▨ Jamie McHale

Walking the Heaphy Track (again!)

From Golden Bay to the rugged West Coast, four days of tramping and a wild Takahē encounter in New Zealand · December 2018

Walking the Heaphy Track is one of my most treasuered memories. I walked the Heaphy Track in 2017, so was keen to return to dig deeper into what it offers: enjoying cool mornings, bright sunshine, vibrant tussock and wild west coast beaches.

This year I walked the track with my parents. They heard me talk about last year, so wanted to give it a go too. I am very glad to be able to spend time hiking with my family in a beautiful part of the world. I’d recommend the four day tramp to people of any age.

The Heaphy offers a great range of experiences. One of my favourite things about the hike is the transition from beech forest, up and over onto downs of red tussock, through palms, and out onto the wild west coastline with long beaches. There are a lot of different landscapes in a short time. The views aren’t as classically spectacular as some of the other Great Walks, but the Heaphy Track feels more intimate with the environment. Lots of trees, ferns, mosses and other plants. The diversity of views and wildlife is what makes this special.

A path winds upwards through green trees, with orange beech leaves on the ground
Beech forest
Red Tussock in the mist at Gouland Downs
Palm trees and ferns on the West Coast
Heaphy Beach at the Heaphy Hut on the last night

Brown Hut to Perry Saddle

The trailhead is at Brown Hut, a 45 minute drive from Collingwood. You can also fly to a field a few km away (and get a taxi-transfer, or just walk it). Collingwood is a great place to start your day, with a coffee and bite to eat from the Courthouse Cafe.

The first day is an ascent through the beech forest, finishing at either Perry Saddle Hut or Gouland Downs Hut. Perry Saddle is large and modern, Gouland Downs is small and old, but with character!

The view from Perry Saddle Hut across the bush

Gouland Downs

Once you get out of the beech forest you enter Gouland Downs, a plateau with rolling hills of red tussock. The view across the downs on the second morning is one of my favourite of the track. Last year it was fresh and sunny, this year a mix of sunshine and then mist. It was atmospheric, and nice to see in a different light.

The red tussock of Gouland Downs
Gouland Downs Hut
Saxon Hut


I was very excited to see two Takehē! I saw two in Te Anau sanctuary before I left for the walk, and the same two with chicks the previous year, so was pleased to see they have released some in Kahurangi National Park to establish another wild mainland population. There are around 300 ish Takehē left in the world - it’s an endangered species. Fingers crossed for their success.

I also saw Kereru, New Zealand Robin, Tomtit, Weka, Fantail, Paradise Duck and Oystercatcher.

I also found out the Maori name for Fantail was Piwakawaka, which I think is very suitable and great. It squeaks a lot.

The West Coast

The second main highlight of the walk is the transition from forest to coast. The Heaphy Hut is an excellent place to stay (despite the sandflies). We were treated to both mist and sunshine, and a beautiful sunset.

I look forward to returning to the Heaphy Track. I get the feeling this isn’t my last time walking it!

Other Great Walks I have completed