Heaphy Track

Average rating: 5
  • Walking
  • Mountain Biking

Description

The Heaphy Track is well formed and well marked. All major stream and river crossings are bridged.

You can start the track either from Brown Hut in Golden Bay (156 km from Nelson) or from Kohaihai on the West Coast (110 km from Westport). It's not a circuit track and is described here from Golden Bay to Kohaihai.

Popular walking options

For a 4 day, 3 night trip, most walkers stay at Perry Saddle, James Mackay and Heaphy Huts.

For a 5 day, 4 night trip, most walkers stay at Perry Saddle, Saxon, James Mackay and Heaphy Huts.

A popular 2 day, 1 night trip on the western side is from Kohaihai to Heaphy Hut, returning to Kohaihai.

Brown Hut to Perry Saddle Hut

Time: 5 hr 
Distance: 17.5 km

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.

Campsites and huts between Brown Hut and Perry Saddle

Perry Saddle to Gouland Downs Hut

Time: 2 hr 
Distance: 7 km

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.

Campsites and huts between Perry Saddle and Gouland Downs Hut

Gouland Downs Hut to Saxon Hut

Time: 1 hr 30 min 
Distance: 5.4 km

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.

Campsites and huts between Gouland Downs Hut and Saxon Hut

Saxon Hut to James Mackay Hut

Time: 3 hr 
Distance: 11.8 km

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.

Flooded 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.

Campsites and huts between Saxon Hut and James Mackay

James Mackay Hut to Lewis Hut

Time: 3 hr 30 min 
Distance: 12.5 km

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. 

Campsites and huts between James Mackay and Lewis Hut

Lewis Hut to Heaphy Hut

Time: 2 hr 30 min 
Distance: 8 km

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.

Warning: It is dangerous to wade or swim at the mouth of the Heaphy River due to extreme tidal currents and rips. 

Campsites and huts between Lewis Hut and Heaphy Hut

Heaphy Hut to Kohaihai River Mouth

Time: 5 hr 
Distance: 16.2 km

Warning: Sections of the coastal track between Heaphy Hut and Kohaihai may be affected by large wave surges during high tides and rough seas which can cause the track to be temporarily impassable. Check tide timetables

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.

Warning: It is dangerous to wade or swim at the mouth of the Kohaihai River due to extreme tidal currents and rips. 

Campsites and huts between Lewis Hut and Heaphy Hut
Conditions:

Know before you go

Your safety is your responsibility. To have a great time in the outdoors, know before you go the five simple rules of the Outdoor Safety Code to help you stay safe:

  1. Plan you trip
  2. Tell someone
  3. Be aware of the weather
  4. Know your limits
  5. Take sufficient supplies

1. Plan your trip

Seek local knowledge, and plan the route you'll take and the amount of time you expect it to take.

It's important to plan, prepare and equip yourself well. Have the right gear and skills required for the trip and always check the latest information about facilities you plan to use and local weather conditions.

Walking seasons

You can walk the Heaphy Track all year. The most popular period is during the summer from Christmas through to Easter, but walking the track in autumn can be good option - there are fewer people on the track and the weather is often calm and settled.

Mountain biking is only permitted on the Heaphy Track from 1 May to 30 November each year.

Giardia

There is a small risk of giardia, we recommend that you treat water before you use it.

Other risks

Major hazards are generally managed on the track during the summer (October to April) but not those hazards that are off track or on side tracks.

Facilities and services

Transport, activity, equipment and accommodation businesses operate in the summer. Some businesses do not operate in winter.

Huts and campsites must be booked all year round. See Fees and bookings.

In summer (November to April) DOC rangers rotate among the huts, while in winter they are on the track or at the huts less frequently.

For the latest information, check for alerts/important notices (external site) on the Heaphy Track page, or contact:

Whakatū / Nelson Visitor Centre
Phone:   +64 3 546 9339
Email:   nelsonvc@doc.govt.nz
Address:   Millers Acre/Taha o te Awa 
79 Trafalgar Street 
Nelson 7010 
Full office details

2. Tell someone

Tell someone your plans and leave a date to raise the alarm if you haven't returned.

