▨ Jamie McHale

Heaphy Track, New Zealand

undefined · December 2017

The Heaphy Track was one of the best walks I’ve done. A beautiful walk through varied landscapes, with perfect weather, great huts and a sense of remoteness. It takes you from the Golden Bay area on the north coast of South Island over to the West Coast.

Day one was a 17km walk from Brown Hut to Perry Saddle. The walk ascends through beech forest, with occasional view over the ranges. I was caught in a large rain shower just as I reached Aorere Shelter. The clouds cleared as I reached Perry Saddle for sunset. The hut was well built, spacious, and half empty.

The start of the Heaphy Track, a path through a beech forest
A view through the trees to a mountain
A growing fern
Leaves poking through moss
Stormy clouds over the track on the way up to the first shelter
The path through the beech forest
Clouds on the way up to Perry Saddle
Moss on a tree stump
A fantail in the forest
A view from Perry Saddle Hut showing clouds billowing on the horizon

Day two I walked 24km from Perry Saddle to James Mackay Hut. This was probably my favourite day from my whole trip. I got up with the sunrise, watching the mist clear from the valley. The sun opened up blue skies, and a freshness in the air. I left the hut early and walked out to Gouland Downs. It was really beautiful reaching ‘Picnic table corner’ where the view opens out to the downs. I stopped to take photos as a Weka pecked around my feet. You could see the Gouland Downs hut and the ‘enchanted forest’ in the distance.

I stopped in at Gouland Downs Hut for a snack and a sit down. The forest afterwards was a twisted track with hanging moss and caves, an interlude in the open and winding track through the tussock grass.

A view from Perry Saddle Hut showing sunlight casting a red glow over the hills
Mist runs across the pass at Perry Saddle Hut
A breakfast of porridge with a spork from a camping pan
Sunlight over hills between Perry Saddle and Gouland Downs
Jamie McHale walking towards Gouland Downs - selfie!
A daisy
Gouland Downs with the Gouland Downs hut visible in the distance
Looking towards a stacked beech forest on a hillside in Gouland Downs
Gouland Downs hut
Poster advertising a reward for sightings of the South Island Kokako
Inside the Enchanted Forest
Selfie on the Gouland Downs
Selfie on the Gouland Downs

I stopped for lunch at Saxon Hut, which was very picturesque, with clouds billowing over the downs and Perry Saddle back up the track. Reaching James Mackay hut you can climb the nearby mountains for a view down to the mouth of the Heaphy River, the destination on the following day.

A view looking back towards Perry Saddle from the Gouland Downs
Taking a time-lapse video from Saxon Hut
A view from Saxon Hut looking back towards Perry Saddle
A view of Saxon Hut looking back towards Perry Saddle
A view down to the mouth of the Heaphy from James Mackay Hut

Day three was a 20km walk down from James Mackay Hut to Heaphy Hut on the coast. The walk was a little more overcast, through beech forest to Lewis Hut (where there were many, many sandflies), abruptly changing to palm forest with some giant trees to Heaphy Hut.

At Heaphy Hut there were lots of sandflies on the beach, but I still wrapped up and went out to watch the fantastic sunset as the dull clouds of the day cleared.

A first view of the Heaphy between the trees
A Weka (?) feather on a mossy rock
Beautiful trees
White lily
Beautiful trees
Rings on palm trees
A view of Heaphy Hut
Heaphy Beach with the sun setting
Brighter look back to Heaphy Hut
A view along Heaphy Beach in the sunset
Pink and blue skies with sunset over Heaphy Beach
Silhoutte of Nicau Palms with sunset

Day four was a 16km walk from the Heaphy Hut down the coast to the Kohaihai River mouth. It was a beautiful selection of beaches, rocks, palms, and mist rising off the native bush.

A collection of palms
Two palms against a blue sky
Mist rises over a bush-covered hillside
A spiders nest
Sunlight streams through palms
Sunlight streams through palms
A view down the west coast
Sky, sea and sand
A hillside on the west coast
Shell of a carnivorous snail, almost looks like wood
Fern leaves with a strange dimple on the leaves
Looking back up the Heaphy Track, with blue skies, sandy beaches and red rata trees
Looking back up the Heaphy Track, with blue skies, sandy beaches and red rata trees
Red rata trees
Strange patterning on a fern trunk
Me standing next to a Heaphy Track sign, having finished the walk

The Heaphy is one of the lesser visited of the Great Walks (6k people per year, compared to 40k for the Abel Tasman), but it’s well worth a visit. You can find out more about the track, including hut bookings, on the DOC Heaphy Track Website.