Everything you need to know to hike the Heaphy Track

The Heaphy Track is the longest of all the Great Walks (well, the ones you actually walk, one of the nine is a canoe journey masquerading as a walk) at just under 79km, and so some planning and logistics are involved. It's a one way track, but you can walk it in either direction, and there are a few ways of doing it depending on how quickly you want to go.

This blog outlines the things you need to know to hike the track, if you'd like to hear more about our personal experience read this post


Heaphy Track Overview

Before arriving in New Zealand, we had low expectations for the Heaphy Track. Dwarfed by the other famous Great Walks like the Milford Track, Tongariro, Routeburn and Abel Tasman, the Heaphy was a hike we thought might not have the same wow factor.

However, as soon as we arrived and talked to New Zealanders, we found that the Heaphy was a lot of their favourite of the Great Walks. This is primarily because the landscapes are incredibly diverse and it's a lot quieter than many of the others.

There are also very limited day walk options, so it's likely that you'll rarely see another person during Great Walk Season (30th October - 1st May). Post Great Walks season the track is also open to mountain bikers, which I have to say I wouldn't enjoy so much. The paths can be quite narrow in places and it wouldn't be much fun to jump out of the way of cyclists. 

The hike takes in mountains, forests, tussocked plains, tropical palm trees, rivers and wild west coast beaches. What's not to like? 


Heaphy Track Booking

Booking the Heaphy Track is pretty straight forward as it rarely sells out. When we hiked it in March the huts were less than half full, with some people booking the day before they hiked. However, this is different in peak season such as the Christmas/New Year holidays, so it pays to book in advance if you can, especially if you have set dates in mind.

It’s worth noting that the track is also open to mountain bikers between 1st May and 30th November. Personally we wouldn’t like to walk the track during this time as in parts it can be narrow and we wouldn’t enjoy wondering whether a bike was going to come hurtling round the corner.

Heaphy Track Booking

Bookings are required for huts and campsites year round. Hut places are NZ$34 per person, children under the age of 18 go free but bookings are still required. Campsite places are NZ$14 per person, children again go free. International visitors are not affected by the price hikes seen on other Great Walks including the Milford, Kepler and Routeburn.


Heaphy Track Elevation & Difficulty

The information below describes the elevation and difficulty if you are starting from Brown Hut in Golden Bay and finishing at Kohaihai.

The track map makes the Heaphy Track look pretty steep, however the elevation is spread out over quite large distances. Despite the first day climbing over 800 metres, the track is never very steep. Similarly day two and three are pretty flat and straightforward, with day four having a couple of small climbs.

Source: Department of Conservation, New Zealand

Overall the Heaphy Track is quite tiring if you hike it over four days, purely because of the long distances involved. If you chose to hike this in six days, then it would be a lot easier and manageable for just about anyone, as long as you can manage the fairly long first and final day which cannot be shortened (unless you camp).


Heaphy Track Distances

Depending on how many days you hike, the Heaphy Track days can either be very long or fairly inline with the other Great Walks of New Zealand. We chose to hike the four day version and found day two, three and four pretty tiring, averaging over 20km per day with heavy packs on. 

All hikers have to hike from Brown Hut to Perry Saddle (17.5km), but you can half the distance you hike on day two and three by stopping at the other huts overnight. The Heaphy Hut to Kohaihai shelter leg cannot be shortened if using the hut system, though there was an additional campsite on this leg. 


Heaphy Track Huts

Cost of huts on the trail: NZ$34 per night. Children under 18 go free but you must still book a spot.
Cost of camp sites on the trail: NZ$14 per night. Children under 18 go free but you must still book a spot.

There are seven huts on the Heaphy Track that vary in comfort level. The newest (and best) are the ones recommended by DOC: Perry's Saddle, James MacKay and Heaphy. These all have bunk rooms that are separate from the living areas, are supplied with gas cookers and are more comfortable. They even had pots and pans you could use, which is something we haven't found on any other Great Walk track. James Mackay and Heaphy have flush toilets, while Perry's Saddle had long drop toilets that were a minute walk away from the main hut.

