Joe Betro's funeral

Zealand Publishing House also trading as Health House

60 day money-back guarantee

Friendly service and reasonable prices

Free courier in New Zealand

Home Page Place Order Bulletins FAQ Free Stuff Contact Us About Us

Heaphy Track Walk

New Zealand

David and Raymond Coory

9th to16th Feb 2004

Written by David Coory

The Heaphy river.

Overall impressions of the walk

  Water everywhere, tea-coloured rivers, gurgling streams in quiet bush
       and still more rivers.

  Wet, saturated rain forest and tussock land. No dry ground anywhere
       except inside huts.

  Four different countrysides each of the four days, some of it
       really beautiful.

  Mosquito size, biting sandflies that hover around all exposed skin
       whenever we stop outdoors for two or more minutes in daylight.

  Smell of insect repellent on walking companions.

  Interesting German, Dutch, Swiss and Belgium hut companions.
       More foreign language heard than English.

  Nuisance of trying to find things inside a pack.

  Two pair of eyes see a lot more than one pair.

  No snoring, even with 15 or more sleeping in one hut (one exception).

  Feet, knees and shoulders taxed with long distances and a heavy pack.

  Unstable on feet because of a heavy back pack and clumsy boots.

  Packs seem to increase in weight after four hours walking.

  A feeling of satisfaction that only comes from effort.

  Simple life, free of daily concerns and telephones. Feel really alive.


Monday 9 Feb  

I prepare my gear at home in Tauranga  

I do my normal work this morning at home in Tauranga, correspondence, emails, church banking, etc, and draw out $250 cash for expenses.

After lunch I glue the tongue of my tramping boots to the uppers to waterproof them and spray my pack with a rather smelly silicon spray to try and waterproof it.

I've also packed everything in plastic bags to keep them dry. When I did a test tramp in the Kaimai Ranges last month on a rainy Saturday, the pack got quite wet, especially the outside pockets.

My boots also got saturated, as the water leaked in down the sides of the tongue.    

Prayers for good weather  

Marie and I have prayed that the weather will be good on the Heaphy Track. Although I don't mind a little rain to test my wet weather gear, but not days of it, as so often happens in West Coast areas of the South Island, especially the Heaphy and Milford Tracks.   

Noisy flight to Wellington  

I drive to the airport with my wife Marie at 4-30pm. I tell her not to wait or she will probably get caught in the rush hour traffic.

I fly out at 5pm to Wellington on a noisy, old, Air Nelson twin engined SAAB. It vibrates badly. Hard to hold a conversation.

I remark about the noise to the stewardess on the way out and she admits that she worries about the long term effect on her hearing. She also says that some of the other stewardesses wear ear plugs. "Air Nelson are going to replace these planes later this year" she tells me. 

I meet my brother Raymond in Wellington  

Raymond meets me at Wellington airport. It is cold, wet and very windy. It costs him $5 to park for 20 minutes. His new car, a Toyota Windom (Lexus in NZ) is very smooth and mechanically quiet, even more so than my Mazda 929.

We stop at his Te Papa Museum office and photocopy maps of the Heaphy Track area.

The 82 kms we plan to walk looks to be a huge distance on the high detail maps.

Hot Malaysian food  

I greet Raymond's partner Jen back at their Johnsonville house. She looks well. Raymond typically laid back, has not yet packed for the hike, so he packs late into the night.

He also has a large foot blister from a recent training walk but has bought a special Scoll's blister cover. He plans to buy his food in Nelson tomorrow.

For our evening meal we all walk down to the Johnsonville shops, Raymond nursing his blistered foot somewhat. I wonder how it will  hold up to the 82 km (50 mile) walk coming up.

We eat at a Malaysian restaurant. A long wait, over half an hour. Raymond has bravely ordered a medium hot curry (Malaysian translation 'extremely hot'). As a result he continually wipes copious amounts of sweat from his brow throughout the meal.

My food isn't too bad, but is still very hot.

