The Heaphy Track is one of New Zealand’s designated ‘Great Walks’.
At approximately 80 kilometres, it is known as the ‘flora walk’ of New Zealand.
No other track has the diversity and number of plant species found on the Heaphy. Scenery and habitat range from montane nothofagus-podocarp forest and sub-alpine tussock grasslands, mountain vistas, through to lush, jungle-like lowland forest and Nikau palm fringed beaches and pounding surf.
The track has a colourful history. The route connects Golden Bay in the north of the South Island with the township of Karamea on the West Coast.
Evidence of moa hunters at the Heaphy (Whakapouai) River mouth has been dated to the 13th century. The Heaphy was one of the routes used by Golden Bay Maori to travel to the West Coast where they collected pounamu, highly valued for tools and weapons.
European history started with the discovery of gold on both the West Coast and Golden Bay, leading to the completion of a track to connect the two districts in 1893.
With the end of the gold rush era, the well graded and benched track lapsed into disuse, except for the occasional tramper, botanist or hunter.
It remained in that state for most of the 20th century. In the 1960s, with tramping becoming a popular pastime with New Zealanders, the track was ‘rediscovered’.
The Forest Service responded by building more huts and upgrading the track. Trampers, in turn, arrived in ever greater numbers to experience this amazing tour of varied scenery and natural history.
The track receives its name from Charles Heaphy – explorer, artist and soldier – who, along with Thomas Brunner and their Maori guides Kehu and Etau, was the first European to explore the Heaphy coast.
You need to carry your own gear and sleeping bag for the 5 day hike due to the remote location.
However you may end up only carrying between 5-7kgs only – with everything on the gear list.
6 days / 5 nights
Above average level of fitness. Walk 20kms, Bike 45kms. Formed tracks and roads with average to steep inclines at times.
You need to arrive the day before the walk as we start pick ups in Motueka from 7.30am on the morning of the tour.
On the day prior to your walk we provide a complimentary pick up service from Nelson I-site at 3.00pm and Nelson airport at 3.15pm to transfer you through to your accommodation in Motueka.
Motueka to Perry Saddle Hut
Perry Saddle Hut
On the day before the tour we’ll pick you up in Nelson and drive you to Motueka.
We begin with a two-hour scenic drive from your accommodation in Motueka to the start of the track in the Aorere Valley in Golden Bay. The road takes us over the renowned Takaka Hill, also known as ‘Marble Mountain’ for its huge outcrops of limestone marble rock. We then travel down the beautiful Takaka Valley, through the township of the same name, then turn inland to the Aorere Valley.
The track commences at Brown River and climbs on a well graded track through lowland then podocarp-beech forest. We reach the highest point on the track (910m) approximately 40 minutes from our destination for the night – Perry Saddle Hut (a distance of 17 km – 6 hours). From the hut there are spectacular views of the distant saw-toothed Douglas Range and the Dragon’s Teeth.
Perry Saddle Hut to Saxon Hut
Entering the Gouland Downs.
An easy day of flat to undulating walking. First through kamahi-beech-quintinia forest, then across the rolling tussock grass lands of the Gouland Downs – a peneplain. We stop at the historic Gouland Downs Hut for lunch, then continue through the ‘Enchanted Forest’. This is a limestone remnant with beech forest. On across the Downs, we walk through more magic forest with Dracophyllum traversii and D. townsonii. Our destination, Saxon Hut, is situated in tussock country. (A distance of 13 km – approx. 3 1/2 hours walking time, but we will be taking most of the day observing things along the way).
Saxon Hut to Lewis Hut
The lush forest opens to a distant view of the Heaphy River mouth. This day may be done in two sections or an overnight option at Mackay is possible. Check with your guide as to your route.
In the morning we leave the Gouland Downs, and gently wind our way up and over to the edge of the Mackay Downs, then onto the Mackay Hut for our lunch break. Here we have glimpses of the Tasman Sea and tomorrow’s destination at the Heaphy mouth.
If you are overnighting at Mackay, a visit to the ‘tops’ above the hut is an afternoon option. Expansive and panoramic vistas around the mountains and out to the Tasman Sea may be viewed.
