3-8 Oct 2014
It was hoped the trip would go west to east as car relocation is cheaper that way but the Heaphy Hut was booked out on the 4th. We later found why.
Friday. Soon after 3pm Dan stopped at Leithfield for Bill who completed our party of five. By Culverden,"Chains Essential" signs began appearing. Without chains we managed, although snow fell before the Lewis and continued almost all the way to Murchison, our snack stop. With more snow on the Hope, it was a relief to reach Motueka's Hot Mama's cafe and The Laughing Kiwi Backpackers.
Saturday. Brown Hut to Perry Saddle Hut. 17.5km
The Takaka Hill snow proved drivable and soon after 11am we began the uphill tramp to Perry Saddle Hut leaving the car for relocation to the Kohaihai River end. A stand-up lunch was fitted in between rain, hail and snow as the Aorere Shelter was four hours away. Just past the shelter, we met Derry our car relocator. He has been walking/running the Heaphy since 1976 and this was the most snow he had seen—no views of Mt. Taranaki today. We gasped on reaching the hut (880m) at 5.10 pm. Roof and verandahs were piled high with snow. A fire was coaxed into life and we enjoyed Dan's well-planned meal.
Sunday. Saddle Hut to James Mackay Hut. 24km
Unable to find the start of the track in all the snow, we were forced to return to the hut and ask! Two hours on, we snacked at the Gouland Downs Hut. It was still misty and snow-covered here. Another 1½ hours later, the Saxon Hut was perfect for a boil up and lunch. A couple here explained our failure to get the preferred Heaphy Hut booking. Nick Smith's party booked it out, perhaps intending to open the new James Mackay Hut.
For the next 3 hours we had rain in our faces. Up until then, before each hut, we were cheered by"1 km to hut" pegs. This time, "2 km to hut". As Dan remarked "This is a trying day". Looming above the old hut, the new one is not quite ready and with thick mist obscuring views of the Tasman Sea and Heaphy River, we snuggled into the "old" hut.
Monday. James Mackay Hut to Heaphy Hut. 20.5km
As we finished breakfast, Derry appeared, having relocated our car. He had slept at the Lewis Hut and was going to Brown Hut and out, having left the Lewis at 5am. What a champion!
It felt warmer as we set out at 9.10am despite overnight heavy showers and gales. There were still patches of snow. Good team work got us through a large windfall. Nearing the Lewis, we met a seemingly endless line of young people, later found to be 10+2 from Waipukarau doing their Duke of Ed. Hillary Award. Dan declared a long lunch and boil up at the hut.
The nearby new 148m suspension bridge impressed and we were soon on another bridge spotting whitebait. Machete wielding DoC workers warned us about high winds at Heaphy Beach and on arrival at the hut no one braved the beach.
Tuesday. Heaphy Hut to Kohaihai River Mouth. 16.2km
As Bill promised it was fine and sunny this day. A deer wandered along our track then at Katipo Creek we watched two whio. We also saw several Powelliphanta. Just after the Katipo Shelter, foam stretched from the sea over the track to the bush. Wobbling and rippling, it came above our knees as we were forced to walk through it. Foam clung long after and we appeared to be wearing a job lot of ugg boots. A beach lunch in the sun preceded the last leg—Scots Beach to the Kohaihai River. At the high point of this section, looking down to, and across the river we tryed to spot Dan's car, I thought of my Karamea childhood picnics to Scots Beach. These had to be between milkings with suitable tides to wade the river. By 3 pm, we had crossed the swing bridge and were soon munching complimentary apples left by Derry in the car. At the Last Resort in Karamea, there was even time to sit in the sun before dinner.
Wednesday. Karamea to Christchurch
A slip in the Buller Gorge delayed us for 1½ hr but Reefton's bakery did not disappoint.
Weather dominated the trip—snow, hail, gales, sun—we had it all. We did appreciate the marvellous bush and tussocks, the good huts and each other's company. Many thanks to Dan for driving, excellent food and good leadership. We were: Dan Pryce, Lee Varty, Bill Hambidge, Pauline McFarlane, Helen Harkness. (HH)