Heaphy Track

29 July – 2 August 2019

Living in Queensland and having never been to the South Island in winter before let alone walking, the Heaphy Track as a guest of the Banks Peninsula Club was a wonderful experience.

So I thought I would just write of my impressions as an outsider. Firstly, not to be under appreciated was being able to rely on the experience of Raymond as far as the weather was concerned. Our departure date delayed by several days to take advantage of the most favourable conditions. In the end luck was on our side, and we had what I thought was a more than acceptable weather window, not under estimating how quickly conditions can change.

About to depart from Perry Saddle Hut. Photo courtesy of Raymond Ford

I also enjoyed walking on such a well-made track enabling me to look around so much more for once! And apart from meeting two separate mountain bikers we had the place to ourselves which magnified the solitude and heightened the beauty of the changing terrain each day. My most memorable moments were:

Leaving Browns Hut on a mild day gently climbing up amongst the softness of the green bush, friendly fan tails and inquisitive robins. Then popping out to Flanagan’s Corner view point and there in the distance were The Dragons Teeth - a failed attempt by Sonja and I two years prior.

Looking across the Gouland Downs to the Slate Range. Photo courtesy of Raymond Ford

Watching the weather changing over the Douglas Range at Perry Saddle Hut as night closed in, listening to the cold front blow through during the night and waking to a scattering of snow.

A sighting of the rare Takahe at breakfast, peoples’ sense of humour on the famed Shoe Pole on the way to Gouland Downs Hut.

Looking down on the beautiful ferny glade where the Gouland Caves are, the antics of the territorial wekas at Saxon Hut wanting crumbs and the openness of the tussock plains on the way to James Mackay Hut, to the sunset over the Tasman Sea. Something we don’t get living on the east coast of Australia.

Descending down through temperate rain forest, sighting a couple of tuis singing away and the glistening drops on the moss amongst the exposed coal seams on the track, and at Lewis Hut where we lunched with Department of Conservation workers clearing up an old Forest Service 1970’s rubbish dump now exposed by the Lewis River. How practices have changed! And then on to Heaphy Hut with the tide right out - wandering along the estuary then out amongst the driftwood on the beach and the granite pebbles of all sizes was just so peaceful and different from what tomorrow would be.

The weather was definitely turning for the worse as we left on our final day down the West Coast foreshore with showers passing through and the wind certainly felt cold but I think I saw it in all its glory. Just loved the whole experience - the suspended bridges with the water rushing past so clear even though so brown from the tannin and what beautiful forest. I particularly liked seeing the contrast of the nikau palms amongst the rata and other trees, the limestone crags held firmly by roots beside the track and the flaxes on the foreshore with the crashing surf surging up Scotts Beach. It was pretty much high tide when we crossed Crayfish Point but it wasn’t a problem as one of the DoC guys said the track had changed.

Heaphy Hut. Photo courtesy of Raymond Ford

Then before heading off to the luxury of hot showers and electric blankets at The Last Resort in Karamea. Raymond had one last surprise for us. A side trip to the big Oparara Arch - that is just awesome!

I thought the design of the new Heaphy huts with their big windows framing very different views, clever solar sensors and lovely s/s creations applicable to the area on the drying racks by the potbellies were impressive although there is nothing quite like that huge handmade stone fireplace at Browns Hut. And the undercover flushing toilets - that was unexpected, but very much appreciated in the middle of the night! The respective camping sites along the way were very attractive but I reckon tramping the Great Walks in winter is the way to go. Not one sandfly to be seen. Then to top off a great trip we were lucky to drive back to Christchurch via Arthur’s Pass, which I have never been to before on a lovely day with all the snow-capped mountains glistening in the sun. You live in a beautiful part of the world and I will be back.

Thank you to Sonja for organising the trip.

The party was: Rebecca Johnston, Raymond Ford, Sonja Risa (leader) (RJ)