The huge expanse of Kahurangi National Park encompasses 40,000 square kilometres of the northwestern South Island, between the wet and exposed western side of the Wakamarama Range and the limestone peaks of Mount Owen and Mount Arthur. Over half New Zealand’s native plant species are represented, as are most of its alpine plants, and the remote interior is a haven for wildlife, including rare carnivorous snails and giant cave spiders.
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The park’s extraordinary landscapes are best seen by walking the Heaphy Track (78km; 4–5 days), which links Golden Bay with Kohaihai Bluff on the West Coast. One of New Zealand’s Great Walks, it is appreciably tougher than the Abel Tasman Coast Track, though it compensates with beauty and the diversity of its landscapes – turbulent rivers, broad tussock downs and forests, and nikau palm groves at the western end. The track is named after Charles Heaphy who, along with Thomas Brunner, became the first European to walk the West Coast section of the route in 1846, accompanied by their Maori guide Kehu. Maori had long traversed the area heading down to central Westland in search of pounamu for weapons, ornaments and tools.
The western end of the track is over 400km by road from the eastern end, so if you leave gear at one end, you’ll have to re-walk the track, undertake a long bus journey, or fly back to your base at Nelson, Motueka or Takaka. Track transport only runs from late October to mid-April: in winter everything becomes more difficult, requiring taxis to reach trailheads.
The east coast end of the track starts at Brown Hut, 28km southwest of Collingwood. Golden Bay Coachlines run there from Nelson (departing 6.45am; $55), Motueka (8am; $45), Takaka (9.15am; $33) and Collingwood (9.35am; $24). From the west coast end of the track, you’ll arrive at the Kohaihai shelter, 10km north of Karamea. Even with the best connections you’ll need to spend nights in both Karamea and Nelson before returning to Takaka. The operators listed below provide services that can help avoid this.
0800 128 735,
trekexpress.co.nz. You’ll have to base yourself in Nelson, but they’ll run you from there to Brown Hut, pick you up at Kohaihai Shelter several days later, then run you back to Nelson that evening ($110).
Heaphy Track Help
03 525 9576,
heaphytrackhelp.co.nz. Takaka-based Derry Kingston will deliver your car to Karamea ($290 plus fuel costs). He then walks the track, meeting you partway to give you the keys.
0800 150 338,
remoteadventures.co.nz. Flying also gives you the chance to return to your car the same day you finish. This outfit will pick up in Karamea and fly to Takaka ($170/person).
Trail information and guided hikes
Download DOC’s Heaphy Track brochure, or buy one at an i-SITE. It includes a schematic map that is satisfactory for hiking, though it is helpful to carry the detailed 1:150,000 Kahurangi Park map ($19).
Bush and Beyond Guided Walks
03 528 9054,
naturetreks.co.nz. Guided walks along the track – and elsewhere in the park – are admirably handled by this ecologically caring operator, who run five-day trips ($1595).
Along the route, there are seven huts that must be booked and paid for year-round (Oct–April $30.60; May–Sept $15.50; book online at
doc.govt.nz), with heating, water and toilets (mostly flush). All except Brown and Gouland Downs have cooking stoves, but you need to carry your own pots and pans. There are also nine designated campsites that also must be booked (Oct–April $12.30, May–Sept $8.60) and are mostly close to huts, though you can’t use hut facilities. There is a two-night limit in each hut or campsite. Take all provisions with you, and go prepared for sudden changes of weather and a hail of sandflies.
Ninety percent of hikers walk the Heaphy Track from east to west, thereby getting the tough initial climb over with and taking it relatively easy on subsequent days.
Brown Hut to Perry Saddle Hut
(17km; 5hr; 800m ascent). A steady climb all the way along an old coach road, passing the Aorere campsite and shelter, and Flanagans Corner viewpoint – at 915m, the highest point on the track.
Perry Saddle Hut to Gouland Downs Hut
(7km; 2hr; 200m ascent). It’s a very easy walk across Perry Saddle through tussock clearings and down into a valley (passing the famed pole strung with used tramping boots) before crossing limestone arches to the hut. This is a great little eight-bunk hut (no cooking facilities) where you might hear kiwi at night.
Gouland Downs Hut to Saxon Hut
(5km; 1hr 30min, 200m descent). Crossing Gouland Downs, an undulating area of flax and tussock.
Saxon Hut to James Mackay Hut
(12km; 3hr; 400m ascent). Cross the grassy flatlands, winding in and out of small tannin-stained streams as they tip over into the Heaphy River below.
James Mackay Hut to Lewis Hut
(12.5km; 3–4hr; 700m descent). If you have the energy it is worth pressing on to a haven of nikau palms – but sadly also less welcome sandflies.
Lewis Hut to Heaphy Hut
(8km; 2–3hr; 100m ascent). It is possible to get from Lewis Hut to the track end in a day but it is more enjoyable to take your time and stop at the Heaphy Hut, near where you can explore the exciting Heaphy rivermouth: its narrow outlet funnels river water into a torrid sea, resulting in a maelstrom of sea and fresh water.
Heaphy Hut to Kohaihai
(16km; 5hr; 100m ascent). This final stretch is a gentle walk through forest down the coast until you reach Crayfish Point, where the route briefly follows the beach. Avoid this section within an hour of high tide, longer if it is stormy. Once you reach Scott’s Beach, you have only to climb over Kohaihai Bluff to find the Kohaihai Shelter car park on the other side – and hopefully your pre-arranged pick-up from Karamea.