Walking the Heaphy Track from Golden Bay to Karamea had never been one of my highest life priorities, but when a group of friends invited us to join them for a walk through over five days in October of last year, I agreed, despite my reservations about the time of year – this can be a rather damp time on the Coast!
After all the preparations had duely been made, we set out for Nelson, assembling in the city early on a rainy Tuesday morning, with the shuttle driver cheerfully optimistic that we would make it through the fords up the Aorere River, despite the heavy overnight rain. We did, but not without a little drama, and by lunchtime were ready to set off on the steady climb from Brown’s Hut up to the new hut at the Perry Saddle. Intermittent rain continued throughout the afternoon, and I was happy to keep my camera gear packed away for much of the time, as the track meandered up through beech forest with little variety for much of the time. Approaching the highest point on the walk at Perry Saddle things became more interesting, but passing squally showers encouraged a quick dash to the hut with hardly a click of the shutter.
Across the Gouland Downs
Showers continued the next day, but I was determined to make the most of any opportunity created by the open country of the Gouland Downs – the infertile underlying rocks supporting mostly low, scrubby tussocklands, repeatedly burnt by early pastoralists who dreamed fantasies of productive farming. The first significant opportunity was a lone blue duck by the bridge across Cave Brook near the historic Gouland Downs hut. Initially wary of our large group, I waited until after lunch at the hut before sneaking back alone, glad that I had bought my 135 Nikkor – equivalent to a 270 mm on a full frame 35 mm, this 1980’s manual focus lens can still deliver the goods, helped by the excellent in-camera image stabilization of the Olympus OM-D. In some of the close up shots you can literally count the feather barbules. Later in the afternoon the sun came out as we approached the Saxon Hut, giving gorgeous views back over the Downs, perhaps best captured in shots taken with my Panasonic Leica Summilux and combined in the panorama shown below.
The long walk to the Lewis Hut
Day Three was another day of contrast as we made our way down to the Lewis hut on the Heaphy River. The downlands continued around the Saxon hut, although interspersed with forested ridges – then as we crossed the Saxon Fault forest abruptly ruled everywhere. Further on, these dissected granite hills support their own downlands – spectacular colours of red tussock on the poorly drained valley floors but with scrubby forest on the ridges. Here we were disappointed to see many empty shells of the large carnivorous snail Powelliphanta superba, but eventually found a large adult out and about – a spectacular creature. After reaching the James Mackay Hut the track descended gradually to the Lewis Hut, where clear sunny weather provided some of the best photographic opportunities of the trip. And the night was unforgettable for the dazzling view of the Milky Way unspoilt by suburban light pollutions, and being awakened by the call of a great spotted kiwi in the small hours of the morning – magic!
A stormy rush to Karamea
Day Four was a lazy day, with just a gentle few hours to the Heaphy Hut, with plenty of relaxed time for exploring along the coast. However, incoming cloud in the late afternoon signaled an approaching front, and daylight the next morning revealed the main river running bank to bank, transporting logs seawards at an alarming rate. Camera gear was mostly packed away in waterproof bags and we headed for the road end in passing showers and gale force winds. The seas crashing onto the beaches and headlands along the coast were fantastic to see, but hard to photograph given the conditions – and minor streams barely ankle-deep the day before had turned into major fording endeavours. Fortunately the larger rivers were all bridged. All in all, a brilliant trip through amazingly varied country – I took many more images than the few shown here, but this gallery contains perhaps the best…