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Walking the Great 9: The Heaphy Track

New Zealand has some amazing walks on offer, a select few of which have been named as "Great Walks" These are also known as the “Great 9” and for good reason too. They cover some of the countries most astounding terrain, passing iconic/ renowned spots along the way.

The Heaphy Track is the longest of the Great walks that is done by foot, a 78km trip in total, only superseded by the Whanganui journey which is a 145km paddle. The Track itself was named after one of the first explorers of the area, Charles Heaphy whom was involved in the development of the track during the west coast gold rush in the late 1800's. The track was established as a means of transport between the west coast and the Golden Bay district of Collingwood.

After no gold was found, the track was pretty much forgotten about come the early 1900's and only had seldom use by the occasional hunter. Up until the late 1980's many proposals to build a road through the Kahurangi national park were made, but the locals and councils defended the idea and furthermore, track use grew substantially. It was then named one of New Zealand's Great 9 walks.

Having a variety of different ecosystems and topography, varying from beach rainforest to baron tussock landscapes, The Heaphy track is renowned for the variety of landscapes crossed; every 20 km section is significantly different from the previous one. I would say it’s one of the more difficult walks to get done logistics wise, with some of the walks using a circuit rather than a different start/end point. With the Heaphy you have a choice of starting either at the West Coast end of Kohaihai (north of Karamea) or you can start from the Golden Bay side. There are operatives that can assist with car relocations and bringing you back to the end you came from which i’ve provided the information for at the end of this blog.

As you may have read in my previous entry, I was absolutely beat from the Kahurangi coast trip and after a short wait at the Heaphy bluff whilst the helicopter took the rest of the group I was with back home, it returned and picked me up to take me to Kohaihai where I then started the Heaphy track in the battered state that I was.

It was 4:30 when I landed at Kohaihai and after saying goodbye to Wayne Pratt, Karamea Helicopter Charters Pilot, it all turned very quiet; now I walk. With winter coming in swiftly, the nights are drawing in and the days getting shorter. I set off, heading for the renowned Scott’s Beach which is a lovely picturesque setting, a forest of Nikao palm trees bordering the most stunning beaches; it really is a great representation of this whole coastline. The only thing letting it down, sandflies.

I stopped the night here, an eerie gloomy sunset lay on the horizon, to which I admired for as long as I could before the sandflies ate me alive. I was sure to jump in my tent and not open the doors until early morning thereafter. After a very early night and a big enough rest, I awoke early knowing it was to be a big day ahead journeying from Scotts beach all the way to James Mackay hut, a total of 33km.

I have had a lot of affiliation with the track over the last few years, having worked for the Department of Conservation and done several track/hut maintenance projects. Another affiliation I have with this track is through my time working for Frank Byrne Builders where I was one of the team who built the James Mackay hut. Unfortunately I had to leave the build just before it finished and so I hadn't yet seen the finished project, hence why I wanted to get there as soon as I could to see it!

I journeyed along the coastal stretch, with the morning light slowly building, lighting the Nikau palm forests to my right and the huge barrel waves rolling in to my left; it was going to be a good day. I made it to Heaphy hut, a place I had seen just the day before when I flew over it in the helicopter. The hut really is sat in a perfect location, which a view of the renowned Heaphy river mouth, the Heaphy bluff and the endless beaches stretching back towards Kohaihai. I sat at the hut a while, as this is the only hut along the track that I hadn't been to up until now. I took a good look at the Heaphy Bluff, the last obstacle that prevented us from making it to this very hut just the day before! It was hard to look at for that very reason; I still think we could have have made it.

It was at this time that my knee just about seized up on me as it had done on walks of late, but with my lucky knee strap handy I hoped I could struggle on for the next 65km. Setting off, the track then winds along the Heaphy river and with the banks so low you can see why this section of the track would be inaccessible during any floods. This 8km stretch to the Lewis hut would take me over some very impressive bridge crossings, one of which is the Heaphy river swing bridge, the longest deck suspension bridge the Department of Conservation has ever built. The 148.8 metre bridge spans the Heaphy River just upstream from the Lewis Hut.

Having made it to the Lewis, it was definitely lunch time and with many punters around it was a great way to get talking to a few of them to see how they were enjoying the track. This section from the Lewis hut to the James Mackay is all uphill, consisting of a gradual 400metre ascent which spans over a 12km stretch. Setting off up the endless hill, It was then I recalled something the guys had said on the west coast trip, jokingly telling me "I'm bloody glad i'm not the one going up the Mackay hill after this." It was definitely a slow grind up, at this point somewhat limping my dodgy knee further on but with the sun shining through the beech forest, it wasn't hard to let myself admire the setting I had found myself in.

Craving to see the "HUT 1km" sign, It finally came and I knew the track well from here on in, eagerly pushing myself on to see the hut I had helped build some 2 years beforehand. It was a glorious sight, punters enjoying themselves on the front decking glancing out to the view of the Heaphy River mouth some 23km away. I set my bags down and had a walk around the hut, visualising and reminiscing the cold winter mornings we had up here building this. It was a really humbling feeling coming back here, if only I could grab that beer that i'd hidden in the interior wall!

With 75km done up to this point combining the west coast trip and the Heaphy so far, I was really beat at this stage. Luckily I had brought an emergency supply of painkillers to get me through! A quick and easy pasta dish filled the hole in my stomach to which brought a very early bedtime of 7pm. The thought of the following day was weighing on my mind knowing it was going to be the biggest day yet; 42km. I awoke at 5am, chucking back some hot chocolate and a soup, I hit the track at 6am. It was an eerie dark start to the day, with my head torch zapped of a lot of its power from the combined trips, it didn't do too much to light the way. The sunrise was stunning as it shone down on the tussock downs as I came to blue duck creek, only 1km away from Saxon hut. I had done a lot of work along this particular section of track some 4 years beforehand; it was a nice feeling to be walking back on it all these years later!

