|Early morning from James MacKay Hut, looking down to Heaphy Hut|
Heaphy Track, Brown River Carpark to Kohaihai
Kahurangi National Park
02 - 05 February 2021
Team: Me, Marion, Ange, Jaana
With Marion and Ange locked in, we looked at all the travel options - shuttles, flights, car transfer - and decided on car transfer, since that offered the most flexibility and the least weather reliance. Plus, by the time there were three of us, even with the ferry, it was about the same cost. Doing this also meant we had a spare space in the car, so I put the call out among friends and Jaana jumped up to say she was interested.It's a lot of travel to get to either end of this track - and the ends are both a long way from anywhere. We ended up staying the night before at Kaiteriteri, which was heavenly. A swim before dinner, burgers with a view of the beach, an evening stroll through the campground. Several of us genuinely discussed just staying put and pretending we'd walked the track it was so nice.
We were up and out of the hut as everyone else started to stir as we knew we had a long way to go and my ankle was a bit iffy still from an injury in August. Our first fantastic moment was spotting a Takahe crossing the track as we stepped off the deck, so that was pretty magic.
We enjoyed the peace and coolness of the still dim bush section in our early morning, arriving at Gouland Downs Hut in time for morning tea hot already from the exposed section we'd already walked through. The whole rest of the day was largely like this, with small sections covered by trees, so it was super hot going for 24 long kilometers. While here, we met a couple and their three kids (all under 5!) who were walking the track over about 11 days - stopping all over the place and having multiple rest days.Lunch at Saxon Hut saw most of us take our boots off for a rest, which felt amazing and allowed our feet to cool down a bit. The rest of the afternoon for me was a bit of a loss as my ankle became unbearably painful - every step hurt, and the pain spread through my whole body, leading me to a total mental collapse just under 1km from James MacKay Hut when Ange came back to offer to take my pack off me. I was entirely broken. And we were only just over half way there.
While Ange took my pack into the hut, I stumbled down the hill to the "Mountain Spa" to soak my feet. I spent a full 30 minutes with my feet in that ice-cold water and it was heavenly. Back at the hut, I took some painkillers and anti-inflammatories and lay down to rest while they kicked in, before enjoying dinner in the sun-drenched living space. In addition to the ankle, my overheated feet had developed deep blisters on my little toes, so I also tended to these as well as possible before hitting bed for an early night.
I realised the next morning that I probably wasn't eating enough. I had no salty snacks (I'd forgotten crackers or pretzels) and desperately needed them. But I also wasn't hungry - I was caught in that bind I sometimes have when tramping of not eating enough, then losing my appetite to go with it. I've decided that when I replace my current pack, the new one will have pockets I can reach while wearing it, so I can pack snacks in them.
From here our day was mostly down hill. My ankle had eased overnight and with a small amount of painkillers on board (plus a stretchy bandage) seemed to holding up. Marions knee decided it wanted to play up going down the hill instead, so we both took it super slow and gentle. We heard the daytime kiwi below James Mackay hut, but didn't see it.
I want to go back and do that section in particular again. The flora is AMAZING. Stupendously enormous trees, really interesting rock formations, just wow.
I arrived at Heaphy Hut limping a little and definitely uncomfortable, but in far less pain than the day before. Or so I thought, until I tried to climb the ladder into my bunk. I basically couldn't put my left foot on a rung of the ladder at all with any weight on it - if I did, the pain screamed all the way up to my knee like a red-hot poker. Bugger.
Our whole bunkroom went to bed early to read, while some of the others went and had a driftwood bonfire on the beach for the evening. I had an absolute rubbish nights sleep and woke in the morning deep in a fug, wanting nothing more than to just stay put, unable to eat from exhaustion, absolutely convinced that the others were wishing I had never come and that I was a stupid burden on them that they didn't deserve.We never spotted clear indications of which beaches could be walked on if the tide was low enough (which is was), so we presumed none were suitable / had clear access back onto the track at the other end, and stuck to the track instead. It was amazing watching the coast go very suddenly from soft, light coloured sand, to massive boulder fields. The constant noise of the surf carried through the podcasts on my headphones. We enjoyed several reasonably new bridges, and had fun with the other non-bridged stream crossings.
Marion and I opted to take the detour to the lookout at the saddle - it was barely 2 minutes each way, and then it was all down hill. Just before we got there we met our first day walkers - a pair of ladies in lovely pretty dresses off to Scotts Beach for a picnic. We hoped they enjoyed the sandflies and the DoC worker mowing the lawn there with his weed whacker. The last section with the loop track and high water detour felt like it was forever, but Ange and Jaana appeared around here to cheer us in to the carpark. If they had caught us earlier, I might have given them my pack, but the signs all said we were super close (we were not that close).Quick team photo at the sign, collect the key from the box, toilet break, dump gear in the car and we headed off, killing thousands of sandflies that got in with us as we went. We stopped for "lunch" or snacks (salty chips and coke for me, to wash down more painkillers) at Karamea, then at the Pool and Rec centre in Westport for showers (Oh they were amazing).
Despite the exhaustion, I couldn't get to sleep. I was up for the bathroom several times, and then to hunt out safety pins to pop excruciating blisters, before popping a codeine at midnight and finally being out cold (for the all of 5.5 hours I was allowed before we had to be up for our 6:30am ferry check in).
Two weeks later, I've lost one toenail from the blister, my ankle is still an annoyance (and it feels like I may have plantar fasciitis in the other ankle), but oddly, I think I'd do this track again.