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How to hike the Heaphy Track NZ: Your ultimate guide

The Heaphy track NZ is one of the most spectacular walks I have experienced in New Zealand (to date). The native flora and fauna is absolutely breathtaking and changes each day of the walk. There is just so much colour, formations and textures to explore including open tussock, lush forests, wild West Coast bush and stunning beaches. It’s definitely a trip to remember! And the best part? You can complete it in 3 full days. (If you are prepared to slug it out, walking 6-8 hours each day). Or, even faster if you bike! (Biking season is May 1 to November 30). 

Most people take an average of 4-5 days to complete the hike but believe me, it is possible in 3!

Sound like something you might be into?

You may be wondering…

Where is the Heaphy Track?

heaphy

The Heaphy Track is located between Golden Bay (the top of the South Island) and Kohaihai on the West Coast. You can start the hike from either end and it is roughly 78 km one way.

What can you expect from the Heaphy track weather:

Being aware of the weather is always important when heading out on a hike and keeping yourself safe is a must! The Heaphy hike can be done all year around luckily but keeping in mind that New Zealand weather can be super unpredictable it always pays to check the weather forecast and expect weather changes. The most popular time to walk the track is in the warmer months over the Christmas period through to Easter, however during Autumn the heaphy track weather is often found to be calm and settled. This time of the year is also a good option due to the lower numbers in people on the track.

Heaphy Track transport options:

Most people drive to one end of the track and catch a bus or plane back to their car at the other end. It does take a little bit of effort working out the dynamics but it is worth it I promise! There are also public transport options. Check out a few tips below.

Option 1: Drive to one end of the track and bus back:

Drive to Kohaihai the start of the Western section of the hike (1 hour 10 minutes from Westport and 5 hours from Nelson). Or, drive to Brown Hut the start of the Eastern section of the hike (2.5 hours from Nelson).

Arrange your Heaphy track transport from either end depending on which way you walk. You would be able to take The Heaphy Bus or Trek Express if they are running that day and numbers permit. I would suggest checking out their websites and even calling both of the companies and seeing what they can do. The cost to pick up from either end and take you back to your car looks as though it costs $190 per person ($120 to get you from Kohaihai to Nelson and then $70 to get you from Nelson to Brown Hut and reverse). I would definitely give the companies a call to see the best way of doing things as they may have some discounted rates they could offer.

Another option is Golden Bay Coachlines that looks slightly cheaper. The cost to get you from Brown Hut to Kohaihai track, transport is $140 per person and the same in reverse. Again, it is best to contact the office to make a booking!

Option 2: Drive to one end of the track and fly back:

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If you drive to one end of the track you can catch a flight from the closest airport. The closest airport to the Eastern end of the track is Takaka. The closest airport to the Western end of the track is Karamea. Golden Bay Air has a good website outlining flight times and shuttle times from the airport to start of the track.

Option 3: Fly to and from both ends of the track:

If you are thinking of flying to the Eastern section of the track your closest airport is in Takaka which is about 55 km from Brown Hut. If you are thinking of flying to the Western section of the track your closest airport is in Karamea which is roughly 16 km from Kohaihai (the start of the track). These options will probably leave you with the question…

But, how do we get to the start of the track from the airports? And rightly so.

Your first option would be to take the airlines shuttle bus. Again, Golden Bay Air has a good website outlining the shuttle times.

The second option would be able to take The Heaphy Bus or Trek Express if they are running that day and numbers permit. I would suggest checking out their websites and even calling both of the companies and seeing what they can do.

They have set prices for routes from Nelson – Brown Hut ($70 per person one way) and Nelson – Kohaihai ($120 per person one way) but the fares may be different depending where you need picked up along the way.

To book a flight to Takaka check out air transport services for Takaka. To book a flight to Karamea check out air transport services for Karamea. Flight prices can change depending on how many seats are available. Sometimes you can pick up a cheap seat if the plane is full.

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Option 4: Bus to both ends of the track:

There are a few companies that can get you to and from the Heaphy Track as mentioned above. These are Trek Express, The Heaphy Bus and Golden Bay Coachlines. Most of the fares start and end in Nelson but you can get picked up along route. I would suggest calling all of the companies and seeing what they can offer depending on the number of people in your group and time you want to depart. They do have fixed prices and times on their websites but these can be subject to change.

Option 5: Drive to one end of the track and get your car relocated to the other end:

There is an amazing service run by a local couple Jodie and Lew, who help relocate your car from one end of the track to the other. The cost at the moment is $330 per relocation. I would suggest giving them a call too as they may offer discounted rates depending on how many cars need relocated! Their website is called heaphytrackhelp. Click here to have a look!

