Girls Mountain Bike Network
The Heaphy track is one of NZ’s great walks. Recently it was opened up to MTB as a 3 year trial after years of lobbying and advocating by the MTB community. The trial ends in 2013 and riding is permitted between May 1 and Sept 30 only.
Facts and figures
Depending where you start and finish the track is 80kms long and at the moment is the only multi-day ride available through a National Park in NZ. The track is graded intermediate and turns very quickly to advanced in the rain. You need to be able to be self-sufficient for the days you are out there, it’s miles from civilization. Most people do it in 2 or 3 days in one direction. The track runs across the top left hand corner of New Zealand’s south island west coast, along what was once planned to be a highway. You can always be guaranteed of a few key experiences on our west coast and the Heaphy will provide them all in abundance – they are rain, biting sandflies and diverse spectacular scenery – still want to go - then read on.
This is a point to point ride and the end point is some 5 hours by road from the start point. There are lots of local options to get around this, shuttle, flying, key swaps etc. We chose to ride the track in both directions and fully appreciate it and not worry about logistics. The usual starting point near Collingwoord is several hours drive from Nelson.
DOC huts exist all along the track and are well equipped with gas cookers etc so you don’t need to worry about taking cookers. Check them out and how to book them (they must be booked in advance) here www.doc.govt.nzCamping is also available.
Most people stay 1 or 2 nights on the track and plan accommodation to fit their timetable. Huts and distances can also be found at the link above.
Who – Fay and Richie elderly MTB freaks
Steed – my Pivot Mach 5.7 got the call again, a full suspension is a good idea
Gear- usual riding attire, wet weather stuff, hot weather stuff, cold weather stuff – be prepared for any weather it’s NZ.
Food lots of it, plate and utensils
Lightweight sleeping bag, brake pads and a gallon of chain lube. Carried on a freeload rack.
The most popular direction to ride is from the Collingwood end through to Karamea starting at Browns Hut carpark. Be warned if you park at the carpark and it rains you risk being stuck there due to rising rivers. We parked some 5kms before the hut to ensure we were clear of the fords.
By the time we got there from Nelson and faffed around getting organized it was 2pm so planned on leg 1 being up to Perry Saddle Hut some 23kms away.
Browns Hut – signing in
This leg is a gentle but persistent climb up through beech forest. Near the top take some time to toss the bike and walk up to Flanagans Corner for some spectacular views, this marks the highest point on the track.
We rode in late Sept – there was a sprinkling of snow about and some seriously skittery ice bits (Richie found out very quickly that MTB tyres are no competition for black ice!)
First sign of the hut
At the hut the cold weather stuff was required – so cold the water pipes had frozen so it was a long trek to find some running water to cook with.
We shared the hut with a tramping family and slept well.
From graded beech tracks to rough rocky tracks the track eventually drops you out onto the Gouland Downs.
Spectacular scenes and colours of granite outcrops and tussock, a fascinating ‘boot tree’ and super riding.
You pass the best hut on the track in this section Saxon Hut and then the track deteriorates into some quite muddy flatish sections with lots of creek crossings.
James MacKay hut is next and a common one for bikers to stay in on night 1 of a 2 day trip.
We pushed on to Lewis Hut at the bottom of a massive downhill section – the most technical section of the track – lots of ice here too, if it’s muddy some of it will have to be walked it’s lots of fun!
Eventually we are spat out at a river mouth – home for the night.
Leg 3 is the stuff of MTB dreams. Absolutely stunning riding through nikau, across stunning sands and coastal views that really do take even a hardened kiwis breath away.
We had a lunch break at the Heaphy Hut just as the track launches you out at the coast - what can I say
From there it's just more awesome coast riding,a bit of a push across the sand, up and over a wee bluff and you've done it
The track officially ends at Kohaihai shelter and from here you can congratulate yourself and call a shuttle or harden up and continue pedaling a further 16kms into Karamea for a shower and a cold beer (we did option 2) albeit with a smattering of whingeing from Richie!
After a good nights sleep, restock of provisions and a quick bit of bike maintenance we were only to keen to embark on the return leg and despite it being the same track the reverse direction did offer more but different riding experiences and I enjoyed the reverse direction slightly more. Finishing with a fast, flowing 17km downhill didn’t hurt either.
We clocked up over 200kms of the best riding imaginable.
So that’s another one off the bucket list. It’s a fantastic trip I’m sure everyone with the right level of fitness would love it as much.
A couple of rules that you need to be aware of:
Riding is limited to the months mentioned at the beginning of my write up.
It’s a shared track so respect the walkers (reality was that we received all the respect and in winter it is seldom walked).
Group size is limited to 8 riders
No riding outside of daylight hours
No bringing bikes into huts.
Other than that RIDE with a SMILE it’s pure bliss on the Heaphy.
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