The small wiry Malaysian owner doesn't look much like your typical restaurant host. Possibly the result of too much curry. I'll settle for McDonalds next time.    

I sleep in Samantha's bed  

Jen has allocated me Samantha the cat's bed (a full size single) and a bedroom which is also her sewing room. Looks nice.

I close the door and get into bed and but the cat soon starts scratching to come in. So I let her in and get back into bed leaving the door open. She haughtily surveys me sitting in her bed, then stalks out the room and never comes back.

Our heavy packs. Both weighed 15 kgs each. 


Tuesday 10 Feb  

Windy night  

The roar of the strong blustery Wellington wind wakes me several times during the night, otherwise I sleep OK.

Raymond doesn't get much sleep however, as he gets to bed late after preparing his pack and equipment.

Flight to Nelson  

Jen drops us off at the Wellington airport early this morning, about 6.30am. Still raining, with a strong, cool wind.

We board the same kind of noisy SAAB plane that I came down in yesterday. I had meant to request rear seats as the stewardess told me they were the quietest, but I forgot. 

We arrive in Nelson in the South Island of New Zealand about 35 minutes later, travelling west, not south, as Nelson is level with Wellington on the map.

What a difference in weather. In sheltered Nelson it is mild and sunny with a gentle wind. Feels like Tauranga. 

Nelson and our backpacker's lodge  

Andy of 'Alan's Backpackers' meets us in his van. He is a small, slim man of about 45 and very helpful and caring.

As we drive through Nelson, I am impressed with the greenness, the many trees, and the sea. Yes very much like Tauranga, but without the heavy traffic.

Raymond tells me he visited Nelson just a few weeks ago with Jen, when they were driving back from their trip to Dunedin.

The Backpackers house only costs us each $23 a night. There are young German girls and a few Asians staying also. All cheerful and wholesome and full of smiles. A nice atmosphere.

The house is about 1950's vintage. There are seats and a picnic table in the back yard and large mature trees.

The quiet street outside is unusual, as there is a wide, fenced concrete canal with a fast flowing stream, running down the middle.

 Andy's wife is nice. Very relaxed. They are trying to raise the ratings of their establishment and tonight is the annual rating night. However anybody staying in a Backpackers on rating night are not allowed to rate the establishment on the form provided. This is to minimise bribery I suppose, otherwise we may have got a free bed .

The backpackers house in Nelson where we stayed.
A canal runs down the middle of this street.   

Bike ride into town to buy food  

It is still early in the morning, only about 8-30am and our bedroom is still occupied. So I suggest to Raymond that we use two of the pushbikes available and ride into town. This was quite novel to Raymond as he hadn't ridden a bike in years.

So we each select a bike from the ten or so in the garage. We find helmets that fit, and off we go. Great fun! 

We park the bikes at the head of Nelson's main downtown street, just below the Cathedral on the hill and lock them to a wrought iron, tree surround. Then we walk downtown.

Reasonably busy. We look at a few cars for sale and eventually find a supermarket. Raymond buys several types of muesli, milk powder, a drink bottle and some fruit. 

He also buys two dehydrated hiker's meals from an Outdoors shop. These cost him about $10 each. In another Outdoors shop we also look at a self-inflating mattress. The man demonstrates it to us but I am not over impressed. Even inflated it is still thin and hard. Raymond notes that this shop has the de-hydrated meals priced $1 cheaper.

We then cross the road, unlocked our bikes and ride back to the Backpackers.

Our bedroom turns out to be small, but cosy. It has two comfortable beds (but thin pillows), a table, chair and wardrobe.

Nelson Backpacker's bedroom, $23 a night each.

Our transport and hut arrangements  

I then phone the Kahurangi bus service (free local calls) and arrange for them to pick us up at 6.45am tomorrow morning to take us to the Heaphy Track. 

I am concerned that we might not wake up in time, so I phone Marie using her cell phone that she insisted I take, and ask her to call us on the phone at 6.15am tomorrow morning.

