The winter solstice isn’t really the best time to ride an unknown track like the Heaphy, but the stars aligned, the southerly snow dump held off enough and there were no excuses to hide behind. Christchurch to Browns Hut over in Golden Bay is pretty much a full days drive while at the same time Val, Bruce and Mel, drove to the Karamea end of the track and started the 17 kms running for that day into Heaphy hut on the west coast.
The shortest day means the longest night and a late start. Especially when the start is an 800m gradual grind to the pass far above. Luckily the gradient is gradual and the track occasionally rocky and hard. Things improved higher up and once at the shelter, the last 5 kms seemed so much easier. By lunchtime we were all at the flash new Lewis Hut with stunning views starting to open up.
The passage of time kept us moving and the downhill began, a twisting, sometimes rocky descent to a point overlooking Gouland Downs – a huge sloping plateau of vastness and views and emptiness. Just what we had come for. The Goulands Downs hut came and went and then a bit of climb, two troublesome swing bridges, and suddenly the smoke from Saxton Hut was in sight – meaning Val and Bruce were already in house! So much for the speed of two wheels.
The trail continued for a great 1.5 hours, finishing with a flurry on dusk, slightly ahead of the exciting downhill. The hut is big, warm, cosy and such a delight – with views out to the waves breaking on the coast. Warm food, a stoked up fire, and cosy beds meant a long nights sleep.
8.15am away and the start of the downhill, built up to be Very Very steep, lots of mud and technical riding. 2 hours later, our grins said it all – yes some mud, and yes I did face plant – but nothing compared to the beautiful downhill that went on and on and …. By now we were back at sea level and the coastal ride began.
Out to the river mouth and another beautiful hut. The technical 17 kms of coastal riding weren’t as I remembered walking them in the past and certainly a lot more technical than anticipated, but finally we were climbing over the final bluff and descending to the waiting friendly van. From here it’s a short drive down to Karamea and a relaxing overnight at The Last Resort. Christchurch was a day’s drive away and made easier by the rapidly developing plans for the Old Ghost Road – next on the agenda pre season.
- The Heaphy is a multi-day tramping track walkers usually do with two nights en route.
- The 70 km track has been opened on a trial basis by Doc for the past 3 seasons
- ( over winter ) with a final decision to be made on the future.
- Doc continue to do great work in difficult conditions to improve the trail for all users.
- There are shuttle services connecting the two ends – which are 480kms apart by road.
- The track is graded 3-4 for MTBing which is a fair grade. Almost 100% is rideable but wet sections are best walked to avoid further damage.