If there’s one word to summarise the Heaphy Track, it’s variety. It takes some time to digest this tramp, such is its depth and rapidly changing landscape.
From the road end, the track climbs steadily, with occasional benches offering views out of the hard beech and rimu forest. After winding around spurs and past the detour to Shakespeare Flat, the first major viewpoint is from Aorere Shelter. There’s a bench which keeps the sun to late afternoon and views down the Aorere Valley all the way to Mt Taranaki/Egmont on a good day.
Before reaching Perry Saddle and its hut and campsite, the highest point on the track is marked at Flanagan’s Corner (915m). A five-minute detour leads to a view with the imposing granite peaks of the Douglas Range and the notorious Dragons Teeth. Mountain neinei, with their pineapple-like leaves, are like scenes from a Dr Seuss book.
From the hut, the track continues to Gouland Downs Hut and campsite. On the recommendations of early naturalists such as James Drummond, the Gouland Downs area was made a sanctuary in 1915. More than 100 years later, 18 takahe were reintroduced to the area. Gouland Downs Hut is one of the few chances to see them in their natural habitat.
Continuing through the downs, the trail continues to Saxon Hut and campsite before climbing to Saxon Ridge and Mackay Downs, traversing creeks and passing monolithic boulders and manuka groves.
From James Mackay Hut, the trail descends through huge northern rata, towering matai and lush broadleaved species such as mahoe, pigeonwood and pukatea on the way to the Lewis and Heaphy watersheds. Across the Heaphy River at Lewis Hut, a bizarre architecture of sculpted limestone sits beside the track.
Continuing down the Heaphy River, the track reaches the river mouth and Heaphy Hut.
The track then continues down the West Coast, through a forest of nikau palms and alongside wild West Coast beaches and high coastal cliffs. There’s a final climb over Kohaihai Bluff before hitting civilisation again.