We then prepare our lunch in the Backpacker's kitchen. I try out my wheat- porridge-milk powder-raisin mix (to save food weight).

I only eat half the amount I have set aside per day and I am full.

We also had some of the Anzac biscuits that Andy's wife makes free every day and leaves on a plate in the kitchen. 

After lunch we decide to ride back into town and buy our Heaphy Track hut tickets from the DOC (Dept of Conservation) office.

When we get there the DOC office is crowded. A helpful, personable officer almost sells us a full package that would have taken care of all our uncertain travel arrangements back to Nelson airport from the end of the track, but at the last minute a call comes back to him confirming what I had understood all along; that there is no transport from Karamea (where the track ends) to Westport (the nearest major town) on the weekends. And that the Westport bus does not get into Nelson early enough to catch the plane we're booked on to fly back to Wellington.

So it is back to our original uncertain 'wing it' plan of taxi and rental car.

Marie has kindly offered to pay our $120 taxi fare from Karamea to Westport if necessary.

Takes us about an hour in the DOC office. Costs us $14 a night each for the three Heaphy Track hut stays.

Riding our bikes in Nelson. This photo was taken by
 a friendly German girl.   

Long bike ride out to a good car museum  

We then decided to bike out to the Car Museum, by the airport. This turns out to be a lot further than we think. Nelson is a long, spaced out city with lots of hills and ridges.

Raymond does not like the hills at all, being unused to riding a bike, whereas I've ridden a bike in Tauranga for years. I notice when following him, that he is often still pedalling while I am coasting.

(We swapped bikes on the way home and the reverse happened. The problem was the off-road, knobbly tyres on Raymond's bike which create a lot of drag.) 

The car museum, called the 'World of Wearable Art & Collectable Cars' has a massive white 1988 Excalibre parked outside.

Massive white 1988 Excalibre outside Nelson museum. 

We have a light meal at the museum cafe before going inside. Admission is $15 each. Raymond had visited this museum on his recent visit to Nelson and had been quite impressed.

I am also impressed with the classy selection of cars and tell Raymond who is 12 years younger than me, that most of these cars could be seen on the roads of Lower Hutt back in the 1950's when I was a child. Raymond seemed surprised at this.

We also have a look at the Wearable Art part of the Museum but find it boring.

We ride back along the coast road to avoid the hills. It is a lovely scenic ride, but the rush hour evening traffic is heavy. It looks as if Nelson traffic is starting to approach Tauranga-like density as the city grows. Nelson like Tauranga has some topography problems, especially the ridge hills.

We must have ridden about 20 kms in all.  

Business crisis  

When we get back to the Backpackers house there is an urgent phone message for me regarding the planned manufacture of the latest batch of our CAA capsules. Evidently the Cobalt B12 level exceeds allowable standards. I decide there is little I can do about it so leave it to my wife Marie and Clare of Vita-Fit our manufacturer to sort it out. 

It seems every time I go away by myself there is a business or family crisis of one sort or another. However it always seem to turn out for the best, so I decide to forget about it.

This hike an adventure for me  

I haven't felt hungry so far, probably the excitement of the challenge of the walk. Tramping 82 kms with a heavy15 kg pack for the first time ever, in unknown territory, and at the mercy of wet weather and river flooding is quite an adventure for me.


Wednesday 11 Feb  

Riding the buses out to the track  

We both slept OK last night, trusting in Marie to phone us, which she did.

I awoke earlier, so I have a shower. We are both out on the footpath at 6.45am to catch our bus. 

There is already a small bus and trailer waiting, but it has come to pick up a German girl to go kayaking. Our bus arrives soon after. It is about a 20 seater, towing a trailer for packs, etc. The fare cost us $42 each. 

