For travellers like us hitch-hiking and hiking around the country the Heaphy walking trail was a very convenient way of getting to Golden Bay. The alternative would have been a long drive around the national park. We didn’t expect the walk itself to be very hard: the trail is also open to mountain bikes. It’s 80 km long altogether, we were to walk about 18 on the first afternoon, 37 on the second day and 24 the last. This was to allow time for transportation in and out of the track on the first and last days.
So we set off on the first day, dropped off by the shuttle service offered by the backpacker’s place in Karamea. It was a great surprise to be out walking given that the weather forecast was terrible when we’d checked it the night before. It ended up being decent, with just a few light showers. The trail followed the beautiful coastline, sometimes along the beach, sometimes in the rainforest growing barely meters away from the water, and similar to the one in Punakaiki, with a lot of Nikau palm trees.
We arrived at the hut around four, so we had plenty of time enjoy the place before dark. A fun kiwi fellow made a huge pile of wood to light a bonfire later on. The hut was directly facing the beach and the sunset was quite something.
I thought this track was more interesting for the wildlife and plants than for the actual landscape. For instance some carnivorous snails live in the forest, but we didn’t see any. Julien was really happy to find kawa kawa (it was growing all over the place): the leaves are believed to have beneficial effects and can be brewed to make herbal tea. Julien even said that if consumed in large enough amounts it can make you high. We tried, and drank quite a lot, but nothing happened. While we were busy drinking that stuff, the kiwi got a massive fire going, which was clearly forbidden since we were in a national park, haha.
Around the hut there were also a lot of weka birds, like all over the track in general. They’re funny looking, flightless, and sound a bit like kiwis.
As a matter of fact, there were also kiwis around that first hut (but not the same species as on Stewart Island), we could hear them calling during that first night. Julien went out looking for them and eventually managed to see one around 4 am.
When got up the next day it was raining on and off (the infamous west coast weather finally caught up with us). We were mostly walking through rainforest, the flora changed suddenly a uicouple of times so we never really got bored of it, we got quite wet but luckily there was a hut where we could stop for lunch. As we were inside, the rain got worse and the wind picked up, making us wonder about what we should do. After about two hours it cleared up and we set off, we had 17 more km to cover until Gouland Downs where we had planned to spend the night. On the trail we left the forest after a while, to start hiking in tussock landscape, a thick yellow grass-like plant. And we spotted blue ducks, of which only 1000 remain, so they’re more rare than kiwis! We probably missed out a lot on the views, because it was so overcast.
As soon as I got to the hut it started raining heavily. Julien was a bit ahead of me and had prepared manuka tea. Delicious! It was cold and dark in that place, it had much less facilities than the one we stayed at the previous night. When Jimena arrived she insisted on lighting a fire. It was a wet, open fireplace and even if she managed to light up a fire it was very smokey and particularly inefficient at heating the place. In the end we had to put it off and we went to bed with a strong smoke stench hanging in the cold air. The weather outside was dreadful: strong wind gusts and very heavy rain turned any toilet trip into a cruel challenge. But the kiwis were still out there: we could hear a male and a female calling to each other.
In the morning the air felt especially cold and indeed there was frost outside and the water drops around the sink were frozen. Even the poor wekas seemed to be freezing despite the fact they look fat. We got a really slow start but after a couple of cups of coffee I managed to get going. It was an easy 25 km downhill to the carpark, but when we got there, that’s when the real adventure started.
We’d decided it would be much more fun (and cheaper obviously) to not book any transportation and just try to get a lift from the dead end gravel road the walking trail ended on. And if we couldn’t get a lift, we’d try to camp somewhere in the area. We sat there leaning against the Nation Park entrance sign, realising we would be heavily fined if we were caught camping in the surroundings, because it was all private land. From trampers, we became tramps. As we were still wondering what to do, a local couple just finished their mountain biking day-trip on the Heaphy and offered us a ride back to civilisation. Thank you universe! This happened barely an hour before dark… Shortly after that we were in a small town, Collingwood, with a nice comfy cabin booked for the night, and (veggie) burgers and cheap beer available. We drank to an amazing turn of events and got an early night, resting before a day of exploring in the Golden Bay.