The Heaphy Track is a 78km, 4-6 day walk through Kahurangi National Park. It’s the longest, but surprisingly the easiest, of the Great Walks. It’s also one of the most varied, including sections along the epic West Coast, through native bush and palms, across tussock areas, and with a side trip option up a mountain for views as far as Farewell Spit.
The track is usually started from Golden Bay, which is better as it gets most of the up hill work done on the first day, but due to timings of the Heaphy Bus over Christmas I started from Karamea, at the top of the West Coast. Walking is the only way to appreciate this part of the country, the track road ends are 463km apart!
Christmas was a good time to walk as the pohutukawa trees were out in full red bloom along the coast, which the track hugs closely, so much so that you need to be careful at high tide as strong winds may result in you get wet. Beautiful day for me thankfully, enjoyed the rugged and deserted beaches, before arriving at the Heaphy Hut, at the mouth of the Heaphy River. This is one of three new huts (along with James Mackay and Perry Saddle) built 2012-14, which are some of the nicest in the DOC hut system, though traditionalists may prefer to stay at the Lewis, Saxon and Gouland Downs Huts.
Day two was a rather dull uphill hike through native bush up to James Mackay Huy, though the reward was stunning views back toward the mouth of the Heaphy River.
Day three was the best, through the tussock of Gowland Downs, across wire bridges, pass the historic Gouland Downs and Saxon Huts, finishing at Perry Saddle Hut.
From here there’s a barely marked (look for the stone cairn) path to the summit of Mount Perry (1,238m), a ~300m steep ascent along an unmaintained track, rewarding with epic views of mountains in every direction, and in the distance Farewell Spit, marking the top of the South Island.
Highlights: Views from Mt Perry, a two hour return walk on unmaintained track by Perry Saddle Hut, great new huts, through Gowden Downs, along West Coast beaches from / toward Kohaihai
Lowlights: West Coast sand flies (mosquitos) live up to their reputation, some dull bush walking between Lewis and James Mackey Huts and Perry Saddle and Brown Hut
Route taken: Three nights, started at Kohaihai and stayed at Heaphy, James Mackay and Perry Saddle Huts, which is opposite to usual due to transport timings, would recommend starting at Brown Hut as gets the uphill out the way in one day
Tips: Stay at Heaphy, James Mackay and Perry Saddle Huts as they’re new and best spaced, take plenty of insect repellent!