There is only a blond Belgium girl on at first. She is backpacking through Australia and NZ alone. She is wearing hiking shorts and I am surprised to see her tanned legs thickly covered in light brown hair. I suppose shaving legs is not a priority for such outdoor types, although she otherwise looks very feminine, with clear skin and blond hair piled up high. (Later, one of my sisters who has travelled widely in Europe, on reading this account, informs me that most European women do not bother to shave their legs. It is almost universally done in new Zealand.)

We pick up several other trampers on the journey. 

After about 60 kms of nice coastal scenery, with lots of bays and inlets, we arrive at Motueka and stop for a 10 minute break.

Then the bus has a huge climb over the Takaka Hills Road, amid countryside of fractured, dark brown stone.

(We were to see much of this sort of this fractured, brown rocky terrain over the next two days.) 

After another 55 kms we arrive in Takaka, and finally Collingwood, a little fishing village far to the west of the top of the South Island. Here we change buses to go inland to the Heaphy Track. 

The smaller Nissan bus we are in now is a real boneshaker after the smooth Toyota one we have been travelling in.

It is about 30 kms into the track and on the way the bus has to ford three rivers. These rivers can make the road impassable after several days of rain.

The scenery is starting to look impressive already, with towering hills all around us.    

Sandflies attack

We finally arrive at Brown Hut, at the Heaphy Track entrance around 10.30am.

There are about eight of us all together. An educated, professional-sounding man from Perth named John Bates, with a Leki hiking stick, a personable Dutchman, Reynold and his pretty, smiling, blond partner or wife Angelique. Another Dutch girl and her German girl friend, and three young men, Swiss and German also I think, and a lone Englishman Ben, from Brighton.

We are only out of the bus about three minutes when the sandflies find us and start biting. So much for the hope they wouldn't bite me.

Tauranga sandflies don't bite me, but these ones do, and with a vengeance. They are actually not sandflies, but a biting fly, about four times bigger than a sandfly. They breed in areas with lots of fast flowing streams and are a major plague on the West Coast of the South island here in New Zealand.

 We all have to quickly apply insect repellent. Raymond is offered the use of a stick repellent from the Australian, but it smells horrible, like the cleaner they use in Japanese import and rental cars.

I use my spray can of 'Repel', which doesn't have a lingering smell, but can severely sting your eyes. We find we have to cover every bit of exposed skin or the sandflies bite in the areas we've missed, like the backs of our elbows.

The 'Boneshaker' bus dropping us off
 at the track entrance.      
From left to right: Reynold , Angelique, the driver, and me.   

We start our walk  

The bus drives off and we shouldered our packs and begin our hike through the trees.

It is overcast, calm, and very wet from overnight rain.

The track is wide enough to drive a four wheeled farm bike along, which is what they use for maintenance. As a result the track has wheel ruts and a high crown in the middle, so two people can easily walk side by side. 

We were to find out later that this width only applies to the first half of the track. The second part of the track on the West Coast side of the range is a single track.

The track surface is mostly the same brown, broken rock we saw earlier on the Takaka Hill road. But sometimes it is made up of grey or mottled river stones and rather uneven to walk on.

We start our walk.  

Tea brown water in the rivers  

We soon come to a bridge over a medium sized river, aptly called the Brown River. The water is dark brown and transparent, like beer or tea.

We were to find that all the rivers on the Heaphy Track, with few exceptions, have this dark brown water. The official explanation is that it is caused by Tannin from the leaves and roots of Beech trees. But this explanation doesn't match my observations, for we see that the water is equally brown in the small streams on the high tussock country on Day Two, without a Beech tree on the horizon for miles.

I believe it is more likely due to the fractured dark brown rock of the Kahurangi Range.

Apart from the tank rain water at the huts, I drink some of this brown water during the four days of our walk. It has no unusual taste. 

The tea brown water of all the rivers in
 the Kahurangi Ranges   

We meet our first ranger  

We walk about 8kms, uphill over rough stones. On the way we meet an old ranger coming the other way. "You're in for a great walk," he says to us, and tells us of landmarks to watch out for, to mark our progress on this first leg.

