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New Zealand hikesNew Zealand Heaphy Track Route Guide

Discover Heaphy Track, one of Kahurangi parks top destinations for tramping and hiking track adventures - the Heaphy Track,Tasman and Golden Bays, New Zealand.

Facts
From Brown Aorere Valley Road end, 28km inland from Collingwood
To Kohaihai River mouth, 15km north of Karamea
Time 3 - 5 days , 82km
Distance 82 km One Way
Grade easy
Highest Point
915m, Flannagans Corner
Huts 7 Great Walks Huts, 10 Great Walks Campsites, 1 standard camping area at Kohaihai
Maps

Map 260 L26 Heaphy

 
Nettle Beach
Nettle Beach
Brown Hut
Brown Hut
Farewell Spit Collingwood
Farewell Spit Collingwood
 
Heaphy Track Route Guide

Heaphyl track is approximately 82 km long. It may be walked from either end Collingwood or Karamea (see Access).

Location
Distance
Times
Brown Hut to Perry Saddle Hut
16 km
5.5 hrs
Perry Saddle Hut to Gouland Downs Hut
8 km
2.25 hrs
Gouland Downs Hut to Saxon Hut
6 km
2 hrs
Saxon Hut to MacKay Hut
12 km
3.5 hrs
MacKay Hut to Lewis Hut
12 km
3.5 hrs
Lewis Hut to Heaphy Hut
8 km
2.5 hrs
Heaphy Hut to Kohaihai Shelter
16 km
4.5 hrs

This route guide will describe the entire Heaphy track in the following five sections, beginning at Wainui Bay in the north and ending at Marahau in the south:

Travelling times given remain the same whether you walk east-west or the reverse. The total average travelling time for Heaphy Track is 24 hours. It has been run in 12 hours and 22 minutes during the course of one day! But observation of one's surroundings is reduced in direct proportion to the speed of travel (and, one might add, the weight of one's load). Most heaphy track walkers will want to take their time - for comfort's sake and to take in to the full the attractions of the natural environment.

 

 
MORE PHOTOS HEAPHY TRACK & DOC Heaphy Track Publication
 
Brown Hut to Perry Saddle (868 m)
Approx. 16 km. Walking time: 5.5 hours

About 1300 m from Brown Hut you cross the Brown River by the first of numerous footbridges which almost entirely remove flood dangers for Heaphy Track walkers. Beyond Brown River a poled route leads over a paddock to the start of the long, Heaphy Trck steady climb to Perry Saddle. First, the Heaphy Track winds up and over a scrubby spur with views down the unkempt Aorere Valley towards Collingwood. Traverse fern and manuka for almost an hour before the Heaphy Track reaches the vast forests which cover the ranges to the south, west and east, part of 376,572 Hectare N.W. Nelson Forest Park., the largest in New Zealand. Fern tree and fantail, rimu and robin, beech tree and moss bank fill the hours of climbing 800m to the highest point of the track.

Wooden benches and labelled trees for day trippers are soon left behind. But the trail remains wide and easy along the century-old route cut for packhorses. The Heaphy Track swings back and forth so regularly across the rising spurs that the pattern of walking can become monotonous. Monotony is tempered by the thought that rarely has there been such an easy grade up the side of a mountain.

Yet the traditionally soft footing of the Heaphy Track is gone, following recent bulldozed redevelopment, so sore feet on rocks are as likely as sore shoulders from your pack by the end of the day. Additionally, forest canopy and cover has been thinned, reducing shade on a sunny day but granting the bonus of more frequent views over the Aorere Valley. Streams are frequent enough for the thirsty!

About 2 hours out from Brown Hut the Heaphy Track forks at the junction with the Shakespeare Flat track ( at the height of 400 m). Turn right (west), past a helipad, on the big loop west towards Beecham Creek and views of the Wakamaramas. After another 2 hours of regular climbing, a sign indicates Aorere Shelter, a km on Hull and Kaka Creeks are crossed before reaching a lookout from which the North Island and Mount Egmont might be seen on a clear day. It is scarcely worth lingering here, for the bigger clearing and helipad beside Aorere Shelter are just a minute away. From the Aorere Shelter the view is even wider - Golden Bay spread out and Farewell Spit closing the sea horizon with its low dramatic curve.

