To mark our entry in to our sixtieth year my wife & I were keen to do the Heaphy Track. We had booked via DoC four of the seven huts available on this track. We prepared our backpacks while staying at the Last Resort after a great drive from Christchurch to Karamea. What glorious sunny weather we encountered in Karamea. A lovely night amongst the locals. On the Sunday morning we hired a local Helicopter to fly us over the National Park from Karamea to Browns Hut at the Collingwood end of the Track. Breathtaking scenery from that helicopter ride. Well worth it.
We commenced our tramp up the steady incline from midday to great vistas of distant sea and sky, before arriving at the Perry Saddle hut in time for a cookup for evening meal. That stretch took us seven hours, with multiple breathing stops. But we were rewarded with such a flash hut. Only been commissioned around six months. Congratulations go to the Dept of Conservation for such a wisely designed and constructed tramping hut. We shared the hut with another kiwi couple who were making a study of the unique snails to be found on the Heaphy.
The next day was a great wander through varied terrain, heading to the Saxon hut. The first day tramp was mighty tough with a steady upward climb, and fully laden backpacks. But wow, my new walking poles were brilliant for ease of tramping up the steady and unforgiving incline. Day two took us across swampy flats with great sun and a pleasant breeze, to eventually lunch at the quaint Gouland Downs hut.
There we met a delightful young DoC warden. She was busy cleaning up the hut and toilets. A lady with a great smile, great respect for outdoor explorers like ourselves, and a passion for ensuring we all protect the environment for future generations. Not far from here we explored and photographed the limestone arches and creeks amid the "enchanted forest". It looked so much like the backdrop of a Peter Jackson movie. We arrived at the Saxon hut just as drizzle rain started. We enjoyed the firebox heat inside the hut with two other chatty couples. The next day was a grand exploration of a variety of landscapes and scenery, arriving with so many others at the rugged McKay Hut. It was cosy and functional for the dozen or more of us staying the night, sharing so many stories and marvelling at the cuisine of some.This hut looks very tired and due for an upgrade. But the toilets were very impressive.
The morning greeted us with a NZ Army squad out on the surrounding grass cooking up a breakfast. They had already tramped from sunrise, sweat pouring off them. Yet everyone of them was smiling and busying themselves with their camp cookers and billies. I was very pleased at our more leisurely pace! We picked up quite a pace that day however, taking only three hours tramping from McKay to the Heaphy Hut.
We stopped off for lunch at the Lewis Hut though, hoping to walk across the brand new "Heaphy bridge" still under construction. But the DoC workers couldn't allow us to. We instead tackled the ancient swing bridge that had survived the local storm months earlier that had destroyed the Lewis bridge - which lay in a tangled mess alongside the river close to the Lewis hut. The Doc workers were salt of the earth good blokes. They enjoyed their work and were conscientious in their construction tasks.
We arrived at the brand new Heaphy Hut by mid afternoon to enjoy lying on the expansive deck sunbathing ourselves. The Hut was impressive in its new design and solid construction. The flushing toilets were amazing! Not something I expect on a bush tramp, really. The hut seemed overtaken by teenage girls from a school group. The teachers with them were professional and provided good leadership for these girls to behave appropriately amid an array of adult trampers.The noise level during evening cooking was extreme. But not a peep was heard when we all went off to sleep.
The fifth day of our tramp continued to provide sunny warm weather, as we headed off from the Heaphy Hut tramping mainly along the Tasman Sea beachline. The roar of this sea was exciting, as well as challenging, and we saw plenty of signs where this sea frequently takes great chomps out of the track! The ruggedness of nature was very much the theme throughout this tramping experience. We loved every step of this adventure. Our bodies stood up to the five days of hiking, and the backpacks were getting considerably lighter each day. Or was that partly due to our bodies getting better toned, for the task?
The last day of tramping seemed a breeze, walking along the beach and then through the majestic and proud nikau palm groves, all the way to Kohaihai, the Karamea end of the famous Heaphy track. We seemed to have gelled as a vague group of 9 mysteriously by us sharing huts, sharing evening stories, sharing bunk rooms and even sharing some meals. It warranted a group photo as we all gathered awaiting the afternoon shuttle van.
That evening we all met in the Karamea pub seeking out the local delicacy of whitebait patties, accompanied by a dark beer. Great yarns, much laughter and great tales to tell, of surviving this tramp, but of other nature experiences too. What a great five days. What a brilliant slice of NZ native bush. What a terrific bunch of other like-minded kiwis keen to get out there amongst it. This is definitely the New Zealand I have always loved!
Come on people - give this track a go. It has to be one of the best.
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