Or, if you are lucky enough to have friends who are walking the track at the same time it is possible to meet along the track and swap keys! That would be the cheapest and ideal situation.

Okay so hopefully that gives you a little taster of the dynamics of the Heaphy Track NZ.

You may be interested to know how it is all possible to be done in 3 days! Check out below our detailed plan and see for yourself if it is something you would like to do.

How to hike the Heaphy track NZ in 3 days!

Day 1: Brown Hut – Gouland Downs:

heaphy

This was an epic first day hiking the steepest part of the track over Perry Saddle and down into the hut at Goulands. Don’t worry about the climb it’s not as bad as you think! The highest point is 915 m above sea level. On your way up you will get to experience stunning scenery through red and silver beech trees and hopefully see a cheeky fantail and robin. On your way to Perry Saddle there is a perfect rest spot located at Aorere Shelter with a picnic bench and toilet. If you are running low on water don’t fear! Perry Saddle is near! You can fill up bottles at the newly built hut.

Now that you have made it over the saddle its downhill from here and you’re in for a treat! Walking into Gouldand downs is spectacular. You get to hike down to a nearly flat service immersed with rivers, 500 million year old rocks, flax, shrubs and tussock. It really feels like you are in another land with the dense forest lurking above.

Once you make it down to the gorgeous old fashion hut I highly suggest dumping your packs and heading into the forbidden forrest about 5 minutes away. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me as you get to experience a fairy land filled with secret caves, crazy formations and incredible, dense, green and mossy flora. If you want to know a little more about the forbidden forrest I would suggest taking a peep inside Perry Saddle hut at one of the rangers maps which goes into great detail about where to find the caves and running waterfall!

Time: 6-7 hours

Distance: 22 km

Little side note… If you really want to get the most out of the first day I would suggest staying the night at Brown Hut (5 mins walk from the car park) or in Takaka so you can start bright and early.

Day 2: Gouland downs to Lewis Hut:

forbidden forest

Forbidden Forest

This part of the hike is just as magical as the first. You get to wake up and wander back through the forbidden forest, open tussock fields, beech trees and bedrock. Keep an eye out for the bright and funky coloured mushrooms!

The newly built James Mackay hut is a perfect spot for lunch especially if you are caught in the rain! From there it is all downhill to around 300m. Enjoy the change in scenery to native NZ pine such as rimu, matai and kahikatea. Other broad level species appear which give the forest amazing diversity and colour. Enjoy!

Make your way down to the beautiful and cozy Lewis Hut right beside the river. Once you get to Lewis Hut I highly recommend putting on the fire because it is freezing in there! We were silly enough to crack open a glass of wine on the porch before settling in (bad move).

Time: 7-8 hours

Distance: 28 km

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Day 3: Lewis Hut- Kohaihai:

heaphy river bridge

What a walk! This section will honestly blow your mind. There is just so much beauty to be seen. I was in awe pretty much the whole time (apart from the roaring sea breeze). Your first treat is within 5 minutes of leaving Lewis Hut where you get to cross a massive swing bridge over the Heaphy River! You then get to immerse yourself amongst the beautiful nikau palms, wild westcoast bush and beaches.

There really are so many opportunities to stop and look at the beauty surrounding you. The newly built Heaphy Hut is in a perfect location to stop and have a bite to eat while getting to stop and view the river (swimming in the river is dangerous as it is very tidal and has strong currents). From here you can also see the river mouth. The end is in reach!

There are plenty of places where you can take your boots off and stop for food along the many beaches. I would suggest Scotts Beach as it is perfectly located before a small uphill climb over Kohaihai saddle.

And you made it!

heaphy track

Kohaihai is a beautiful place and a perfect west coast experience. It feels completely off the grid and a wonderful place to end your trek.

Time- 6-7 hours

Distance: 23.5 km

Heaphy track bookings and Hut facilities:

Most of the huts along the track are in perfect condition fitted with running water, gas, toilets, comfortable bunks, all the necessary cooking equipment and fireplaces. Gouldand Downs and Brown Hut are the only huts that do not having cooking facilities so you need to bring your own burners and equipment. The 3 newest huts are Perry Saddle, James Mackay and Heaphy Hut. They have really nice facilities and are often fully booked.

If you’re interested in booking the Heaphy Track huts head on over to the Department of Conservation website here. 

What should I bring?

