Heaphy Track

5-8 March 2020

The Heaphy Track was my first trip in New Zealand some (gulp) 45 years ago. The next time was the first multi- day trip that we took our children on (aged 8 and 6) some 28 years ago. Despite some forays into either end for caving or day trips, it was high time that we did the whole thing again. The huts might have changed, our energy levels certainly had but the remembered scenery can’t have changed that much. Diane Dixon had booked the trip from South to North so that she could spend some time with her son, David, from the States, and asked whether anyone wanted to go the other way to car swap. That was just the incentive we needed. Kerry advertised through Communicator and Penny joined the group.

We swapped cars the previous day and enjoyed a leisurely drive to Collingwood with the obligatory lunch stop in Murchison. Dubious weather, but the forecast for the next week looked amazing. Travel over the Takaka Hill was as spectacular as we remembered, especially with road works fixing five major slips caused by previous wild weather. Collingwood had not changed much apart from new river protection by the Aorere River providing camper van parking at the Motor Camp.

First day started with breakfast at the Collingwood Courthouse Café. We didn’t do that with our children. The dubious ford before Browns Hut had vanished with the new car park but Browns Hut looked the same. The gradual climb to Aorere Shelter worked out some of the stiffness from the previous day’s drive. Up and up again to Flanagans Corner with a side trip to the Heaphy Track 915m high point and view to Perry Saddle Hut. Finally, the hut! We had been looking forward to the possibility of seeing the some of the 30 released Takahe but didn’t have our hopes up. Then, there they were, right at the hut complete with radio transmitters. Apparently, they like the introduced grasses that are carried up on trampers boots as they are more palatable than tough native grasses that have evolved to survive Takahe predation.

Next day was our long one to James McKay Hut. What changes in scenery. First Rata forest near the saddle, then the Gouland Downs with the open heathland country and beech forest “enchanted forest” near Gouland Downs Hut. Picnic Table corner, where Penny took that opportunity to take a panoramic photo, then the Boot Post, including high heels. Whio in the stream, more takahe and weka attacking Margot’s scroggin. The track is compacted granite and hard under foot. Margot got blisters with well worn boots that the James McKay warden described as common. Most people travel North to South with the people we met at Perry Saddle using the same huts and we were starting to know them well. Diane and David appeared at James McKay, good to know our car was at Karamea.

At last generally downhill to Heaphy Hut. The James McKay warden had told us about the delights of the next section. The tallest moss, cave spiders and nesting shags with chicks. We managed to tick them off although the cave spiders had to wait until after our arrival at Heaphy and a restorative cup of tea. Last day along the coast. Nikau palms with discarded fronds looking like basking seals. We tested their weight and decided not to pause underneath, not easy. The coastal section felt like another world. White beaches, wekas and Powelliphanta shells. Then at last a view of our car through the trees, at least it’s there. The drive to Last Resort was a welcome opportunity to be seated and still moving as the first rain that we encountered started to fall. That first beer was fantastic, as was the second. Little did we know that this was going to be the last major trip for some time. Looking from the other side of Covid-19 lockdown, it seemed almost a lost lifetime. The huts certainly had changed, our energy levels were nowhere near where they once were, but the scenery was just as spectacular as we remembered.

Trampers: Margot Bowden, Penny Coffey and Gary Huish (GH)

Margot and Penny at Aorere Shelter. Photo courtesy of Gary Huish.