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4 Day Heaphy Track Guided Great Walk

About 23 hrs, 78 kms hiking over 4 days

Days
4

Pricing From
$1050

Difficulty

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Overview

Heaphy Track Guided Great Walk

Following an ancient Maori trail, Heaphy Track Guided Great Walk takes you on one of New Zealand’s Great Walks with the greatest contrast of scenery along the track. Experience verdant forests, expansive grasslands and magnificent mountain ranges before you descend to the roaring sea of the West Coast where nikau palms and limestone arches dominate the landscape. Bluffs, caves and natural arches characterise the Kahurangi National Park landscape, also renowned as home to the country’s largest cave system. Some of the rare birds commonly sighted here are the ‘takahe’ (a flightless, ground-living bird), the great spotted Kiwi, and the nocturnal, carnivorous land snail. Heaphy Track is rich not only in unique wildlife and ever-shifting scenery but also in history. It’s here on the last day, where the trail emerges at the river’s mouth, that two pounamu (greenstone) trails come together: Maori pounamu hunters used to travel from Golden Bay to access Westland’s jade rivers.

The trail initially takes you on a slow ascent to the track’s highest point where you can admire round-the-compass views of the Aorere Valley. After the first hut, find a deep swimming hole to jump into for a refreshing swim. Day 2 promises a day filled with exploration as you gradually make your way down to Gouland Downs. Along the way you’ll encounter a limestone outcrop beckoning with numerous caves and waterfalls in its vicinity. Then the trail flattens as it winds through tussock country and bush flats. You’ll reach Heaphy River on Day 3 where a walk through an unusual rainforest of cabbage trees, kowhai and nikau palms signals a change in scenery. Before you reach the last part of the track, you’ll cross the towering 148m suspension bridge where you can better appreciate the size and character of the river, a must-do while in New Zealand. Finally, the track comes to an end through native forest with some fantastic beach walking for those awesome last-minute shots. 

Fitness: Suitable for anyone with reasonable hiking fitness. Gradual climb to the highest point of the track on the first day, with gradual descents on the following days. A mixture of hiking through ancient rainforest, coastal beagh walks and magnificent views makes this an outstanding "Great Walk".

Pick Ups: From the local iSites (Information or Visitor Centres)

Duration: About 4 days

Q&As:

Can you arrange transport?

Yes, we can arrange your transfer to and from the track. Your Bushman will meet you at the Nelson i-Site where you will be dropped off at the end of the hike.

Starting in the Tasman region, the Heaphy Track winds down to the West Coast. We suggest you bring something to eat in the bus as the journey back to Tasman may take up to 3 hours. But there’s plenty to make up for it as the marked changes in scenery make the drive worthwhile.

What can I expect of the weather?

Drastic changes in weather characterise this area of New Zealand, especially as you approach the West Coast. Around here, the annual average rainfall exceeds 4,000mm so expect rain at any time of the year. Packing wind and waterproof gear is highly recommended. After hiking for most of the day, dry off at the cosy huts along the way. In summer, you can expect warm and sunny days most of the time.

Is the track busy in summer?

You won’t bump into many hikers along Heaphy Track during this season although it’s one of Great Walks’ more popular tracks. The location and the challenging nature of the track (advanced) make it more suitable for those with remote backcountry hiking experience.

Heaphy Track Altitude Map

Cancellations:

  • Cancel 7 days before your trip for a full refund
  • Cancel within 72 hours will result in a 25% deposit taken
  • Cancel within 24 hours will result in full payment taken.

Heaphy Track Altitude Map

Heaphy Track Altitude Map

Heaphy Track Altitude Map

Heaphy Track Altitude Map

Itinerary

Open All
Day 1Brown Hut to Perry Saddle HutAbout 5 hrs, 17.5 kms hiking

Please Note

This itinerary is the normal hike booked over 4 days. Subject to availability of huts at time of booking, the walk may be adjusted, using different huts at some stops.

