Mountain Biking Heaphy Track, Kahurangi National Park


Thump, thump, thump – is that the sound of my heart beat……

views of karamea and surrounds

no that is the sound of the blades turning on our “bus” – a Bell Long Ranger helicopter as we’re being transported to the Collingwood end of the Heaphy Track thanks to Wayne and the team at Karamea Helicopter Charters.

Oh my gosh to say I’m excited would be an understatement, to say I’m nervous well there isn’t a word for that – my heart is racing, I can feel it pulsing at what seems like 100 beats per minute (I don’t know – is that a lot, you know what I’m trying to say though).  I’m excited, I’m anxious, I’m ready to go.  This is going to be such an adventure.

views to farewell spit from helicopter

The Heaphy Track is known as one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks” and it has been opened for seasonal mountain biking.   With the season about to come to an end we were given an opportunity to bike from the Collingwood side in Golden Bay back across to the West Coast.  Now you may be thinking but you’re only biking one way – well yes, we’re getting a helicopter to the start at the Collingwood side – I know!  What a way to start a ride!

mtbs loaded ready for helicopter flight heaphy track

Our morning start is picture perfect – hardly a cloud in sight.  Making our way to the helicopter hanger we drop off all our biking gear ready for loading into the helicopter.  Wayne from Karamea Helicopter Charters has a purpose-built rack for the bikes.  Locked and loaded we’re ready for take-off……..

views over karamea farmland from helicopter

views to heaphy river mouth heaphy track

heaphy track from helicopter

Any nerves about the flight soon abate as the wonder at the incredible views take over.  Flying up over the Karamea farmland with views to the Tasman Sea we basically do the Heaphy Track by flight so we know what we’re in for – or do we?

views from helicopter to farewell spit

Seeing this countryside from the helicopter is breath-taking and we can’t believe how fortunate we are for this experience.  Just this flight alone is worth it to experience such magnificent scenery.  Nearing our destination our friend Richard points out Farewell Spit off in the distance – the northern most point of the South Island.  Just magic.

ready to ride browns hut end heaphy track

Time to land and some of my nerves are coming back – this time in anticipation of the ride ahead.  I’ve been laid down with the flu for the good part of the last three weeks so there hasn’t been any riding time of late.  I was determined not to let that stop me though when this opportunity came about.  I’ll just go at my pace and we’ll see what happens.

riders on heaphy track

phil enjoying heaphy track

After a very short ride along the access road our first stop is Browns Hut – this is basically the true start of the track.  We meet some people who have finished their ride – thankfully they don’t tell me what is still to come……

richard and phil enjoy rest break heaphy track

Our destination before the end of the day (hopefully!) is the James Mackay hut – some 41kms away and starting with a 17.5km climb.  Yes folks, you read that right – 17.5kms.  What was I thinking!

climb up to perry saddle heaphy track

lunch break heaphy track

This is a gorgeous ride of incredibly diverse scenery.  The first 7kms are a nice gradual incline up through the bush – quite manageable even by my standards.  Have to say I did struggle on the next 3kms and was very pleased to reach the Aorere Shelter.  Time for a short rest and fuel stop, compare riding notes – mmmm you went fast, I went slow…… and to take in the gorgeous views.

tussock land heaphy track

Then back in the saddle and onwards and upwards to Perry Saddle and hut located at 880 metres above sea level – yep, told you we were climbing.

enjoying views from perry saddle hut

chatting with riders heaphy track

What a location for a hut – views in all directions and apparently on a super clear day you can even see Mt Taranaki on the North Island.  We met some hardy souls who were on their way out – depressing thing is they were riding the entire trail in one day with just the downhill left to do.  To make it even more depressing they had ridden across two days earlier – in one day!  Oh to be young and fit (they were at least 15 years older than us I have to add……something to aspire to perhaps).

open grassy section between huts heaphy track

crossing cove brook heaphy track

Onwards again – we have a long day ahead of us, passing through patches of beech trees and clearings of tussock.  There were fast and flowy sections and short sections of just pedaling it out before we crossed the little Cave Brook and passed the Gouland Downs Hut – 7kms down another 5.4kms to go to get to Saxon, our next refuel stop.

enchanted forest heaphy track

This section is mostly through tussock land and creek beds but there is one short section through what is known as the “enchanted forest” – moss-covered beech forest amongst a limestone outcrop.  It is incredible in here and so weird to be in what seems like the middle of nowhere after being out in the tussock.

biking through the tussock land heaphy track

mountain biking across tussock fields heaphy track

All too soon we’re back into the open again surrounded by the tussock land.  The clouds were starting to roll in over the mountains so it made it all the more mystical and I could imagine it could be quite oppressive through here on a misty day.  No mist for us though and we finally reach Saxon Hut.

saxton hut heapy track

It was nice to take a little break from the bike if only for a few minutes.  We didn’t want to dilly dally for too long – still another 13kms to go.  Oh my!

boardwalk heaphy track

richard and cordelia bum rock heaphy track

This last section to our “home” for the night descended slightly, down through grassy flats that run along side the Saxon River before our last little climb for the day – I know…… to a ridgeline where the Gouland Downs meet the Mackay Downs.  There is a gorgeous piece of boardwalk along here and some crazy rocks coming up out of the landscape.  One rock is aptly shaped to the part of our anatomy – quite fitting by this stage of the ride as we’re really feeling it!.  I’ll let you guess which rock but the clue is the shape is sideways (look closely and you’ll see  it….)

