With a good forecast (our usual criteria for setting off on a walk) we got ourselves organized to walk the Heaphy Track. The selling point for this track is that it is varied and it certainly lived up to that with each day having a different setting. The hardest part with the Heaphy (and the part that Ray didn’t like) is that it is 460km by road from one end to the other. Ray nearly opted out and said he’d drive around and collect me but he thought I might fall over and hurt myself! We found the option that suited us best was to pay a local service that would drive your car to the other end and this ended up working very well for us. We had to take five days instead of four to fit in with another group and this also worked as our extra night was at our favourite hut and setting as featured above on the frosty morning. The first day was a very steady climb to Perry Saddle Hut and in fact the whole track was always at a very easy gradient as it was originally surveyed for a road. We got a shock with a couple of minor steep pinches on the last day as we were used to the easy hills. We were surprised by warning signs for snails but they were to protect the snails not us. We did see one but it wasn’t a giant one as some grow to a shell the size of a fist.
Day two saw us out of the trees and into the downs, high areas of grassland though not alpine. It reminded me of our high country and was very picturesque. A boot tree was a feature of the day with slippers and old boots with the nailed on soles. We ended at Saxon Hut where a visit from a helicopter (three times) enlivened the peaceful afternoon. Unfortunately there are reports of a missing helicopter in the area this week and I’m afraid it might be this one.
Our frosty morning was warmed by the morning sun as we strolled on to the next hut which was perched on the edges of the hills looking down to our next destination, the Heaphy river mouth.
We set off down hill through a pretty forest to meet the Heaphy and the next sandfly surrounded hut. The bridge across the river was very impressive and led us into a different world. The walk by the river took us through a nikau palm forest that gave it a tropical feel though the weather didn’t back it up. We ended at the Heaphy hut, yet another brand new hut with all the mod cons – bunks with mattresses, gas fires and solar powered lights. This was set overlooking the beach at the mouth of the river and we made it just in time to beat the afternoon rain.
The last day promised rain but it had all fallen previously and all we saw were showers. It made for a lovely walk along the coast through nikau forest, across beaches with warnings against waves ( we were not at high tide when three people were washed away in 1980), swing bridges over raging torrents and one last hill to keep us on our toes. The final swingbridge gave us a rollercoaster ride and swayed alarmingly in the wind that was channelled up the river valley but finally we were reunited with our car with a bonus apple.
We were now in the Karamea area on the west coast, an area that has been bypassed by the tourists as it it on a 100 km dead end road. We made the most of being in the area by visiting it’s fantastic limestone arches. It had hailed during the night and as we headed up the road in the morning there was more and more hail on the road until it looked like snow. The van almost made it to the top but slipped on the last hill and we were stuck. Ray tried to back to a safe place to leave the car but it ended up on a soft spot off the road. After I walked and ran back down the hill I found a helpful 4WD driver who pulled us back on the road with ease. By now the hail was slushier and easier to drive on but we were taking no chances and turned the van before parking and walking the last three km to the walks.
We walked to Oparara Arch and were amazed at the size of it. The river runs through and it is a huge cavernous space where we had to bypass the ‘Do not pass this point’ sign to explore and try to capture in photography. The rain had caused numerous drips and even a waterfall through a hole in the roof.
We then completed a loop walk past Mirror Tarn and over and under Moria Gate Arch, a much smaller but pretty arch.