Image of the January 2019 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
January 2019 Issue
Home / Articles / Great Walks

Getting a grip on the Heaphy

The two ends of the Heaphy Track are hundreds of kilometres apart, making it the most logistically-challenging of the Great Walks. Photo: Christoph Strassler
The Heaphy Track may be the hardest Great Walk to organise, but we’re here to make it easy.

Isolated and wild, Kahurangi National Park remains a fortress of nature where even the roads seem hesitant to breach its boundaries. The Heaphy Track, however, cuts right through its heart from mountains to sea. The 78km journey is the longest Great Walk (not including the Whanganui River Journey), and also a contender for the most diverse.

Having spent weeks organising my Heaphy adventure, there is another accolade I would like to nominate it for; the most difficult Great Walk to plan.

More than 450km of winding road separates the track ends of Brown Hut in Golden Bay, and Kohaihai on the West Coast. Google Maps estimates a seven hour journey, which of course would be tacked on to whatever distance you may cover on foot that day.

Without third-party help, options are limited; walk back to the start, split your party and leave a car at each end, or hitchhike back to the beginning (which may prove difficult in the remote west). Thankfully, there are many options available to make your trip run smoothly.

A bird’s eye view

Flying is the quickest option for those keen to avoid the long haul drive.

“The thing that causes the most headaches is that the track starts and finishes way up dead-end roads,” says Air Charter Karamea’s Craig Stenhouse. “To get from one end to the other, you need a day of travelling to do it,”

Flights are available from several companies, with pick-ups offered at both ends of the track, as well as options to and from Nelson and Wellington airports.

Stenhouse rates the 20 minute flight from Karamea to Golden Bay as incredibly scenic, and says passengers love getting a bird’s-eye-view of the route they’ve walked.

“It’s awesome. It really doesn’t matter where you fly from Karamea – it’s like an island surrounded by mountains,” he says.

Wellington tramper Charlie Mitchell says Golden Bay Air proved to be a “one stop shop” for his Heaphy expedition. The airline organised all connecting flights and shuttles for Mitchell’s group – including to and from Wellington – giving them an almost “door to door” experience.

Cost: Fares vary between company, season, group size and destination.

Dial a driver

Car relocation is a good option for those who plan to continue exploring, rather than loop back to the track’s beginning.

Heaphy legend Derry Kingston found his niche here more than a decade ago, driving cars to the end of the track, and walking home. Now retired, his business Heaphy Track Help has been taken on by Richard and Janet Brown.

Brown relocates cars to either end, leaving the keys in lock boxes, and running or biking the track back to where he started. He can smash out the 78km track in 10 hours on foot or by mountain bike.

Brown said the service is quite expensive for solo travellers, but works out to be a cheap option for groups, who can split the relocation cost. He encourages clients to ask about discounts in the busy season, as the price comes down if he can line up cars at both ends of the track, saving him the long run home.

Brown has worked on the Heaphy for over a decade, and says getting out there is a fantastic aspect of his work. “The job seems crazy for most people, but for some it’s a real treat.”

Cost: $350 flat fee for a car relocation.

Keep it simple

Shuttle and bus services are a dependable, all weather option for exiting the Heaphy. With a range of routes available, taking the road can be the most direct route for travellers – all the while allowing them time to reflect and rest after traversing the track.

Trek Express founder Rory Moore agreed the Heaphy can be a “logistical nightmare”, and his fleet of vehicles have clocked up enough kilometres to prove it.

Moore has been tackling the route for 20 years and thinks the scenic roads have a lot to offer.

Anne Webber – who has used the service before – advises checking the website to catch a deal. “Trek Express do drop-offs and pick-ups and also offer a service where they’ll combine – and therefore reduce the cost – with a group that is already going.”

Trek Express and The Heaphy Bus both offer luggage relocation and supply cooking gas for customers.

Cost: Nelson to Brown Hut $70pp, Nelson to Kohaihai Shelter $120pp, or $170 for Heaphy return trip.