We hear later from another ranger that this old ranger was on his way into town for urgent medical treatment and may have to retire.

The sun now comes out and it gets quite warm and humid. 

Stop for lunch  

After about two hours, we stop on the track to have lunch. The sandflies catch up with us again and also decide to have lunch. They quickly find the parts of our skin we have not treated properly. I have to spray my whole neck and face. 

As there is nowhere dry to sit down anywhere, I spread out my pack's plastic cover and we sit on that.

Raymond has muesli and fruit and I have my wheat porridge-milk powder-raisin mix. Tastes nice, but I again I can only eat half.

I also have an orange picked from our tree at home and cut it up with the multi-purpose pocket knife my daughter Harmony bought me for Christmas. I share it with Raymond. Tastes delicious.

Our first and only rain on the track  

The two German girls catch up with us as we finish lunch, also the Dutch couple Reynold and Angelique.

It has now become overcast and suddenly begins to rain, so we all put on our rain jackets, or large poncho for one of the German girls.

I also put on my Oz hat, and just as I hoped, it was ideal in the rain and stopped water going down my neck.

However I find it hot wearing the parka raincoat and am grateful to to take it off when the rain stops about 45 minutes later.

It never rains again while we are out walking, the whole four days.

We kept climbing, through a Beech forest which has a black lichen growing on the trunks of many of the trees. Apart from this feature, most of the forest is attractive, but rather ordinary on this first day.

Black lichen grows on the trunks of many trees.  

We reach the Aorere shelter  

We have again left the other hikers behind and soon came to the Aorere shelter, which is 17 kms from the start of the track.

This open sided hut is rather like a bus shelter. There is a smelly, long drop toilet (just a deep hole in the ground with a wooden toilet frame built over it) with toilet paper and an outside wash basin with tap water. There is also an area for camping.

We rest a while, glad to take our packs off as they are getting quite heavy and putting pressure on our shoulders. One of Raymond's arms is also getting a little numb from lack of circulation.

We don't stay there too long, as we begin to get a little cold in a breeze that has arisen. The sandflies have also caught up with us again.

We are now nearly a kilometre high in altitude.

The Aorere shelter. That's me spraying
 against the sandflies.   

Five minute detour track  

Next we come to a short, five minute detour track to a high point lookout.

It's a relief to leave our heavy packs by the side of the track and walk this very rough track without a weight on our backs.

We are higher up than we thought. This area is the highest point on the track, about 950 metres.

Rough track to the lookout.   

We arrive at Perry Saddle Hut  

From here, the Perry Saddle Hut where we plan to stay the night is only half an hour's walk. It is good to see it in the distance.

When we arrive, John Bates the gentleman from Perth is already there, engaged in an animated, intellectual discussion with a gregarious and voluble 69 year old American Literary Professor from Colorado, Jerry Hannah.

The keen English tramper Ben has also just arrived. He soon leaves us to climb a rock mountain behind the hut, two hours return. He is obviously a lot fitter than me. I don't feel up to it at all. Raymond doesn't volunteer to go either.

His blister does not appear to be troubling him. Our main discomfort of the day are sore shoulders from the pack straps. I later have a private prayer that this will not trouble us too much during the tramp and from today on it wasn't a problem.

The Perry Saddle hut where we stay the first night.  

Swimming hole blocked off  

As I go out to take a photo of the hut, the other trampers arrive. The older German girl wants to know where the swimming hole is. She wants to have a swim, no matter how cold the water is. But the access track down to the swimming hole is taped off.

We later find out from a ranger that an old longdrop toilet had been seeping into the water and contaminating it, so they blocked the track access.

The two new long drop toilets at this hut have a terrible smell.  

Raymond starts the fire  

It starts to get cool, so Raymond starts a fire in the coal fired stove. It is a bit smoky at first.

There are also gas cookers and a sink with running water in the hut. Huge gas bottles are helicoptered in, along with coal and kindling wood.