Itinerary

About 180 m upstream from the hut, cross the bridge over the Brown River, then a grass flat, before winding up a well-defined track and into the bush. The track climbs gradually, following a route once surveyed for a road.

After 4 hours, Aorere shelter is reached. From here, the Aorere Valley is seen extending northwards and on clear days it is possible to see Mt Taranaki/Egmont. Thirty minutes before Perry Saddle Hut, a short track leads to a viewpoint at Flanagans Corner. At 915 m, this is the highest point on the track.

Perry Saddle Hut is 880 m above sea level. Near the hut in Gorge Creek is a deep but cold pool, popular for swimming.

Day 2Perry Saddle Hut to James MacKay HutAbout 7 hrs, 24 kms hiking

Cross Perry Saddle and sidle above Perry Creek through tussock clearings and patches of beech. Soon the valley widens and the track climbs a small rise to where the Gouland Downs, an open tussock area, is revealed stretching out to the west.

The track meanders easily down to Cave Brook, passing the famed pole to which trampers have tied old boots over the years. Just beyond the brook is Gouland Downs Hut. Nearby, a small patch of beech grows on a limestone outcrop which has escaped erosion. This area is worth exploring. The track crosses one of several limestone arches, which are the remnants of old caves. Nearby, a small waterfall flows out of another cave passage.

Beyond Gouland Downs Hut the track is relatively level as it crosses the northern part of Gouland Downs. The tussock country and riverbeds make for good exploring but, when the mist lowers, the featureless downs can be confusing and it is easy to become disorientated.

Saxon Hut, nestled near the end of the downs, is named after John Saxon, who surveyed the track in 1886.

From Saxon Hut the track drops slightly to grassy flats beside the Saxon River and then climbs gently up to a broad ridge, which joins Gouland Downs to Mackay Downs.

Flood prone area between Saxon and James Mackay huts

A section on Mackay Downs floods in extremely wet conditions. This is a 70 m piece of the track across a wetland and a bridge. It becomes impassable and quite dangerous. Walkers should wait for the water to recede.

The track now skirts the edge of Mackay Downs to James Mackay Hut, winding in and out of several small streams, just before they tumble off the downs and fall to the Heaphy River on the left. The vegetation is alternately tussock field and shrub-fringed patches of beech forest. Small creeks dissect the landscape and the pink granite sparkles and crunches beneath your feet.

James Mackay Hut is situated just above the track on an open terrace. The Tasman Sea and Heaphy River mouth can be seen from here, 15 km to the west and 750 m below. It is named after the explorer who first pressed for a bridle track to be established between Collingwood and the West Coast.

Day 3James Mackay to Heaphy HutAbout 6 hrs, 20.5 km hiking

Beyond James Mackay Hut, a gradual descent to the Heaphy River begins. The track is through beech forest at first but soon the richer and taller forest typical of the West Coast becomes dominant. Occasional tantalising glimpses of the Heaphy River below are seen through the forest. The sounds of rushing water grow louder and suddenly the hut appears at the junction of the Heaphy River with the smaller Lewis River, along with sandflies and the first nikau palms.

Charles Lewis was a Collingwood surveyor who, in the 1880s, was first to investigate Mackay’s proposed bridle route. 

From Lewis Hut, head back up the track for a short distance and cross the Heaphy River, via the 148.4 metre suspended deck suspension bridge – the longest ever built by DOC. The track continues along the left bank to the river mouth through a forest of kahikatea, rimu and rata. Glossy-leaved shrubs perch precariously in the tall trees, flourishing in the abundant light and extracting nutrients from humus (accumulated plant debris) in their hosts’ branches.

In dry spells, the sluggish river meanders along peacefully, but in times of heavy rain especially when it’s high tide, sections of the track and bridges get flooded. An area of limestone and karst locally known as Cave Stream about 15 min before Heaphy Hut, floods after periods of heavy rain. Extra care is required at both places in flood conditions and walkers should wait for the water to recede.