A-Framed Aorere Shelter, at 823 m, is 11 km's and 4 hours from Brown Hut and may be used as an overnight shelter for those caught out by darkness, bad weather, or exhaustion. It has 4 mattressed sleeping spaces, an open fire outside and rainwater tanks.

On this first stage of the Heaphy Track, the forest is dominated by hardwood beech species, Superb old specimens of red and hard beech trees will be encountered, especially in the gullies beyon Aorere Shelter. On the lower reaches, podocarp species are also common, weeping rimu always catching the eye of the miro on the ridgetops. Where the rimus peter out around 600 m, the first tree dracophyllums ( also known as mountain neinei or 'pineapple tree') will be encountered. The crimson explosion of rata flowers open in a seasonal wave towards the topmore forest canopies as the summer lengthens. The forest beneath the canopy is filled with smaller trees - hinau, toro, kamahi and mikimiki - and tree ferns around.

A quiet and observant traveller can also identify a wide range of bird species. The Aorere Valley slopes may be almost silent in the middle of the day but the forest has a good population of bellbirds, tuis, tomtits,grey warblers, waxeyes and fantails. In the undergrowtrh, blackbirds squawk - the introduced bird most successful in finding a permanent home in native forest. Watch out for kakas, too, noisly feeding among the best of the frest rata flowers.

From Aorere Shelter the Heaphy Track trends west towards the Gouland Downs, the gradient as even, the surface as hard as ever.

About 45 minutes ( 3 km)) on, the Heaphy Track turns decisively towards Perry Saddle at Flanagan's Corner, the highest point on the entire Heaphy Track at 915 m. A short side track (left) leads to a fine lookout knob allowing the views of the entire upper Aorere watershed, Mount Olympus ( to the East at 1500 m) and the Anatoki Range topping 1650 m. The huts at Perry Saddle can be seen, now only half an hour's gentle descent away, Riflemen may be seen on this secitobn, and the evening skirl of a kea signifies that sub-alpine heights are close.

At Perry Saddle - named for an 1887 track contractor - the walker's accommodation is first among the straggle of huts and loos. The hot - and robust - tramper can slide through mud to the so-called 'Spa Pool' in Gorge Creek. The water is maintained at mountain temperatures only! From Perry Saddle Hut one can see bare tops, east to the jagged ridge of Anatoki, west to the soft curve of spurs masking the promised Gouland Downs. The wind can whistle through the saddle, but on a calm evening you can enjoy sunset light on the eastern mountains, and a still morning may reveal an icing of frost on the crowns of beech forest below

 

Huts:Perry Saddle, 868 m; 25 bunks

 
Mt Olympus View
Mt Olympus View
Aorere Shelter
Aorere Shelter
Collingwood
Collingwood
 
Perry Saddle to Gouland Downs Hut (610 m)
Approx. 8 km Walking time: 2.25 hours

From Perry Saddle Hut, the Heaphy Track rises a little and follows a bulldozed scar above the level of the saddle proper. Then it descends all the way, 260m down to Gouland Downs hut. For the first hour it wriggles through the low bush shadowing Perry Creek. Glimpses of the russet downs can be had through low beeches, gnarled pittosporums, vining rata and the rustling heads of mountain neinei and mountain cabbages (toii). Tramp or hike until the spurs fall back and the trees thin out into scrub when the wide ancient bowl of the entire Downs is revealed. Red spiky snow grass ripples in the wind, masking the saturated pakihi and outcrops of granite and limestone - among the oldest rocks in New Zealand. The Downs roll low to Gouldand Downs Hut at their centre, broken by steams which have cut deep into the limestone, streams like Cave and Shiner Brooks and Weka Creek, all of which converge to swell Big River, which drains to the Tasman Sea near Kahurangi Point.

Beyond Perry Bush the Heaphy Track meanders to the left over Sheep Creek and a series of spurs and narrow plateaux before swinging hard right at the old country signpost. The deep-ditched tramperway descends to the gorged bridge over Cave Brook, close to Gouland Downs Hut. Here, there are beech forest knolls, rocks and caves which harbour kiwis whose whistles can be heard at night in company with the screech of wekas and the hoots of moreporks. During the day, the Downs are likely to be silent, a still moorland, cupped by dark surrounding hills. The steady movement of clouds and the light shift of the snow grass bring no sound. The noise of running water in the creek beds, the rare fluctuating call of pipits and the chatter of swooping swallows give relief in a landscape that seems barren and lifeless.

