from near Flanagan’s Corner, the highest point on the Heaphy Track at just over 900 metres.
No rain running down the track today – not a bit! I thought it was going to clear up today, but in fact it began raining again as we got down further.
The storm overnight left patches of tree debris on the track which we got into the routine of clearing, flicking off the smaller stuff with a push of the boot, or lifting and casting the heavier branches. I always clear tracks while I’m walking, it’s part of my routine.
Here we all are, sitting in a shower of rain, waiting for our ride out – we were so early out compared to our expected time that we waited almost an hour, nice sitting in the bush, taking a walk to the river, and listening to the bird life!
I’m glad I’ve now done this tramp from both ends – I loved the beach walk, enjoying it far more than other times I’ve done it from the other end. Also, we had no time pressure – no driver to meet, so there was literally no hurry.

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