Towards the river mouth, nikau palms become more common, the sea’s incessant roaring grows louder and, in some conditions, small waves can be seen running upriver. Heaphy Hut is situated far enough back from the sea to be spared the worst of the winds.

The river mouth is at the junction of two pounamu (greenstone) trails and archaeological work has uncovered evidence of occupation by Maori that extends back 500 years. In 1905, an extensive European settlement was surveyed in the lower valley, but it was never built.

Day 4Heaphy Hut to Kohaihai River MouthAbout 5 hrs, 16 kms hiking

The Heaphy River mouth is an exciting place. The river surges out through a narrow gap into the sea - in-coming waves halt the flow and the churning of salt and fresh waters is spectacular.

The track south to Kohaihai is through forest although beach walking is possible in some places. Some of the small streams are not bridged and can be dangerous after heavy rain. The forest has rata and karaka trees, many vines and groves of nikau palms. Be careful of the stinging nettle that grows in places.

Just beyond Katipo Creek is Crayfish (Koura) Point. Crayfish Point no longer requires visitors to traverse the beach and plan around high tide. There is a high level track above the beach well away from the sea. The only risk that still faces people here is to take care crossing Crayfish Stream particularly after or during rainfall as it can flood quickly (and drops quickly).

Soon Scotts Beach is reached - the clearing here is a good spot to rest before climbing over Kohaihai Saddle and down through wind-blasted shrubs to a bridge across the Kohaihai River. The track follows the riverbank for 400 m to Kohaihai carpark where there is a shelter and phone.

The section of track around the Kohaihai River mouth may experience flooding issues when the river mouth becomes blocked. An alternative track has been put in place to allow visitors to bypass this area when this occurs.

Itinerary

Open All
Day 1Brown Hut to Perry Saddle HutAbout 5 hrs, 17.5 kms hiking

Please Note

This itinerary is the normal hike booked over 4 days. Subject to availability of huts at time of booking, the walk may be adjusted, using different huts at some stops.

Itinerary

About 180 m upstream from the hut, cross the bridge over the Brown River, then a grass flat, before winding up a well-defined track and into the bush. The track climbs gradually, following a route once surveyed for a road.

After 4 hours, Aorere shelter is reached. From here, the Aorere Valley is seen extending northwards and on clear days it is possible to see Mt Taranaki/Egmont. Thirty minutes before Perry Saddle Hut, a short track leads to a viewpoint at Flanagans Corner. At 915 m, this is the highest point on the track.

Perry Saddle Hut is 880 m above sea level. Near the hut in Gorge Creek is a deep but cold pool, popular for swimming.

Day 2Perry Saddle Hut to James MacKay HutAbout 7 hrs, 24 kms hiking

Cross Perry Saddle and sidle above Perry Creek through tussock clearings and patches of beech. Soon the valley widens and the track climbs a small rise to where the Gouland Downs, an open tussock area, is revealed stretching out to the west.

The track meanders easily down to Cave Brook, passing the famed pole to which trampers have tied old boots over the years. Just beyond the brook is Gouland Downs Hut. Nearby, a small patch of beech grows on a limestone outcrop which has escaped erosion. This area is worth exploring. The track crosses one of several limestone arches, which are the remnants of old caves. Nearby, a small waterfall flows out of another cave passage.

Beyond Gouland Downs Hut the track is relatively level as it crosses the northern part of Gouland Downs. The tussock country and riverbeds make for good exploring but, when the mist lowers, the featureless downs can be confusing and it is easy to become disorientated.

Saxon Hut, nestled near the end of the downs, is named after John Saxon, who surveyed the track in 1886.

From Saxon Hut the track drops slightly to grassy flats beside the Saxon River and then climbs gently up to a broad ridge, which joins Gouland Downs to Mackay Downs.