Gouland Downs Hut is the oldest on the Heaphy Track (1936), a comfortable, well-worn shelter from which the naturalist might spend days exploring geology, botany and birdlife of this unusual corner of New Zealand. Beware of deep and hidden potholes in limestone if you wander off well-beaten track.

Huts: Gouland Downs, 610m ; 12 bunks; open fire only

 
Perry Saddle Hut
Perry Saddle Hut
Gouland Downs Hut
Gouland Downs Hut
Perry Saddle View
Perry Saddle View
 
Gouland Downs Hut to Saxon Hut
Approx. 6 km. Walking time: 2 hours

From Gouland Downs Hut the Heaphy Track wanders over a knoll capped by silver beeches and then strikes directly over the western downs, crossing Shiner Brook, Big River and Weka Creek ( all bridged). Heaphy Track climbs beyond Weka: before you leave the open hillside, look back across the Gouland Downs to Perry Saddle between the summits of Mt Perry, 1217 m (left) and Goul ,1410 m, the latter seemingly aptly named in the sombre shades of bad weather.

Along the foot of the Slate Rage, the way becomes more confined among mountain beeches, celery pine, flax,neinei and broadleafs while brillian orchids and other small flowers sparkle on mossy banks which have escaped the bulldozer blade.

At the top of the moderate climb, the Heaphy Track emerges from the low bush and begins to descend through scrub - manuka coarse and rasping in a wind, dead trees sculptured and white against the wide basin of the Saxon River headwaters. You pass old mile-posts before arriving quickly at the newest hut on the Heaphy Track and its weka or kea custodians. Hut and River are named for the Heaphy Track's original surveyor.

Hut: Saxon Hut, 670m; 20 bench bunks; gas rings, woodburning stove

 
Awaroa Bay Inlet
Saxon Hut
Typical Track
Typical Bush & Track
Kea Track Visitor
Kea Track Visitor
 
Saxon Hut to MacKay Hut
Approx. 12 km. Walking time: 3.5 hours

From the end of Saxon Hut's Boardwalk, the Heaphy Track continues to descend through clearings and low beech forest to the Blue Duck clearing. Just before the clearing a sign indicates a safe route to the bridge over the Saxon River, should it be in flood. Near the bridge a signpost may cause confusion to those walkers coming from MacKay; remember that Saxon Hut is still about 20 minutes away. Saxon or Blue Duck Shelter lies on a terrace to the south, only 5 minutes away. The shelter was built before the hut and can sleep 8 to 10 people at a pinch ( it has no facilities).

From the bridge and signpost the Heaphy Track climbs steadily above the Saxon River gorge. It passes through delightful low beech forest before it swings sharply to the west through fern trees and dracophyllums and makes a final rise to the ancient post marking the boundary between Buller and Collingwood Counties. At this point you have regained most of the height lost in descending to Gouland Downs from Perry Saddle. Note the stand of low mountain pines.

Heaphy Track now winds along the southern flanks of Mount Teddy. In fine weather there will be views down from Bluffy Creek to the Heaphy Valley or across to the Tubman Range in the south. Beyond Mount Teddy you reach the edge of the MacKay Downs. Heaphy Track winds and undulates through low, bush-covered hilltops and over tussock and reed clearings figured by granitic outcrops and scupted by deep streams. Here, if you are lucky, you may spot the rare fernbird.

Perhaps it is late afternoon now as you look out to the wild and broken country that stretches north and west towards Wanganui Inlet. There will be warmth in the clearings where the sun glares off white gravel, coolness in the deep shade of the trees or where the wind rises from the valley and swirls from MacKay hut - named for James MacKay of 1860 - marks the last clearing before the full embrace of the forest, sunset view, supper might be eaten outside, watching the changing colours and perhaps the lights of fishing boats growing larger and brighter in the gathering gloom.