If continuing to Lewis Hut today, we encounter a different flora habitat once again, with the banks along the track covered with mosses and a huge diversity of other plants. The geology changes to granite country with wonderful outcrops. We descend to the Heaphy valley floor. The track winds gradually down through ever changing forest with new species being added constantly, until the first nikau palm appears and the forest takes on a jungle-like appearance. The Lewis Hut is situated on the confluence of the Heaphy and Lewis Rivers. From Saxon Hut to Lewis Hut is 24 km, approx. 7 – 8 hours.
Lewis Hut to Heaphy Hut
On the way to Lewis Hut we encounter a different flora habitat once again, with the banks along the track covered with mosses and a huge diversity of other plants. The geology changes to granite country with wonderful outcrops. We descend to the Heaphy valley floor, as the track winds gradually down through ever changing forest with new species being added constantly, until the first nikau palm appears and the forest takes on a jungle like appearance. The Lewis Hut is situated on the confluence of the Heaphy and Lewis Rivers.
From Lewis Hut, the Heaphy River approaches the West Coast of New Zealand. Only an 8 km – 2 1/2 hours walking. But a longer time may be taken as there is so much to see. After crossing the Heaphy swing bridge, the mixed lowland rainforest flora and the limestone outcrops cannot be rushed. There is little of this forest type left in New Zealand. We follow the river all the way to the mouth, arriving at Heaphy Hut.
Heaphy Hut to Karamea
The Last Resort
For the entire day the track hugs the coast and goes in and out of nikau and karaka groves beside pounding surf beaches. We stop for a picnic lunch en route to our finish at Kohaihai. There is magnificent scenery all the way (16 km., 5 – 6 hours).
Tonight dinner is at your own cost
Karamea to Nelson
Karamea to Motueka or Nelson
On the morning of day 6 we will leave Karamea in our own transport at approx. 9am for the 5 1/2 hour scenic drive to Motueka or Nelson. This route will take you down the Northern West Coast to Westport, then through the picturesque Buller Gorge. We will be stopping en route at Murchison for a light lunch. Arrival time in Nelson will be approx. 3 to 3:30pm, so it is advisable not to book a flight out of Nelson until after 4:30pm in the event of unforeseen circumstances delaying our return.
Any excess luggage left behind in Motueka whilst you are on the track, will be transferred to you back in Nelson. Please pack an overnight bag only for your Karamea night.
Accommodation in Motueka at your cost. We can arrange this for you
Nights 2 to 5
Department of Conservation back country huts. Heating, long drop toilets, cold running water, no showers. Bunk beds with mattress provided, walkers carry a sleeping bag.
Quality accommodation and breakfast in Karamea – superior en suite (twin share) (single surcharge $50). Licensed restaurant and house bar.
Your friendly guide prepares your food for you
We endeavor to use fresh food and showcase the region’s finest produce, and we offer varied menus from day to day. The following are example menus on our trips.
Typical daily menus
Breakfast: Choice of porridge or muesli. Toast and condiments. Coffee or tea.
Lunch: Fresh bread or ‘wraps’, along with cheese, tomatoes, lettuce and cold meat, or tuna, hummus and pickle.
Dinner: Our meat dishes include Butter Chicken, Roast Beef, Venison or Beef Mince, Fresh Fish, and Sausages. All meals are accompanied by vegetables and potatoes, rice or couscous.
Before and after dinner snacks: Crackers and cheese, chocolates and sweet biscuits.
‘Tea breaks’ and snacks during the day: A choice of tea, coffee or hot soup. Snacks such as chocolate, dried fruit, snackbars, and nuts are always available from your guide or for you to carry in your own pack if you wish.
Dining in Karamea
Dine in style in Karamea on the final night of our Heaphy Trip, real West Coast hospitality! The meal tonight is at your cost.
Special diets and preferences
We cater for vegetarians with main dishes such as vegetarian sausages, tofu, etc. We also cater for any other food specialty including vegan and gluten free. We encourage people to help us design a menu to suit themselves under these circumstances.
A unique feature of our Heaphy Trip is the special meal at the Heaphy hut incorporating local and wild food.