Kahurangi National Park, New Zealand
Created in 1996, Kahurangi National Park is one of New Zealand's newest national parks. At 452,002 hectares it is also one of the largest. Translated its name has a number of meanings including ''treasured possession" or blue skies. In places it is an untracked wilderness; elsewhere a network of tracks lets you explore wild rivers, high plateau and alpine herb fields, and coastal forests.
The Heaphy Track is located in the north west of the South Island in Kahurangi National Park, The track winds from one side to the other of the amazing Kahurangi National Park, the second largest park in New Zealand, and is by far the most diverse of all the Great Walks of New Zealand in terms of flora and fauna.
The track contains some of the oldest rocks in New Zealand as well as a large number of the unique species of animals and plants that have helped make the park a viable contender for a World Heritage title - which it is currently under application for. It is also a stronghold of the Great Spotted Kiwi (Roa) and these can be heard calling from a number of huts at night while on the track. Blue duck (Whio) also breed in the area and sometimes be seen navigating the white water of the many creeks and streams passed on the track. Kaka can also be seen in some places gliding through the canopy of the forest.
The Heaphy Track, and Kahurangi in particular is a geologically complex area. Much of its rock is sedimentary, laid down in an ancient sea, then faulted, uplifted and scoured, in places, by glaciers. Parts of the region are limestone or marble, these areas are characterized by an abundance of caves, bluffs, natural arches, sinkholes and water-worn outcrops. New Zealand's oldest fossil (540 million years old) was found in the park.
The vegetation cover on the Heaphy Track changes markedly from one side to the other and from the coast to the tops of mountains. In the east, Beech forest is dominant while to the west you will see Podocarp forest with a rich under story of ferns, vines and shrubs. On the coast huge stands of Nikau palms and massive Northern Rata trees give the forest an almost tropical look. Some 80% of New Zealand's alpine species can be found in the high reaches of the park.
The Heaphy Track is famous for its diversity and it is due to this varied landscape numerous different habitats have been created which support many different creatures. Several threatened species survive here from the diminutive Rock wren to one of New Zealand's largest birds - the Great Spotted Kiwi. The park is home to our largest cave spider and the smallest of our Giant Weta - a flightless insect a bit like a grasshopper. Twenty species of carnivorous land snail (Powelliphanta) live in the park; they can sometimes be seen near limestone outcrops though they tend to only come out from hiding on damp nights to feed on native worms that can grow up to a meter long.
In 1846 Thomas Brunner and Charles Heaphy with their two Maori guides Kehu and Etau set out from Nelson and started a mighty journey to the West Coast which saw them crossing the mouth of the Whakapoai, later to be known as the Heaphy River.
The Heaphy River mouth was once the site of a substantial Moa hunting village, and the actual Heaphy River route was one of the routes used by Maori to access the Greenstone country to the South, and their traditional hunting grounds around the Mackay and Gouland Downs.
Around 1860 James Mackay a local farmer/explorer from the Aorere Valley area was probably the first European to guide a group of deflated gold prospectors over the general route of which we know today as the Heaphy Track. With no markers or even a track he found his way through the rugged bush, over the sub alpine plateaus and through the river valleys to the final destination of Collingwood.
Over the years there has been suggestions put forward to create a road through the Heaphy Track to link up the Golden Bay and the West Coast, and this topic has fuelled much national debate. So much so that in the 1970's, when the issue was very much in the Nations focus, a record number of people walked the track, fearing that the opportunity would be lost in the future.
Thankfully the road plan died a natural death and today the Heaphy Track is protected as one of the finest walks in New Zealand.
The track is listed under the Department of Conservation as a Great Walk; this means the track has a number of unique or very special features. It is very well graded with a gentle gradient dominating throughout, and offers the modern day adventurer a much easier journey then the early explorers