Heaphy Track: Great Walk #4

The Heaphy Track was our gateway to the wild West Coast, that rainy and rough land. Coming into the four day hike, we were disgusted with camp food, weary, and in low spirits after a lousy Christmas. We briefly considered skipping it. I’m glad we didn’t, as it turned out to be a gorgeous track with moderate elevation gains, reasonable if wet weather, and a variety of gorgeous landscapes.

Our first day on the track started late due to a reluctance to leave our hotel room and hitching difficulties (we had no problem catching rides from Takaka to Collingwood to just a few kilometers from the trailhead, but our last ride couldn’t cross a high stream, so they let us out and turned back, and we walked an hour or so more). We quickly became acquainted with the monstrous sandflies, startling in quantity and voracity. So we moved quickly up the hill, through light rain and mist, to Aorere Shelter, where we spent our first night.

We slept late and had a lazy breakfast, not heading out until nearly noon. The trail was flat and very well graded, and like yesterday took us through verdant forest. A quick side trail took us to Flanagan’s Corner, the highest point on the track at 915m. From it, we could see tall mountains circling us, occasionally partially shrouded in mist. The birds were fairly active, and we spotted tuis and those pesky wekas and lots more whose calls are becoming familiar through we have no names for them. Past Perry Saddle Hut, the landscape began to morph into more of a grassy and open place. We had lunch at Gouland Downs Hut and talked a bit with Matt, a friendly ranger who told us to look out for rata trees 11m in circumference. We wandered through a bit of forest dripping with green moss and lichen, so rich with growth and moisture. Soon after, we were back to grasslands with heather and rata trees and the odd suspension bridge. We pitched our tent at Mackay Campsite and watched the swarm of sandflies and the curious wekas from our sweet portable home.

Our third day out greeted us with a steady morning shower. We are breakfast in bed and hoped the rain might let up; it did, thankfully, just as we took the tent down. The morning hike to Lewis Hut took us out of the Heaphy Hills and back to sea level. It was a good walk, punctuated by wet spells, and the rain let up for good at lunchtime. Just past Lewis Stream we visited two enormous rata trees, really stunning life forms. We stood in awe of these 2,000 year old giants and gave them our respects. Walking through the rain that day, I imagined with ease the ancient forest of years past, untouched by humans and possums and only inhabited by birds and reptiles and insects native and intimately connected to the land, and I wondered, if the rain continued, unceasing, if it could erase all the holy places and ugly scars of earth and if it would be better next time.

Onward to Heaphy Hut where the trail turns to follow the coast south to its terminus. The west coast is fantastic. At night in our tent, we could still hear the massive waves thundering against the beach. It’s rough water, not meant for swimming, but wonderful to look at. One negative of this part of the trail, unfortunately, is the sandflies. Next level insanity. There were thousands outside our tent on our last night. Defenders of the wilderness!

This morning, the sandfly situation had worsened. It was a mad dash to pack up and get moving, but once we stared hiking the bugs stopped harassing us. We were lucky to have a clear morning, though it had stared to sprinkle by the time we reached the end of the track. We got a ride to Karamea immediately with a group o folks who grew up in the area and were back visiting. It was well-timed, as the rain grew steadily worse throughout the day. Just a quick stop in Karamea for a flat white and some snacks and, surprisingly, a $5 wool sweater, then we thumbed a ride to Westport with a really nice Dutch couple in a campervan.

We find ourselves happily tucked away at art hotel, a gallery/hotel downtown. Very much looking forward to a hot meal and a bath. Very pleased with the way this most recent trek.

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