Reaching Saxon hut, I had a great chat with some Kiwi's who'd enjoyed the night at the hut and were setting off back towards Golden Bay as well. With all the great walks getting great exposure through tourism, you'll always find the locals finding the time to get on these tracks too which is awesome!

It was 9am when I left Saxon, with only another 27km to go! One of the most infamous sections of tracks came up next, the Gouland Downs. A baron tussock landscape unlike anything you've ever seen before. It really is amazing the diversity of landscapes you come across in the Kahurangi national park. I crossed the downs heading into the "enchanted forest" a beautiful woodland with bright green moss lining all the boulders and trees.

Gouland downs hut is a very unique hut with a historic nature. With great walks becoming more and more popular the huts you'd most find along such walks are becoming more and more refurbished and modern. The Gouland downs hut represents a classic New Zealand back country hut. Packed with character, I can imagine this hut will be kept standing for many years to come.

Back onto the track I went, with an incline push to the Perry saddle hut awaiting. The highest hut along the track at 900m, the hut sits in the fold of Perry Saddle with high hills either side. There are spectacular views out to the distant tooth-shaped peaks known as Dragons Teeth and Mt Olympus, and glimpses of the red tussock grasslands that the track crosses giving it that real alpine feel. It was midday when I reached the hut and I knew I would need a decent break before taking on the knee jerking 16km downhill that I was to face next.

Kieran Parish was one of the group who I did the West coast trip with and prior to leaving he'd told me he would be working along this stretch of track today. I decided to press on, knowing it would take a me a while to get down with the limp that had really came into form the last few kilometres. Passing the digger that had been covered up for the night, I figured they had left to head back to town already until I heard some voices further down the track; it was them. Kieran and Lana were walking their way out before I shouted "fancy seeing you here"; it was great to see some familiar faces again.

The last few hours went swiftly, reminiscing the trip we'd had on the west coast and informing them of how the Heaphy had gone so far, I think they could tell I was pretty damn done in from all this walking!

A sight for sore eyes presented itself in the form of Brown hut, the end of the Heaphy Track for me and my 2nd of the 9 great walks completed! Woohoo! I think if I was to do it again, I most defiantly wouldn't try and do the west coast trip before hand! The Heaphy Track is definately one to give a go for those of you wanting an adventure with a mixture of settings along the way. If walking isn't your thing, no worries, why not mountain bike it? The Mountain bike season lasts from the 1st May- 30th November, plenty of time to get on the track and experience the various landscapes the Heaphy track has to offer.

Cheers for reading everyone! Below you'll find the gear I used for this trip as well as helpful information regarding track information along with relocation/transport help.

THE GEAR

Jetboil stove kit

Since taking on a lot more adventures of late, I

feel investing in good, quality equipment is

always a good investment; it makes life in the outdoors that bit easier. Jetboil, produce a variety of different stove kits, different sizes and shapes, ones adapted for cold weather etc. These stove kits boil water at an insanely fast speed, which is definitely handy if your on top of a cold, windy ridge line and in need of a hot cuppa. I wouldn't go on a trip without one of these in my pack now, so take a look at their website www.jetboil.com and see which stove kit best suits you. I opted for the "Mini-mo" set-up which is rated for below freezing temperatures and even has simmer control.

Macpac Epic 800 Sleeping bag

It's amazing how much the temperature drops when the sun goes down, particularly when your up on the tops. I always would prefer to be too warm than too cold with a sleeping bag, especially if the surrounds you're going to be in are those of the mountains. I opted for the Epic 800 sleeping bag from Macpac. It's designed in a 'mummy' shape which is close fitting which keep you warmer and is rated down to -20. It comes in a water proof sack which saves you the worry of pulling it from a wet pack and it being soaked as well. They come in different sizes short/tall as well to get you the perfect snug fit. Take a look and see what you think http://www.macpac.co.nz/epic-800-sleeping-bag.html

Macpac Minaret Tent

Purchasing a tent is never easy, it is essentially your home in the outdoors and if you're deciding to take on much more challenging trips, you'll need one that's up to the task. Weight is always a big topic as no-one likes to carry more than they feel they should have to. The Macpac minaret is a 3-season tent built for the weight conscious. Coming in at 2.4kg and classed as a 2-man tent, this definitely was both spacious, light and it stood up to being pitched up on ridge line tops. It comes with a seam sealer which can seal the interior

fly seams to make it fully waterproof, no-one wants to put wet clothes on, right? The interior walls are lined with pockets to place ready to hand belongings and saves you digging through your bag.

Personally, I love this tent and can't wait to get out and use it more and more.

Strangely enough, I look forward to pitching it up!

Check out the link here and see for yourself. http://www.macpac.co.nz/minaret-tramping-tent.html

USEFUL CONTACTS

Bush and Beyond Guided Walks

Walk the Heaphy Track with Kahurangi’s original guiding company. Ecology guides with conservation values. Fully catered or self-catered interpretation guiding. Nelson pick up. Ph: +64 3 528 9054 Info@BushAndBeyond.co.nz

Karamea ConnectionsPhone: 03-7826-667 E-mail: info@KarameaConnections.co.nz Web: karameaconnections.co.nz

Heaphy Track HelpPhone: 03-5259-576 E-mail: info@heaphytrackhelp.co.nz Web: www.heaphytrackhelp.co.nz

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