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The Heaphy Track
Named after Charles Heaphy, one of the first Europeans to have explored the area, this track was used extensively during the gold rush era in the latter 1800's. After it was discovered there was hardly any gold in the area, the track fell into disrepair until the North-west Nelson Forest Park was established in 1965. Later it would become Kahurangi National Park and today the Heaphy Track is one of the most walked tracks in New Zealand.
Distance: 82 km
Approximate Time: 4 to 6 days
There are seven trampers' huts along the Heaphy Track and three emergency shelters, all maintained by the DOC. You also have a choice of nine designated camping areas along the track.
Bus Transport Nelson to Brown Hut
Approximate time: 2 hr 45 min with a charter on Trek Express, or a scheduled trip with the Heaphy Bus half hour longer.
Brown Hut to Perry Saddle Hut
Distance: 17 km
Approximate time: 5 hours
Your journey begins at Brown hut, which is outfitted with 16 bunks. Upstream from the hut you can find a bridge which will take you across the Brown River. After crossing a grassy clearing you will find a well-defined track leading up into the bush. After about 3 hours and a half walking time you will see Aorere shelter, from which point it is possible to spot Mt. Egmont/Taranaki on a clear day. This first part of the track is a pretty consistent climb up to the track's highest point at Perry Saddle (915 metres).
Perry Saddle hut has 24 bunk spaces and nearby is Gorge River, a deep and cold pool suitable for bathing. Inside you will find heating and cooking facilities, but make sure to bring your own cooking gear as this may not always be available!
Perry Saddle Hut to Gouland Downs Hut
Distance: 8 km
Approximate time: 2 hours
Across Perry Saddle and through fields of tussock grass and beech trees you will come to Gouland Downs. It is an easy descent down to Cave Brook and Gouland Downs hut, the oldest hut on the track. The hut has 8 bunk spaces with mattresses and heating facilities.
Nearby is a limestone outcrop which is an interesting place to explore with remnants of old caves and waterfalls. Also keep an eye out for the "boot pole," a pole on which trampers have tied old boots over the years.
Gouland Downs Hut to Saxon Hut
Distance: 5 km
Approximate time: 1.5 hours
This flatter part of the journey is an easy trek but when the fog rolls in be careful as it can be easy to become disoriented. Saxon Hut is the newest on the track and can sleep up to 16 people. There are cooking and heating facilities provided here.
Saxon Hut to James MacKay Hut
Distance: 14 km
Approximate time: 3 hours
The track here travels very close to the Saxon River and in heavy rain conditions it can flood. In these conditions it is quite dangerous and the DOC recommends trekkers wait for the water to recede before proceeding.
The track then climbs to a ridge, marking the boundary between Nelson and the West Coast. You continue on around MacKay Downs with small streams descending down to Heaphy River on the left. Finally you come to James MacKay Hut from where you can see the Tasman Sea 750 metres below.
James MacKay Hut has room for 26 with heating and cooking facilities provided.
James MacKay Hut to Lewis Hut
Distance: 13.5 km
Approximate time: 3.5 hours
You now begin your descent to the Heaphy River, through beech forest and into the taller West Coast forest. As you hear the sounds from the river grow you know you are approaching Lewis Hut, which sits at the junction of Heaphy and Lewis Rivers.
Lewis Hut can sleep 20 trampers and is outfitted with heating and cooking facilities. Bring your insect repellent, as you will start to encounter sandflies in force.
Lewis Hut to Heaphy Hut
Distance: 8 km
Approximate time: 2.5 hours
From here the track crosses two bridges after which it follows the left bank of the Heaphy river down to its mouth. As you approach the sea you may see some waves running up into the river.
Heaphy Hut is close to the river but far enough from the sea so that it is not receiving the worst of the winds. 28 trampers can sleep here, some opting to stay more than one night. You can have a nice swim in the nearby lagoon but it is not recommended to swim in the sea with its dangerous currents. Heating and cooking facilities are present here. Beware of sandflies!
Heaphy Hut to Kohaihai Shelter
Distance: 16.5 km
Approximate time: 5 hours
The track here is through the forest, though you can walk the beach if you so desire. The smaller streams are not bridged however, and can be dangerous after heavy rain.
When you come to Crayfish point be sure to use the high tide track unless you are within 2 hours either side of the low tide, the sea here can be very dangerous. Tide tables can be found in Heaphy Hut and Kohaihai Shelter.(NB posted 14th October: At Crayfish/Koura Point there is no high tide track. When it's within an hour of high tide and/or the sea conditions are rough it is not safe to cross. Check tide charts in Heaphy Hut and Kohaihai Shelter before commencing this section of the track.) To find the high tide now, click on the small map in this site which highlights Karamea.
Scotts Beach is a good place to take a rest before the final push over Kohaihai Saddle. Descend through scrub bush to a bridge over Kohaihai River and eventually you reach the shelter and car park.
Kohaihai Shelter to Nelson by return shuttle bus transport
Bus transfer time: 5.5 hours, approximate arrival in Nelson between 6.30 pm and 7.30 pm
Click to see Kohaihai Shelter on Google Earth