Heaphy Track | Kahurangi National Park

The Heaphy Track was extensively damaged by a storm in February 2022 and the 147 m long suspension bridge over the Heaphy River was destroyed, amongst other damage. This is being rebuilt. The track is open from Kohaihai to Heaphy Hut, and from Brown Hut to James Mackay Hut but only as an in-and-out. Alternatively, you can book a helicopter to jump the James Mackay Hut to Heaphy Hut section.

The longest Great Walk in New Zealand at 78 km, four or five days walking most common, or two days zipping through on a mountain bike.

The Heaphy is the Great Walk with the most varied scenery:

beech tree forest on the Takaka side;

tussockland across the top;

over into the West Coast forest, a different type, huge rata trees dripping with epiphytes;

views of huge limestone bluffs and a creek running out from a cave;

the sun plopping down into the sea;

then a day walking beside golden beaches, where, if you’re lucky, you may encounter a stray seal.

The level of strenuousness is not high but you are required to lug your sleeping bag, warm clothes, and food for those four or five days. The one big uphill, while constant, ie, trudging up for hours, is never more than a moderate gradient, enthusiastic 70-year-olds can cruise on through.

In winter mountain bikers are unleashed for a, usually, two-day adrenaline rush, big tires are required for the bike, but the 10 km rampant downhill fun is well worth the effort expended getting up there.

where | Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park

Brown Hut carpark is 52 km from Takaka, to Kohaihai carpark, 16 km north of Karamea on the West Coast.

click to view larger, more interactive topographic map from, err, topomap.co.nz

distance | Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park

78 km

time | Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park

4 – 5 days

when | Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park

Anytime? Sure thing. The climate around Karamea is reasonably mild all year although the exposed Gouland Downs area is around 700 m above sea level.

Mountain biking is now permanently allowed from May 1 to September 30 so trampers will be sharing the track during that time.

maps and GPS | Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park

You could download free digital versions from LINZ Mapchooser and print out the bits you need. Or buy the real thing, ie, on old-fashioned paper, at DOC offices, outdoor shops and bookshops where maps sold. There’s a nationwide list at LINZ Map Retailers.

Need a custom map for your GPS device, download a more compact .klm format file from topomap.co.nz for free, although if you download a few maps consider a small donation, there’s considerable work gone into getting that info onto the internet and we should support these useful resources.

route description | Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park

From the east, the start is at the Brown Hut carpark. The Heaphy does the majority of the climbing in the first kilometres through some beech forest, then there’s the tussockland across the top, the drop down to the coast, and a walk along the beaches on the West Coast to Kohaihai.

The DOC Heaphy track description site has fairly extensive information, including brief track notes from hut to hut.

Topographic section of Heaphy Track Great Walk, Kahurangi National Park

huts | Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park

Here are the six huts:

Brown Hut

Gouland Downs Hut

Heaphy Hut

James MacKay Hut

Lewis Hut has been demolished as it was considered a flood risk and replaced with the Lewis Shelter that does not afford accommodation.

Perry Saddle Hut

Saxon Hut

There are also 10 official campsites. Camping is not permitted elsewhere, and in any case, due to the nature of the vegetation, not usually feasible:

Aorere Shelter campsite

Brown campsite

Gouland Downs campsite

Heaphy campsite

Katipo Creek Shelter campsite

Kohaihai Shelter campsite

James MacKay campsite

Perry Saddle campsite

Saxon campsite

Scotts Beach campsite

Tramping times | Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park

Here’s the DoC stated tramping times between huts, as shown on their website, usually actual walking times, ie, not taking into account any long breaks. DoC bases its estimation on times for an “average” tramper which means that it’s possible to slash times for more popular sections. With more remote sections the stated time is close to the actual time required.

Unfortunately, this time information tends to emphasise a pointless aspect of tramping, The Destination, and, some trampers feel they need to test themselves, rush, to prove something to someone. Aren’t you there to experience your environment, notice things, go down to the river and spot a huge trout, and watch the bellbirds flitting around? There’s no actual requirement to occupy the full 10 hours a day racing through the landscape.

Brown Hut to Perry Saddle Hut
Time: 5 hours 

Distance: 17.5 km

Perry Saddle Hut to Gouland Downs Hut
Time: 2 hours 

Distance: 7 km

Gouland Downs Hut to Saxon Hut
Time: 1 hours 30 minutes 

Distance: 5.4 km

Saxon Hut to James Mackay Hut
Time: 3 hours

Distance: 11.8 km

James Mackay Hut to Heaphy swingbridge
Time: 3 hours 30 minutes 

Distance: 12.5 km

Heaphy swingbridge to Heaphy Hut
Time: 2 hours 30 minutes

Distance: 8 km

Heaphy Hut to Kohaihai River mouth
Time: 5 hours 

Distance: 16.2 km

getting there | Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park

Unfortunately, the regularity of the various bus companies and routes has not yet settled back to what was once available pre-Covid in early 2020 when four companies did the routes. Hopefully we will return to plenty of choice soon.

