This article was first published in The Tararua Tramper in June 1997
Heaphy Track Walk
1996 Labour Weekend
It was a fine Friday afternoon when 15 TTC members set out for their Labour Weekend Heaphy Track walk. We travelled down in two groups - the "softies" (nine in all) preferring the luxury of the 2.20pm sailing with a hardy six opting for the 5.30pm sailing, arriving about 11pm and 3am respectively at the road-end. Corgi Transport did a great job in getting us to the road-end given the distances they had to travel. The full moon and clear sky enabled us to read the road signs and navigate with ease over the last 34km from Collingwood. There were three fords on the gravel road to cross before arriving at Browns Hut; however, the last ford had been washed out so we came to an unceremonious halt, donned packs and torches and walked the ford being careful to keep our boots dry, and arrived to the comfort of Brown's Hut after about 600 metres. The hut had two guests apart from the TTCs. While some erected tents, Anna discovered she had no poles. Luckily she retrieved these from the Transrail lost property office on our return to Picton the following Tuesday.
After a good night's sleep all were up and away before 9am in gloriously fine warm and sunny conditions and into the long steady climb through the mostly beech forest to Perry Saddle. We soon fell into groups of similar fitness and arrived at Aorere Shelter for lunch in the sun. It was more like a mid-summer's day with most stripping off to enjoy the sun and the glorious view. It was so hot that most retreated to the shade of Aorere Shelter after 30 minutes in the sun. Great views were obtained further up at the highest point on the track where photo stops were the order of the day. Most arrived at the Perry Saddle Hut shortly after 3pm.
An old "Women's Weekly" with a big crossword served as a focal point for the rest of the afternoon in the sun with Sieny and David taking it in turns to scribe the answers to the clues. As the sun disappeared over the hill the evening was spent by several (Cathy, David and Allen) attempting to find a way to Mt Perry. John Hart decided to sleep on the veranda though the short-lived darkness was distributed by the brightness of a very full moon. Most were attracted outside by the night light and the brilliance of the moon.
The two food groups ate well throughout the trip with three-four course meals being the order of the weekend. There were some fabulous creations for dessert, particularly by Allen, Lyn and Tim first time trampers to TTC longer weekends. The group was able to make good use of all the hut stoves and no party fuel was required apart from at Brown's Hut.
Sunday dawned fine but somewhat cloudy and as we ventured off into the Gouland Downs which provided a stark contrast to the Perry Saddle climb. Our destination for Sunday was to be Mackay Hut with lunch at the Saxon Hut the newest hut on the track. Light rain and drizzle started at the Gouland Downs Hut and continued for most of the day. On the way to the Saxon Hut, Cathy deeply cut her shin crossing a stream and required some patching at Saxon Hut. It wasn't until Mackay Hut that some sterile strips were found in Bruce's medical kit which helped to knit the sides of the wound together. There was some distribution of weight from Cathy's pack and we continued on in steady rain to Mackay Hut with the last group arriving about 4.45pm. There was an interesting assortment of large stones (elephant rocks) over the last sections of the track which provided an interesting spectacle. A couple of Coasters had the hut stove going which was useful for drying our wet gear. The cosy confines of the Hut meant books were mainly the order of the evening while the light lasted.
At most huts there were about four non TTC members apart from Heaphy Hut where there were seven. The trip to Lewis was downhill and, again, a minor accident occurred with John Gates taking a closer look at the flora than he possibly intended. Luckily his injuries were reasonably superficial though very colourful.
Lewis Hut for lunch provided the first introduction to the ferocity of the sandflies where everyone retreated inside for lunch after the customary photos and the making of a daisy chain by one party member from the wild flowers outside the hut. Victor had invested in some mosquito rings which didn't seem to have much affect on the sandflies. Following lunch we tramped up behind the hut on what appeared to be a newly defined track which circumvented some windfalls. This detour was not shown on the map though those who had earlier ventured down to the river had less difficulty with the orientation. The trip down the Heaphy is mainly along a sandy track where we viewed the first signs of nikau palms and coastal birds, mainly shags.
It was at the Lewis Hut that Peter discovered he had left his Gortex jacket at Mackay Hut and went back to retrieve it. It gave him a very long day, after lunch, of about nine hours. He arrived back at Heaphy Hut at about 8.45pm for a late tea.
Heaphy Hut is situated where the river and the sea meet and is most dramatic. A stroll along the beach revealed the rugged West Coast beaches with white sands and heavy surf. Most made best use of the opportunity before the rain started, to spend some time with cameras. Others sampled some whitebait fritters which three fishermen staying at the hut had generously prepared. The sandflies were unreal and everyone needed to wear trousers of some sort to survive. You didn't dare open any of the hut windows until well after dark.
Heaphy Hut had its own livestock, two horses which were obviously used to trampers. Instead of the horses being enclosed the trampers were enclosed in the corral fronting the hut. John Hart decided he was going to sleep in the shelter and accordingly unpacked and spread his gear. The two horses decided John hadn't quite put things in the right place and rearranged everything to his dismay. During tea John was seen to make a dash from the hut as the same horses were seen making for John's unattended shelter.
A good game of scrabble resulted that evening which had Jenny leading by the tea break. However, some crafty teamwork at the tea break saw Jonathan make a final bid for the honours. The fishermen in the hut were concerned with Cathy's state and her ability to get to the road-end the following day by l2pm. To ensure Cathy was on her way they were up by 5.30am and had put a brew on the stove. Naturally everyone was awake by 6am and on their way by 7am. The trip along the coast to Kohaihai was made in light misty drizzle. The sea and surf pounding on the rocks was a delightful way to farewell the track.
A baby fur seal was spotted by Cathy swimming along the beach. Several made detours along the beach for some rock hopping which ended in a patch of nettle. The party staggered into Kohaihai Shelter from 11am onward and washed and changed and with precision timing, the bus arrived about 11.45am. The rest of the group arrived within five minutes and like clockwork we departed by 12pm for the six hour trip back to Picton. We had a stop for afternoon tea at Murchison and arrived back at Picton about 6pm.
It was a very pleasant long weekend with good tracks, a great variety of scenery, fine company, good food and memories which I am sure the party won't forget.
- The party members were
- John Hart, Anna Legge, Sieny Pollard, Cathy Rooney, Victor Negrin, Jonathan Dempsey, Lyn Kelly, Tim Kelly, Bruce McGregor, David Netherclift, Allan Tugwell, Jenny Gates, John Gates, Peter Thompson and Bernard Molloy (leader and scribe).