The stove a bit smoky at first.  

Keith the Kiwi beekeeper  

Keith, a fit and bearded Kiwi (nick name for a New Zealander) beekeeper arrives at the hut from the other direction. He is a part time porter who carries food into the huts for the guided tours.

He tells us he carries 30 kgs at a time (twice our pack weight)  and walks the  four day track in just two days. He has done it about thirty times so far he tells me.

He is a keen, greenie type. "Make sure you do that walk up the mountain at the back before you go tomorrow," he says. "The view's fantastic and it will only take you a couple of hours."

Yeah right! Tomorrow's walk is 27 km, nearly seven hours, the longest on the whole track. That's probably my absolute limit. Nevertheless I would have liked to have climbed the rock mountain.    

The huge weta and snail shell  

Ben later comes back from his climb up the rock mountain. On the way back, not far from the hut he has found a huge dead weta, about four inches long. It looks like a carved wooden toy. The girls don't think it's real. Raymond assures them that it is real. They are called the West Coast Bush Weta.

He has also found a giant native snail shell, called a Powelliphanta. Raymond demonstrates how this kind of snail shell is tough and leathery when fresh, not thin and brittle like a garden snail. You can't crush it. However they do become brittle when aged.

Later Raymond finds some unusual spiders under the outside verandah. I think they were Orb web.

The Bush Weta. About 4" or 10 cm long.   

Our evening meal  

We all have our evening meal. I have more dry food, this time a mix of porridge, full cream milk powder and chocolate chips. Again very filling, and again I can only eat half. Maybe I should market it as a weight loss product.

Most of the others have dehydrated foods like the two Raymond has bought. However I think Raymond has muesli on this occasion.

All the others also make tea or coffee by boiling water on the gas stove. All evening long I hear the click of the electric gas lighter. I don't care for hot water drinks myself.

Raymond with two of the campers.   

Pleasant conversation and camaraderie  

I am pleasantly surprised by the conversation and camaraderie that develops in the hut as it gets dark and the stove warms the hut. There are about ten of us staying, plus some campers in tents outside.

There are long discussions involving Jerry the writing professor, my brother Raymond and Reynold, regarding the merits of different fiction authors, etc.

I feel a bit left out as I have little interest in fiction. However, later as I shared what I did as a health writer and publisher, Jerry seems extremely interested, especially in my CAA mineral and vitamin capsules and wants to try some. So we exchanged web pages.

Jerry lives in Colorado half the year, and he and his wife winter in Hamner Springs near Christchurch, New Zealand during our summer. Many Americans do this throughout New Zealand.

The conversation soon led to health and modern farming methods, two of my interests. I find Keith the beekeeper very informative, as he is also a registered organic farmer. I learn from Keith that superphosphate is totally banned in New Zealand organic farming due to its high acidity, pH 1.5.

Ben from England tells me that he has also been an organic farmer in the UK.

Off to bed  

Soon it becomes too dark to see properly and there is no electricity in the huts. So we all climb into our chosen bunks to sleep in our sleeping bags.

Some of us read for a while. I try out my LED head torch. I am surprised how bright it is in the total darkness of the hut. The two AAA batteries are supposed to last 100 hours in LED mode, or only two hours using the optional ordinary type bulb which gives a concentrated light beam as opposed to a diffuse, bluish beam using the triple LED bulbs. The torch is fastened to my forehead with an elastic strap around the back of my head, just like a miner's lantern, so it shines its light wherever I look. Ideal for reading in the dark.

Luckily the sandflies vanish at night, also fortunately, they do not appear to like coming indoors.

Our mattresses are about four inches (100mm) thick and are covered in a tough, green plastic. They are reasonably comfortable, but noisy in a crinkly  sort of way whenever someone turns over or moves. The noise seems exaggerated in the quiet of the hut at night. 


Next day Thursday 12th Feb

Home Page

Place Order Prices FAQ Free Stuff Contact Us About Us