There’s a whole industry been set up to transport people from either end of what was once two of New Zealand’s most obscure road ends: the Brown Hut carpark is 156 km from Nelson over windy roads, ie, it takes about 3 hours to drive; Kohaihai is 110 km, or just under two hours drive north from Westport. It’s a big 463 km to zip around by road. Needs some coordination to fly as well.

Try getting your head around these options, it’s somewhat complicated, public transport by road first.

Golden Bay Coachlines, free phone 0800 588 885 or email info@goldenbayair.co.nz, have traditionally done the Nelson to Brown Hut carpark daily leaving at 8 45 am for $55. That gives enough time to tramp off to Perry Saddle Hut. Brown Hut to Nelson is the same price and conditions and leaves Brown Hut at 12 05 pm. Check when this service will reopen.

Trek Express offers Nelson to Brown Hut carpark daily during the summer season, usually leaving at 8 am, for $70, with a minimum of four trampers. They also have scheduled trips you can join where you only pay the per person price. Brown Hut to Nelson is the same price and conditions and leaves Brown Hut at 11 30 am.

The Heaphy Bus has a few options with scheduled service. $70 to Brown Hut, or $170 roundtrip that also includes bringing you back to Nelson from Kohaihai.

Nelson Lakes Shuttles has a few trips a week in summer to, or from, Brown Hut carpark at $70 per person with a minimum of four, ie, $280.

Getting to the Kohaihai carpark on the West Coast, using public transport, There’s an early morning, 7 15 am, three day a week Intercity bus, $36, from Nelson to Westport that can connect with the Karamea Express to, err, Karamea and may drop you off in Kohaihai. After those 3 bus rides, arriving Kohaihai at about 2 pm, there’s usually not enough daylight to get to Heaphy Hut, about 5 hour’s walk away.

Exiting via the West Coast there is a public phone box at the Kohaihai carpark, that’s if you have someone to call. There’s also a phone at Brown Hut.

Unfortunately, the driving option is closed currently but may open when the track finally opens. (If you are driving your own car then Heaphy Track Help can assist by whizzing your car around to the other end. The cost was $375 including GST. You pay for all fuel as an extra.)

There are a few flying options, a great way to get an overview of the terrain you have just covered.

Golden Bay Air, have an extensive array of options including flights from Nelson or Wellington, a shuttle bus service, but to give you an indication flying Karamea to Takaka is $209 per person for two passengers, $169 for three or more. Takaka to Brown Hut by shuttle has a $130 minimum, or $45 per person, Kohaihai to Karamea add in $15 per person. Check on the website as the options are complicated, as they offer a bus to Brown Hut as well.

Wayne at Karamea Helicharter can zip you back to where you started in his helicopter. Phone 03 782 6111 or email office@karameahelicharter.co.nz for pricing.

supplies | Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park

Nelson, Motueka, or Westport have the usual major supermarkets, Countdown, New World, Pak’nsave, (not Westport), for getting the main supplies. Takaka has a big FreshChoice, owned by Woolworths, that stocks most things you would need. They are all open the usual hours 7 days a week.

Karamea has a small Four Square supermarket that has most of the basics, open 7 days from 8 30 am weekdays, 9 am weekends.

Gas canisters, Shellite or Fuelite for your stove can be obtained at outdoor and hardware stores in Nelson, Motueka, Takaka or Westport if you haven’t been allowed to fly with it.

warnings | Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park

First, the Crayfish Point tide issue. Actually for most people it’s hard to see how people have drowned getting across
It can seem hard to believe that people have drowned at Crayfish Point. Take care when the tide is high, particularly with higher spring tides, when storm surges are possible. Tide tables are provided at Heaphy Hut and at the Kohaihai shelter. There is an official high tide track but if you need to use it maybe it’s better just to wait an hour or two for the full tide to recede, just remember that huge rogue waves can appear from nowhere.

Much of the track is at an altitude of 700 m or so, if it is wet and the winds are high the risk of, err, hypothermia is high, ensure you have wet weather gear whatever the time of year, snow is possible up there, it can be extremely bleak.

other websites | Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park

The official DOC website for the Heaphy Track has plenty of info.

DOC also have a 3.2Mb pdf blurb about the Heaphy complete with a map and track description.

a big image slideshow | Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park

Here’s a 39 image slideshow from the Heaphy Track giving an indication of the general track conditions and sights along the way, if you need any further convincing.

Click on the thumbnail image below to get the slideshow started, then you can click on the left or right sides of the bigger images to go forward or back.

Heaphy Track - Kahurangi National Park

Images of the Heaphy Track huts and campsites can be found in the Heaphy Track huts and campsites section.

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