through the beech scrub heaphy track

dinner at mackay hut heaphy track

The trail enters back into scrub like bush and pockets of beech trees and eventually our home to the night comes into view – James Mackay hut. Phil has kindly gone on ahead and whipped us up a storm in the kitchen and after a quick cleanup we sit down to enjoy this fine feast in the middle of the wilderness – now this is what I call back country living!

double rainbow in the morning heaphy track

sunrise over mackay hut heaphy track

After some overnight rain, the new dawn greets us with some morning mist and a double rainbow before the sun filters through the clouds.  It is a magical place to wake up to and sets us up for a continuation of our awesome day before.  Can it really get any better….

descent heaphy track

avenue of rimu heaphy track

Turns out it can.  I mentioned earlier the diversification in the scenery on day one well day two is almost unbelievable.  Completely different again from yesterday.  We leave Mackay Hut for a 13km downhill – I know, so exciting!  Actually although was downhill, which we aren’t complaining about, there was still quite a bit of pedaling and line picking for mud holes etc but overall what an awesome trail.  Down through huge fern groves and avenues of Rimu trees and across little creeks.

bush robin heaphy track

chatting with bush robin heaphy track

At one stage we had a visitor that we just had to stop for.  A little bush robin – incredibly inquisitive and oh so cute.

forest of green heaphy track

nikau grove heaphy track

Eventually we make it down to Lewis Hut at the base of the hill and we then have a lovely 8km ride that winds it way through Nikau Palms and Rata Trees running along side the Heaphy River.

meeting pete and white bait heaphy track

Now this is where this little outing gets slightly surreal.  We have an 11am appointment with a most lovely man called “Big Pete”, a good friend of Richard and Phil who has kindly offered to cook us up a fresh feed of whitebait.  It is whitebait season here on the West Coast and this is Big Pete’s home for the next couple of months.  What a lovely character – could have sat here all day listening to his awesome stories but we still have more riding ahead of us yet.

rossiter brothers at heaphy river mouth

With tummies full of fresh white bait we’re off again first stopping at the Heaphy Hut.  Phil has to leave us now as our pace is just a little slow and he has an appointment back in Westport.

richard and jan along beach track of heaphy track

Well we’re getting close now – onto the final 16kms to the end of the trail.  The trail now mostly follows the coastline so the views are outstanding.

through the rocks heaphy track

coastal views on heaphy track

There are rocky shores and sandy shores as we pass through little bays.  The track meanders in and out of sub tropical rain forest and coastal grasses with short little pinches to climb and fun little rock sections to negotiate.

crossing swingbridge heaphy track

enjoying the views from swingbridge heaphy track

We cross quite a few wooden bridges and beautiful big swing bridges.  Department of Conservation and their hard-working team have done an awesome job with this trail.

rocky downhill along beachfront heaphy track

heaphy track meandering along beach front

More coastal sections and we can see the final ridge that will lead us into the Kohaihai Valley and the end of trail.  Being a ridge it does mean a climb – just a little tester to finish the ride with.  Can’t make it too easy!

final bridge at kohaihai heaphy track

and then after a short fun downhill we round the corner and can’t help but break into a smile as we see the final bridge crossing the Kohaihai river – we’ve made it!  What a weekend, what an adventure.  Big thanks to Richard and Phil, Big Pete and Wayne from Karamea Helicopter Charters for making this one of the most memorable adventures yet and mostly to my hubby Stephen for giving me the moral support to get to the end.

Say yes to adventure – but look around you, that adventure may just be in your own backyard.

Jan and Stephen run Breakers Boutique Accommodation on the Great Coast Road north of Greymouth.  The West Coast was named one of the top 10 regions to visit in the world in 2014 by Lonely Planet – Heaphy Track is just one of the many reasons why.

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About coastingnz

Jan and Stephen live on the Punakaiki coastline, north of Greymouth on the West Coast, NZ and run Breakers Boutique Accommodation. They both enjoy the outdoors and are passionate about things to see and do on the West Coast and would like to share their experiences with you.
This entry was posted in beaches, cycling, Mountain biking New Zealand, Nature, outdoors, photography, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Mountain Biking Heaphy Track, Kahurangi National Park

  1. kevinmayne says:

    Amazing

    Really really jealous. For my next trip to New Zealand for sure.

  2. What a wonderful adventure. I am always astounded by the beauty that surrounds you.

  3. Michael Nees says:

    That’s the way to do it Jan. Always dreamed about this exact trip… will happen one day!

  4. Mama says:

    simply stunning!!!! Definately an experience to treasure!! We are so lucky to live in this truly beautiful country. so many awesome places right on our ‘doorstep’ but so many people are not even aware they are there.

  5. That’s enough to make me want to return to NZ!
    Great account, and the photos sure helped me “be there”.

  6. Wow, those rainbow clouds! I have never seen anything like it. A friend and I are setting off from Auckland on mountain bikes in 2 weeks and we will be biking on trails through both islands. I am very excited to see more of your beautiful country, particularly the stretch from Greymouth into Queenstown which we plan to complete early December. I am avidly following your blog as we will be passing your front door.

    • coastingnz says:

      The rainbow was amazing – so vivid! What a trip it sounds like you are doing – very exciting. Call in and say hi on your way past and I’ll make you a cuppa! Probably pay to email or something few days before so I know you’re on you way and make sure I’m around. Would be great to meet you 🙂 Most importantly stay safe on our roads and have fun! Cheers Jan

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