Surely a mistake – The Heaphy is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks!
While the Queen Charlotte track has been enjoyed by trampers and bikers for some years, this is the first year the Heaphy Track is open (on a 3 year trial over the winter) to mountain bikers. It’s taken years and many management plans to allow mountain bikers on the track - so for many of us who have watched this debate go on riding the Heaphy in the first year was a must, and this was the last weekend it is open. The track was flooded with bikers who had the same idea – principally from Christchurch, Nelson and Wellington.
Trampers were a rarity. We always gave them a smile as we moved to pass one another on the track, and the young international trampers reciprocated. Wasn’t always true of the kiwi trampers, or the older ones. Seemed that sharing track with bikers was not all ok
Day 1. Leave Christchurch and drive to Karamea. Unpacked and rode about 3 hours to Heaphy Hut. Along spectacular beaches where we had to push or carry our bikes, over narrow swing bridges that seemed to respond like a giant snake would to us pushing our bikes over their backs, past dead baleen whale, and finally carry bike through thigh deep water to the hut rather than across another swing bridge and up a track.
The hut was full with mountain bikers. I had been content to carry the weight of smoked salmon from my butcher and pasta rather than dehydrated food to enjoy a great meal on the first night on the ride. While my companions were content to eat early I decided that even in a remote hut I would not before the 6pm news (it makes for a long night otherwise). Afterwards I learnt to play euka and then it was time for bed.
Up on first light, breakfast and on the bike again 8am. The climb up from the Heaphy river to the tops and James Mackay hutt took a solid 2 hours. Mud, and some roots meant a fair bit of bike pushing. Fantastic views from the hut to the Heaphy river and the beautiful beaches on the west coast.
The ride along the tops to Saxon Hut was fantastic. Good track, and plenty of cruisy downhills. Gowland Downs provided a completely different landscape for us. It was great to reach Perry Saddle hut after a steady bike ride up a rocky packhorse track. Did you realise that is the origin of much of the track? A route for those exploring for gold in late 1800’s? I met a workmate from Nelson biking along this stretch. Weather closing in.
In the hut was a large group of men having a late lunch before heading off to the next and very closeby hut with very generous stock of alcohol. Their partners are heading opposite direction and will be together next night. One works for my brother, another has his son being looked after by my sister!
Leisurely afternoon for most of us, but two of our group decided to complete the track and cycled down the hill to the end and then climbed 2 hours back. Crazy. Shortly after a group from Wellington tramping club, on bikes, arrived at the hut. Later that night we enjoyed paua caught and beautifully cooked by an economist in their group taking a break. Used fresh eggs and lemons, while almost every one else relied on dehydrated meals.
Next day is wet. Shortly after we start one of my companions point out a very odd noise coming from my back wheel. When I stop to inspect it my heart sinks when I find that my old carrier has sheared off it’s clasps. Good planning amongst my group gives up a strap and bolt that allows me to reattach carrier. The day remains eventful when I hear something falling through bush around corner. I peer down the bank to see guy on bike in amongst shrubs after bouncing off rock on track, losing balance and tumbling over bank. Wanted to take photo but didn’t know the man – wish I had. Helped drag his bike back up to the track.
The ride down from James McKay to the Heaphy river was great fun – definitely the best direction to ride that stretch of track. Still plenty of very muddy bogs that can not be ridden.
Three of our group decided to forsake their reserved bunks, and bike out to watch the All Blacks play that night. The rest of us were very happy spend another night away from “civilisation” in the company of 1000’s of sandflies.
I became a wee bit anxious that my packing was too good – seemed like I had just enough dehydrated food for my remaining dinner and breakfast. Weather or accident would have meant I became hungry. Debated with another who had deliberately packed another days rations, who had it right?
Would recommend that you give the ride a go next winter – only need an ordinary mountain bike, small pack, reasonable fitness and a big smile! It’s more demanding than Queen Charlotte, but still accessible to all.
Our group was mostly experienced mountain bikers, but we had one newbie. Age ranged from mid 20’s to late 60’s (or more). Bikes ranged in value from second hand several hundred dollars, to $10k+. Most biking the track had done nothing like it before.
Make sure your bike is serviced before your ride (and will have to do same after). New disks in brakes particularly important because the Heaphy mud seems to be particularly abrasive.
The cheapest bike we saw on the track was the $75 purchase from Trademe. The rider had a major problem when we came across him – one of his pedals had completely sheared off. He chose to bike on in search of a bolt to create a makeshift pedal! We didn’t like his chances.
We carried 8 – 10kgs all up. Some had it all in their backpack, while I had some in my pack and the remainder on a carrier. Www.Freeload.co.nz for a great NZ mountainbike carrier.
North to south is definitely the direction to travel as the grind up from the Heaphy River is best avoided. Staying at huts for two nights along the way is good idea. There is a selection of huts, about 1 -2 ½ hours apart. With gas and firewood laid on you are never far away from shelter and a warm cuppa; every hut seemed to have several misplaced billy’s there to boil water in.
And toilets are surprisingly good – flush!