Flood prone area between Saxon and James Mackay huts

A section on Mackay Downs floods in extremely wet conditions. This is a 70 m piece of the track across a wetland and a bridge. It becomes impassable and quite dangerous. Walkers should wait for the water to recede.

The track now skirts the edge of Mackay Downs to James Mackay Hut, winding in and out of several small streams, just before they tumble off the downs and fall to the Heaphy River on the left. The vegetation is alternately tussock field and shrub-fringed patches of beech forest. Small creeks dissect the landscape and the pink granite sparkles and crunches beneath your feet.

James Mackay Hut is situated just above the track on an open terrace. The Tasman Sea and Heaphy River mouth can be seen from here, 15 km to the west and 750 m below. It is named after the explorer who first pressed for a bridle track to be established between Collingwood and the West Coast.

Day 3James Mackay to Heaphy HutAbout 6 hrs, 20.5 km hiking

Beyond James Mackay Hut, a gradual descent to the Heaphy River begins. The track is through beech forest at first but soon the richer and taller forest typical of the West Coast becomes dominant. Occasional tantalising glimpses of the Heaphy River below are seen through the forest. The sounds of rushing water grow louder and suddenly the hut appears at the junction of the Heaphy River with the smaller Lewis River, along with sandflies and the first nikau palms.

Charles Lewis was a Collingwood surveyor who, in the 1880s, was first to investigate Mackay’s proposed bridle route. 

From Lewis Hut, head back up the track for a short distance and cross the Heaphy River, via the 148.4 metre suspended deck suspension bridge – the longest ever built by DOC. The track continues along the left bank to the river mouth through a forest of kahikatea, rimu and rata. Glossy-leaved shrubs perch precariously in the tall trees, flourishing in the abundant light and extracting nutrients from humus (accumulated plant debris) in their hosts’ branches.

In dry spells, the sluggish river meanders along peacefully, but in times of heavy rain especially when it’s high tide, sections of the track and bridges get flooded. An area of limestone and karst locally known as Cave Stream about 15 min before Heaphy Hut, floods after periods of heavy rain. Extra care is required at both places in flood conditions and walkers should wait for the water to recede.

Towards the river mouth, nikau palms become more common, the sea’s incessant roaring grows louder and, in some conditions, small waves can be seen running upriver. Heaphy Hut is situated far enough back from the sea to be spared the worst of the winds.

The river mouth is at the junction of two pounamu (greenstone) trails and archaeological work has uncovered evidence of occupation by Maori that extends back 500 years. In 1905, an extensive European settlement was surveyed in the lower valley, but it was never built.

Day 4Heaphy Hut to Kohaihai River MouthAbout 5 hrs, 16 kms hiking

The Heaphy River mouth is an exciting place. The river surges out through a narrow gap into the sea - in-coming waves halt the flow and the churning of salt and fresh waters is spectacular.

The track south to Kohaihai is through forest although beach walking is possible in some places. Some of the small streams are not bridged and can be dangerous after heavy rain. The forest has rata and karaka trees, many vines and groves of nikau palms. Be careful of the stinging nettle that grows in places.

Just beyond Katipo Creek is Crayfish (Koura) Point. Crayfish Point no longer requires visitors to traverse the beach and plan around high tide. There is a high level track above the beach well away from the sea. The only risk that still faces people here is to take care crossing Crayfish Stream particularly after or during rainfall as it can flood quickly (and drops quickly).

Soon Scotts Beach is reached - the clearing here is a good spot to rest before climbing over Kohaihai Saddle and down through wind-blasted shrubs to a bridge across the Kohaihai River. The track follows the riverbank for 400 m to Kohaihai carpark where there is a shelter and phone.

The section of track around the Kohaihai River mouth may experience flooding issues when the river mouth becomes blocked. An alternative track has been put in place to allow visitors to bypass this area when this occurs.

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