Hut: MacKay,695 m; 40 bunks, gas rings, woodburning stove

 
Hydro Shelter
Hydro Shelter
Shoe Tree
Shoe Tree
MacKay Hut
MacKay Hut
 
Mackay Hut to Lewis Hut (15m)
Approx. 12km. Walking time: 3.5 hours

Below MacKay hut the Heaphy Track may be muddy and awkward in places, but it resumes the easy grade section between Brown River and Perry Saddle. For the first quarter hour, the MacKay Hut may still be seen behind but beyond the old bivouac site (signposted) the Heaphy Track enters the first bush. As you drop into the forest , warm and humid after the chill austerity of the MacKay and Gouland Downs, you will encounter the first of the magnificent rimus which adorn the length of the Lewis Spur. Totara,miro, beech and fern trees also abound in growth that seems doubly lush after snow grass and granite.

Birdlife increases; robins will sit on your boot or investigate your pack if you take the time and trouble to sit quietly at the edge of the track. Fantails are prolific, waxeyes,pigeons and perhaps kakas in the high canopies of the trees.

At first there are views across to the summits of the Tubman Range and the Gunner Downs. But as you steadily and easily descend on the southern flank of the spur, the hills close in to the upper gorge of the Heaphy. About half way to Lewis, the river noise begins to impinge on the forest silence. Two hours down from MacKay you will cross two big slips and soon afterwards discover the fine views through the trees of the Brown River winding through its white beaches. At one point the Heaphy Track turns black where it crosses a coal seam and then, 100 m or so above the Lewis Hut, the first nikau palms appear and slowly thicken over the last kilometres of the journey to the coast.

Lewis Hut is at the edge of the bush, a stone's throw from the river. You arrive at it suddenly and perhaps the first thing you notice is that you are now in West Coast sandfly country!! Lewis Hut and River are named for the early Collingwood engineer and surveyor who once owned land in Heaphy Valley.

Huts: Lewis (15m); 40 bunks; gas rings, woodburning stoves, open fire

 
Lewis Hut
Lewis Hut
Towards Coastline
Towards Coastline
Weka
Weka
 
 
Lewis Hut to Heaphy Hut (15m)
Approx. 8 km. Walking time: 2.5 hours

From the Lewis Hut you follow the Heaphy Track upstream for about 350 m and cross the Heaphy River by a spectacular swing bridge. ( Fording of the River is possible downstream from Lewis Hut but is not recommended for novices). Beyond the bridge the Heaphy Track runs through forest shade, later beside the true left bank of the river, and at one point you have to climb slightly beneath limestone bluffs. Here, there is a fine lookout with views up and down the river. On a bright sunny day the Heaphy River is a brown stain through nearly black forest, harsh lines and colour; in rain the scene is muted and grey, enlivened only by the crisp contours of nikau and fern tree and the waving straw heads of toetoe. On a dull day the sea reveals its presence by water-reflected light on the belly of the cloud.

From the bluff the Heaphy Track descends and continues through open bush, beneath more bluffs and through grassy clearings, crossing Gunner and Murray Creeks ( bridged) on the way. Where the Heaphy Track traces a sandy flat beside the river (nearly two hours) you will encounter the first kowhais and cabbage trees. Just beyond, among a cascade of giant limestone boulders beneath an escarpment, you will find marvellous dells thickly shadowed by nikaus, the rock faces covered in a profusion of lianas and kiekie. By now the birdlife of the hill forest has given way to the species of the river coast - shags,herons, ducks and gulls.

As the nikaus steadily thicken, the first signs that you are close to Heaphy Lagoon may be a tidal movement in the river or the sound of the surf, or close to the huts, clearings filled with exotic grasses and weeds, lupins, thistles and horse droppings! Suddenly, the Heaphy hut and lagoon are revealed, the cliffside of Heaphy Bluff, the sand bar and the incomparable sweep of nikaus. A short walk beyond the Heaphy Hut leads to the beach: the confines of forest and valley are forgotten in the huge sweep of coast to the south, curving 120 km to Cape Foulwind beyond Westport. Beach and rock and bluff, but mostlyu wide reaches of sand and the incessant surf. A fine evening at the Heaphy River mouth will never be forgotten, when the sun sinks through horizon clouds to the sea and the severe lines of nikau and flax stand black and stark against the warm sky and the glided waters of lagoon and ocean. NB Swimming in these coastal waters is dangerous.