Heaphy Hut: one of the new huts on the track

The bunkroom at James Mackay Hut, one of the newer huts

Gouland Downs Hut: one of the older huts on the track

The other huts (Brown, Gouland Downs, Saxon and Lewis) are a little more rustic. Brown and Gouland Downs (where in the latter you might spot blue duck if you are lucky in the evening) are simply a single room with cooking facilities close to the bunks, whereas Saxon and Lewis have two very cosy bunkrooms that are separate from the main cooking/living room. Our favourite of these huts on peeking inside was Saxon. It had a rustic charm to it and those we met who stayed in it really enjoyed it. 


Heaphy Track Transport

Transport is the hardest logistical part of the Heaphy Track as the beginning and end are 450km apart by road. We chose to use the services of Derry, who offers a car relocation service to ensure that we had our vehicle waiting for us at Kohaihai Shelter. This cost us $320 NZD, but it can cost a lot less if he's got a car that needs relocating in the other direction. Derry is a bit of a local legend, and sadly is retiring after this season, he is selling the business though so you should still be able to use the service. 

There are two other alternatives. There is a bus that runs to both ends of the track from Nelson. This is by far the cheapest option ($160 return), however you will have to sit on a bus for five hours after hiking for four days continuously! They also leave at a fixed time, making the final day a little rushed. The only way of avoiding this is to drive your car to Kohaihai Shelter and then take the bus to Nelson and then another bus to Brown Hut (sounds tedious to us, but does mean you can be flexible on the hike itself and not feel rushed). 

The other option is to fly! This is one of the quickest options available, but it can be pricey. Most people we met using this option used Golden Bay Air and said the flight was beautiful. There is a 15kg max baggage allowance, but hopefully you aren't carrying more than this or the walk will be a lot harder! You will still need a transfer by mini bus from the airport at Karamea or Takaka which the same company will run for you. Flights depart from Nelson or Wellington. 


What to pack for the Heaphy Track

Icebreaker Thermals

 

The Heaphy Track isn’t as cold as the hikes in Fiordland, but the temperatures can still drop. Having thermals will make things more comfortable when you’re in the mountain section and in the huts at night.

Rain Jacket

 

The weather can change rapidly on the Heaphy Track and a lot of sections that are very exposed. A good rain jacket will also help as a windbreaker to keep you warm.

Hiking Socks

 

Hiking socks are often undervalued as they can make the difference between getting blisters or not. You’ll want a pair that are warm, but high quality to look after your feet on the hikes. We tend to choose Keen, but there are plenty of good brands (veer away from just getting the cheapest thick socks you can find!).

A spare set of clothes

You should also bring a spare set of clothes that are for the huts only to ensure you always have dry clothes to change into. Having wet clothes on the trail isn't too bad as you warm up, but wearing wet clothes in the hut will make you very cold.

Cotton clothes also dry slowly and sap your body heat, so bringing woollen or synthetic clothes are a better choice for wet conditions. Merino wool would be our advice, as it is quick to dry and keeps you warm.


Gloves

It can get cold, so a pair of gloves will mean you don’t have to walk with your hands in your pockets!


Woolly Hat

Another item for keeping you warm, on and off the track.


Flip flops  

Something that comes in very handy as you can't wear your boots in the huts.


Hiking Gear

Osprey Backpack

 

We’re big fans of Osprey Backpacks and use them for hiking and travelling as we own a large one, day pack and tiny day walk pack. For the Heaphy Track we used the Kestrel line (like the image above) as we wanted to pack both of our supplies into one bag.

Alternatively, you could for a smaller day pack like below.

 

We love these packs as they have good waist supports and straps that are designed to take the weight off your shoulders and around your hips. This will reduce the aches and pains you’ll feel across 4 days of hiking.

The top line big backpacks also have mouldable waist straps which customise the fit.

