New Zealand has some of the world’s best walking tracks (or as they call them in Kiwi land, “tramps”!) and the Heaphy Track is one of them.
It is situated on the north western coast of NZ’s South Island within Kahurangi National Park. You can choose to walk the track over either four or five days. My group did it in 4 days but if I had my time over again I would choose the 5 day option. 78.4 km is a long way!
The Heaphy Track is not a circuit track so you have to consider your transport options in and out. You can walk it from South to North (Kohaihai end to Collingwood end) or North to South (Collingwood to Kohaihai). Sometimes 2 groups of friends will arrange to walk the track from opposite ends, meet in the middle and swap the keys to their cars so that they can both drive out. We drove to Karamea (the small township near Kokaihai) from the city of Christchurch and stayed the night. The next morning we took a helicopter flight to the north-eastern end of the track and then walked the track back down to our car. Of course you can arrange to catch the helicopter to either end.
We walked the track from North to South but on reflection I think South to North would have been preferable. There are two reasons for this. On your first day you are carrying more weight because you are carrying food for 4 days. From the southern Karamea end, the the first day involves walking along a largely flat track up the picturesque coastline. Three of the first day’s highlights are the grove of Nikau, Scott’s Beach and the inlet camp site at the end of the day. However, walking from the northern Collingwood end the first day is mostly uphill through beautiful native bush. I found this quite tough with a full backpack and wished I’d walked from the southern end which would’ve allowed me to ease myself into the hike, as it were.
So we walked 5 hours up through the forest to Perry Saddle Hut and stayed there the first night. The next day was a very long day! It took me about 8 hours to walk across the alpine tussock grasslands of the Gouland Downs to the Mackay Hut. It’s supposed to take 6.5 hours but one of my knees was playing up and causing me pain.
Day 3 involved descending through beautiful bush and then crossing and following the gorgeous Heaphy River out to meet the sea where we stayed our 3rd night at the Heaphy Hut. The final day we walked south along the coastal track through the forest of Rata and Karaka trees and Nikau Palms. There are quite a few swing bridge crossings of streams which can swell into torrents after heavy rain so be careful. There are opportunities to walk along the beach in some places. The sea is breathtakingly beautiful but you should NEVER be tempted to go for a swim – it far too dangerous.
The Heaphy Track is one of the great walks of the world. You get to see such diverse landscapes along the way – beech Forest, alpine tussock grassland, podocarp forest and coastal palm trees. I would love to do it again and next time I would be better prepared. I would do some training beforehand and make sure I had more comfortable boots. I developed blisters on the 3rd day and was a bit of a cripple on the last day which was a shame as it did impair my enjoyment of what otherwise was a spectacular last day. Bring some plasters!