Huts: Heaphy ; 40 bunks; gas rings, woodburning stove, open fire

 
Heaphy Hut View
Heaphy Hut View
Heaphy Track
Heaphy Track
Flax & Mosquito Paradise
Flax & Mosquito Paradise
 
 
Heaphy Hut to Kohaihai River Shelter(sea level)
Approx. 16km. Walking time: 4.5 hours

Final leg of Heaphy Track will prove a delight for those more suited to sea and sand than bush and mountain. As the surf pounds through boulders or pulls at the crescent beaches, the high and silent bowl of the Gouland Downs seems part of a dream.

Thought there is now a track behind the beaches all the way to Kohaihai, make sure you study the tide tables at Heaphy Hut before you leave. Venturing onto the beaches at high tide and in heavy weather can be dangerous, especially at Crayfish Point where a big surf has claimed lives.

At first the Heaphy Track winds through nikau palms, behind high sandhills and past a fine flax swamp ( this is where the mosquitos breed!). A quarter hour takes you to the coast and Heaphy Shelter which provides emergency accomodation when crowds of walkers visit the lagoon during the Christmas - New Year period. The area around the Heaphy Huts and Lagoons remains Maori Land and evidence of grazing and the introduction of noxious weeds is obvious as lupins and gorse border the coastal track almost as far as Wekakura Creek. Just beyond Wekakura, near Trig 772 on the point, there is an excellent view back over the full extent of Heaphy Beach and distinctive Heaphy Bluff.

In summer, the atmosphere is almost subtropical, fostered by the song of cicadas and a soft mist among the palms carried in by mild westerly breezes. The north-west coast of the South Island is washed by a warm current, a key factor promoting the growth of nikau palms as far as south as Greymouth. Nowhere are they more prolific than on the Heaphy Coast, grove after grove south to the Kohaihai River.

The good Heaphy Track stretches out under the shade of rattling nikaus and the bright broad leaves of Kawakawa, karaka and ngaio. Twenty Minute Beach was well timed and Nettle Beach aptly named for the bushes of vicous giant nettle below the Heaphy Track - keep clear!

At Mid Point ( not quite half way) you cross Katipo Creek ( bridged) and may rest at the shelter. At the end of the next, Twin, beach stands at Crayfish Point, marked by a notice advertising this danger. Three hours either side of low tide it is safe to cover the 200-300 m of open beach. Three hours of either side of high tide you should take the precaution of using the track cut in the bluff above. You have to climb back to the continuing Heaphy Track from the beach anyway, so you might as well stay high.

From Crayfish Point on, the long view of the southern coast closes towards Kohaihai Bluff, that 'remarkable conical projection' described by Charles Heaphy. Beyond the fine bridge at Swan Burn the Heaphy Track becomes rockier and more open. The hedge of flax and nikaus grows thinner and their are signs of civilisation in the picnic tables of Scotts Beach. From here the footing improves markedly to a fine-shingled shoe track which crosses the bluff saddle to the Kohaihai River. The 100 m climb up the steepest grade on the Heaphy Track brings out the sweat on a hot afternoon!

There is a famous lookout at the top for your last view up the coast before you descend through attractive nature-walk country to the river's suspension bridge and the last 150 m of the Heaphy Track around the hillside. The tidal river and steep bluff mark the end of the West Coast road. They are natural barriers that anyone who has walked the Heaphy Track , and enjoyed its peace and unique natural environment, hopes will never be breached in the short-sighted pursuit of commercial 'progress'

Hut: Kohaihai picnic shelter at road end; toilets; telephone

(NB There are tide tables for those beginning the track here)

 
Heaphy River Crossing
Heaphy River Crossing
Kohaihai River
Kohaihai River
Kohaihai Shelter
Kohaihai Karamea end
 
 
Related

 

 

Further Information
Golden Bay Visitor Information Centre
Willow Street TAKAKA
Phone: (03) 525 9136
Email: gb.vin@nelson.com
Web: www.doc.govt.nz

 

 
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