Pack Liners or Pack Covers

 

The rain on the Heaphy Track can be so heavy that you will want to get either a pack liner (goes inside the backpack) or a rain cover (outside the pack).

These will keep your food and spare clothes dry. Even if you think your pack is water proof, you should get one of these to make sure.

 

Merrell Hiking Boots

 

We’ve gone through a lot of hiking boots from a lot of companies, but have found the brand that is perfect for long multi-day hikes. Merrells are comfortable, hard wearing and we won’t use any others from now.

We recommend trying on hiking boots at a shop before buying as each fit (no matter what the size) differs between every brand.

Black Diamond Hiking Poles

 

We are hiking pole converts, making descending a lot easier and taking the weight of your pack from going entirely through your knees. Black Diamond are light, reliable and a brand we’ve been using for years.

A warm sleeping bag

 

You’ll need a warm sleeping bag just in case the temperatures drop. The huts don’t have any heating, so you’ll need a sleeping bag that can cope with low temperatures.


Health, Hygiene & Safety Gear

First Aid Kit

 

You don’t need to have a huge first aid kit, but having a compact one with the essentials is something you must have for the Heaphy Track. There are rangers and people who can help, but having your own first aid kit will take the reliance off anyone else.

Walker’s Wool

 

If you’re susceptible to blisters, walkers wool is a must. This is a pack of wool that you can tear up and put around your toes and feet to either prevent blisters or make it a lot more pleasant if you have one.

Blister packs

 

Getting blister packs (or plasters) will help if you get a dreaded blister on your heel or ankle. If you have this and walkers wool you should be ok for any blister!

Wet Wipes

As there's no showers, wet wipes are the best solution.
 

Suncream & Insect Repellant

 

The Heaphy is very exposed in certain sections, so when it's sunny there's nowhere to hide.

Insect repellant will also stop the pesky sandflies who move in the second you stop hiking. A high deet content works best and cover up as much as possible as they do seem to attack relentlessly and find any area of exposed skin.

Amazon seem to be the only place selling it as high as 100%, so check the link below if you want the strong stuff!


Food
 

A hike on the Heaphy Track will be at least four days long, so you will need a decent amount of food. As a couple we were able to pack meals between the two of us: pesto pasta, instant mash with freeze dried veg and a couple of freeze dried meals. This helped to keep the weight down and ensure we had energy from our dinners.

For breakfast we tended to have cereal bars, but we found that this often left us hungry quite quickly and didn't provide enough energy. Packing muesli or porridge would be a more sensible idea.

For lunches we had some bread rolls, nuts, raisins and a couple of small treats. We've found that on the trails we don't tend to eat much for lunch, leaving our feasts for the evening!

Don't forget tea and coffee as we did on one hike, we really missed it!

Kitchen set (pot, matches, cutlery, plates and mugs)

 

The essentials for cooking. We recommend buying a set as otherwise you’ll spend hours getting every little bit and realise you forgot something simple like a mug!

Zip lock bag for rubbish

As you need to carry everything out with you (including food scraps), a rubbish bag will stop all your gear of smelling of food.


Gas stove (for some huts)

You won't need one for Heaphy, James Mackay and Perry's Saddle, but you may if you stay at any of the other huts. You can’t take camping gas on a plane, so make sure you buy this in New Zealand.


Comforts

Powerbank

 

These were helpful in ensuring our phones and Apple Watch were charged every day (although the watch struggled with just how much hiking there was). We used the Anker Powercore which last through the whole of the Heaphy Track on one charge, keeping all our devices working throughout.

Headphones & Music or Earplugs

 

These are our only solution for dorms. After this much hiking, it's likely you'll be a victim of vicious snoring.

Camera

You can check out the camera gear we use in this post.


What you don't need

  • Water purification tablets - The water on the Heaphy is clean and good to drink without purifying. It is an odd colour though.

  • Toilet paper - All huts and toilets on the track provide toilet paper, including the dunnies.



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Have you hiked any of the Great Walks? Are you planning to do the Heaphy Track? Let us know in the comments below!


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