  • Water
  • Food
  • Toiletries
  • Hiking Boots
  • Warm Clothes (for the hut and for hiking). 
  • Rain Jacket
  • Sun Hat
  • Sun Screen
  • Gloves
  • Hiking Pack 
  • Beanie 
  • Newspaper (for the fire) 
  • First Aid Kit 
  • Sleeping Bag 
  • Headlight 
  • Matches or lighter 
  • Pack Liner
  • Pack Cover (for the rain)
  • Cooker, pots pans and utensils (if staying at Browns Hut or Gouland Downs).
  • Cup 

So there you have it. I hope this information serves as some use to you and saves you spending needless hours on many different websites sorting out your plans. If you have any questions feel free to drop them in the comment box below! I am more than happy to help! And if you’re keen to see more hiking options at the top of the south check out my post: Everything You Need To Know About Hiking The Abel Tasman Coast Track

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Comments

  1. Sze Ying says

    Hi Lee,

    Thanks for your entry! It is soooo useful as i cant seem to find anyone one else who has finished the hike in 3 days – which is what i am planning on doing in Feb 2019.
    I think there is no cell signal along the trek? Did you carry a Sat phone?

    Also, would you say the trek is so well marked that getting lost is rather difficult?

    Many thanks!
    Sze Ying

    • Lee says

      Hi Sze!

      You’re very welcome. I am glad it has been useful for you!

      How exciting you’re doing the Heaphy Track! It is definitely do-able in 3 days.

      You’re right, there is hardly any reception on the track. I remember getting a little reception when we were walking next to the beach on the West Coast.

      No, I didn’t carry a Sat phone. I felt completely safe the whole time knowing how many people walk the track and the fact DOC rangers walk the track everyday. In peak season (Dec/Jan/Feb) they will certainly check on you in the Huts (also to check you have paid your pass!),

      The track is marked extremely well! It is well paved and sign posted. They even have signs letting you know when you’re within 1km of a hut. I think you will be rather talented if you get lost on the track, haha.

      I hope you enjoy the hike and let me know if you have any more questions!

      Thanks for reading,
      Lee

  2. Pele O'Brien says

    Hi Lee,

    Hubby & i planning to hike Abel Tasman in November 🙂 I was thinking of hiking Heaphy track after that?… Will it be good to hike it then?…in november, i mean?

    • Lee says

      Hey Pele! How exciting! You guys are going to have a blast I’m sure. Are you planning on doing the whole thing? As for the Heaphy…

      November is a great time to go as the weather is slightly warmer and less unpredictable but it is also mountain biking season until the 30th… So, if you guys are alright with sharing the track with the bikers then no worries. If I could pick though, I would avoid this time and try and go beginning of December if you can! Unless you want to bike it that is 🙂

      How long are you planning to do the Heaphy for?

  3. Pelenise OBrien says

    Hi Lee,
    I’m a nurse so i won’t be able to do the heaphy track in december. I only have 1 week off, therefore probably won’t be able to hike it in a week haha!
    Hubby & i doing Abel Tasman, then maybe spend a few days doing day hikes in Nelson. What would you recommend, please.

    • Lee says

      Oh a week definitely isn’t long enough to do the Abel Tasman and Heaphy! But it’s definitely long enough to do some day hikes. A nice half day hike is Whispering Falls just out of Nelson. I wrote a post about it actually. Here is the link: https://befreewithlee.com/whispering-falls/.
      Cable bay is a lovely walkway just out of the city that overlooks a beautiful rugged coastline! The Grampians, centre of NZ and Barnicoat range are all easy 1-3 hour walks 🙂 If you have the time I would recommend hiking to Mt Arthur or Mt Loadstone they are beautiful 1 day walks. I hope that gives you some ideas and let me know if you have any other questions! I hope you enjoy the top of the South as much as I did!

  4. Paul says

    Thanks for this. I’m considering doing this in late Jan but thinking of doing a yoyo (out and back). To break up the return I’d stay at different sites. Thinking of this itinerary
    Arrive and O/n Brown hut.
    Day 1 Brown hut to Gouland Downs 22k
    Day 2 Gouland Downs to Heaphy hut 34k
    Day 3 Heaphy hut to Scott’s Beach via Kōhaihai Shelter 18 k
    Day 4 Scott’s Beach to Lewis hut 20k
    Day 5 Lewis hut to Saxon Hut 22k
    Day 6 Saxon Hut to Brown hut – o/n at Brown hut. 27k
    Interested in your thoughts on that as an itinerary?

    • Lee says

      Hey Paul!

      Generally, 20 km a day is a good distance to tramp. What is your level of hiking experience? It sounds like you are not afraid a multi-day tramp! Your itinerary sounds varied which is good. Day 1 and 5 will be the hardest due to the uphill climb.

      For a yoyo I think the places you are staying at are well placed and the longest day of 34km is all downhill. The track is well marked and easy to walk on so it really just depends on your fitness level and hiking experience. Have you considered biking the track?

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