The Outdoors Intentions process (external site) on the AdventureSmart website is endorsed by New Zealand's search and rescue agencies and provides three simple options to tell someone you trust the details about your trip.

Fill in the visitor’s book if you are staying in a hut. In summer (October to April), one of our DOC rangers will be at each hut and is able to pass on information about the area or assist should an emergency arise.

3. Be aware of the weather

New Zealand's weather can be highly unpredictable. Check the forecast and expect weather changes.

On the Heaphy Track the weather is changeable with annual rainfall averaging over 4000 mm. Heavy rain can occur with little warning and cause streams to flood - do not attempt to cross these when they are in flood. Be prepared for rain, snow and wind especially on the exposed sections of the track.

Climate
Weather information at Bainham (closest weather station to the Heaphy Track)
  Average daily high temp ˚C Average daily low temp ˚C Average number of rainy days
January 22 11 11
February 23 11 9
March 20 9 10
April 18 7 12
May 16 4 13
June 14 2 13
July 13 1 13
August 14 3 14
September 15 5 14
October 17 6 15
November 19 8 13
December 21 10 12

4. Know your limits

Challenge yourself within your physical limits and experience.

To do the trip you need to be reasonably fit and have good equipment to cover all possibilities.

The Heaphy Track is classed as an easy tramping track suitable for walkers with moderate fitness and limited experience. The track is mostly well formed and some sections maybe steep, rough or muddy. It has signs, poles or markers and major stream and river crossings are bridged.

You can expect to:

  • Walk or bike up to 3 - 5 hours a day and longer dependent on your fitness and trip
  • Carry a pack of up to 15 kg for 78.4 kms
  • For a 4 day trip, to walk up to 24 km per day
  • For a 5 day trip, to walk up to 21 km per day
  • Parts of the track to have a hard and uneven walking/biking surface

5. Take sufficient supplies

You must be sufficient: make sure you have enough food, clothing, equipment and emergency rations for the worst-case scenario. Take an appropriate means of communication such as personal locator beacon.

On the Heaphy Track be aware that:

  • Food is not available for purchase at any of the huts.
  • Generally cellphone coverage is poor and unreliable. At Aorere Shelter, on the beach near the Heaphy River mouth and along the coast track between the Heaphy Hut and Kohaihai Scotts Beach, coverage is usually available, although this depends on which telephone company you use.
  • There are no rubbish facilities on the track.Trampers are reminded there is a pack-in pack-out policy for all rubbish. All rubbish must be removed.

More information:

See: What to take

How to get here

The Heaphy Track is not a circuit track; the start/end of the track at Brown Hut in Golden Bay and Kohaihai on the West Coast are 463 km apart by road.

Air access

Air services make it possible to walk the track one way and return by air to near your starting point.

Air New Zealand flies into Nelson, the closest regional airport to the Brown Hut, and Sounds Air flies into Westport, the closest regional airport to Kohaihai.

A number of local operators provide air transport into Takaka in Golden Bay and Karamea on the West Coast. Find air transport services for Takaka (external site) (Golden Bay New Zealand website) or air transport services for Karamea (external site) (Karamea Information and Resource Centre website).

Road access

Brown Hut is 156 km and a 2 hr 25 min drive from Nelson. To reach this eastern end of the track:

  • Take SH 60 from Nelson to Collingwood (128 km)
  • At Collingwood take the road up the Aorere Valley to Brown Hut (28 km)

Kohaihai is 110 km and a 1 hr 45 min drive from Westport. To reach this western track end -

  • Take SH 67 from Westport to Karamea (95 km)
  • At Karamea head north to the car park and campsite at the Kohaihai River (15 km)

Track transport

Bus and taxi services are available to reach either end of the track from nearby towns. Both ends of the track have telephones; local calls for transport are free. Regular bus services link Nelson and Westport. 

Transport operators:

Transport operators are also listed on:

Map of Track

Mountain Safety Council Plan My Trip
Page last updated: Jan 5, 2021, 3:42 PM