Everything you need to know to hike the Heaphy Track

The Heaphy Track is the longest of all the Great Walks (well, the ones you actually walk, one of the nine is a canoe journey masquerading as a walk) at just under 79km, and so some planning and logistics are involved. It's a one way track, but you can walk it in either direction, and there are a few ways of doing it depending on how quickly you want to go.

This blog outlines the things you need to know to hike the track, if you'd like to hear more about our personal experience read this post

Heaphy Track Overview

Before arriving in New Zealand, we had low expectations for the Heaphy Track. Dwarfed by the other famous Great Walks like the Milford Track, Tongariro, Routeburn and Abel Tasman, the Heaphy was a hike we thought might not have the same wow factor.

However, as soon as we arrived and talked to New Zealanders, we found that the Heaphy was a lot of their favourite of the Great Walks. This is primarily because the landscapes are incredibly diverse and it's a lot quieter than many of the others.

There are also very limited day walk options, so it's likely that you'll rarely see another person during Great Walk Season (30th November - 1st May). Post Great Walks season the track is also open to mountain bikers, which I have to say I wouldn't enjoy so much. The paths can be quite narrow in places and it wouldn't be much fun to jump out of the way of cyclists. 

The hike takes in mountains, forests, tussocked plains, tropical palm trees, rivers and wild west coast beaches. What's not to like? 


Heaphy Track Booking

Heaphy Track Booking

Booking the Heaphy Track is pretty straight forward as it rarely sells out. When we hiked it in March the huts were less than half full, with some people booking the day before they hiked. However, this is different in peak season such as the Christmas/New Year holidays, so it pays to book in advance if you can, especially if you have set dates in mind.


Heaphy Track Elevation & Difficulty

The track map makes the Heaphy Track look pretty steep, however the elevation is spread out over quite large distances. Despite the first day climbing over 800 metres, the track is never very steep. Similarly day two and three are pretty flat and straightforward, with day four having a couple of small climbs.

Overall the Heaphy Track is quite tiring if you hike it over four days, purely because of the long distances involved. If you chose to hike this in six days, then it would be a lot easier and manageable for just about anyone, as long as you can manage the fairly long first and final day which cannot be shortened (unless you camp).


Heaphy Track Distances

Depending on how many days you hike, the Heaphy Track days can either be very long or fairly inline with the other Great Walks of New Zealand. We chose to hike the four day version and found day two, three and four pretty tiring, averaging over 20km per day with heavy packs on. 

All hikers have to hike from Brown Hut to Perry Saddle (17.5km), but you can half the distance you hike on day two and three by stopping at the other huts overnight. The Heaphy Hut to Kohaihai shelter leg cannot be shortened if using the hut system, though there was an additional campsite on this leg. 


Heaphy Track Huts

Heaphy Hut: one of the new huts on the track

The bunkroom at James Mackay Hut, one of the newer huts

Gouland Downs Hut: one of the older huts on the track

There are seven huts on the Heaphy Track that vary in comfort level. The newest (and best) are the ones recommended by DOC: Perry's Saddle, James MacKay and Heaphy. These all have bunk rooms that are separate from the living areas, are supplied with gas cookers and are more comfortable. They even had pots and pans you could use, which is something we haven't found on any other Great Walk track. James Mackay and Heaphy have flush toilets, while Perry's Saddle had long drop toilets that were a minute walk away from the main hut.

The other huts (Brown, Gouland Downs, Saxon and Lewis) are a little more rustic. Brown and Gouland Downs (where in the latter you might spot blue duck if you are lucky in the evening) are simply a single room with cooking facilities close to the bunks, whereas Saxon and Lewis have two very cosy bunkrooms that are separate from the main cooking/living room. Our favourite of these huts on peeking inside was Saxon. It had a rustic charm to it and those we met who stayed in it really enjoyed it. 



Heaphy Track Transport

Transport is the hardest logistical part of the Heaphy Track as the beginning and end are 450km apart by road. We chose to use the services of Derry, who offers a car relocation service to ensure that we had our vehicle waiting for us at Kohaihai Shelter. This cost us $320 NZD, but it can cost a lot less if he's got a car that needs relocating in the other direction. Derry is a bit of a local legend, and sadly is retiring after this season, he is selling the business though so you should still be able to use the service. 

There are two other alternatives. There is a bus that runs to both ends of the track from Nelson. This is by far the cheapest option ($160 return), however you will have to sit on a bus for five hours after hiking for four days continuously! They also leave at a fixed time, making the final day a little rushed. The only way of avoiding this is to drive your car to Kohaihai Shelter and then take the bus to Nelson and then another bus to Brown Hut (sounds tedious to us, but does mean you can be flexible on the hike itself and not feel rushed). 

The other option is to fly! This is one of the quickest options available, but it can be pricey. Most people we met using this option used Golden Bay Air and said the flight was beautiful. There is a 15kg max baggage allowance, but hopefully you aren't carrying more than this or the walk will be a lot harder! You will still need a transfer by mini bus from the airport at Karamea or Takaka which the same company will run for you. Flights depart from Nelson or Wellington. 


What to pack for the Heaphy Track


The Heaphy Track is a temperate hike, but it's still worth packing for all conditions. We found that the day time temperatures would be quite warm, but the nights can get quite cold, especially on the higher sections.

The Heaphy Track can be very wet, averaging a staggering 4000mm of rainfall each year. You should pack and expect to use rain coats and wet weather gear as it's very likely to rain on you at least once across the four days. We'd also take a set of thermals for all multi day hikes in New Zealand. 

Ensure you have an extra set of clothes used only for the huts that will always be dry. It's easy to stay warm in wet clothes while hiking, however you can't warm up when sitting still in a hut. We advise using merino wool and avoiding cotton clothes. Merino dries quickly and doesn't leech the warmth from your body to dry like cotton does.


A hike on the Heaphy Track will be at least four days long, so you will need a decent amount of food. As a couple we were able to pack meals between the two of us: pesto pasta, instant mash with freeze dried veg and a couple of freeze dried meals. This helped to keep the weight down and ensure we had energy from our dinners.

For breakfast we tended to have cereal bars, but we found that this often left us hungry quite quickly and didn't provide enough energy. Packing muesli or porridge would be a more sensible idea.

For lunches we had some bread rolls, nuts, raisins and a couple of small treats. We've found that on the trails we don't tend to eat much for lunch, leaving our feasts for the evening!

Don't forget tea and coffee as we did on one hike, we really missed it!


Other gear

  • Gas stove - You won't need one for Heaphy, James Mackay and Perry's Saddle, but you may if you stay at any of the other huts. 
  • Kitchen set (pot, matches, cutlery, plates and mugs) - Unlike the other Great Walks, the Heaphy Track has some left over pots you can use in Heaphy, James Mackay and Perry's Saddle. However, you should still bring your own equipment just in case. 
  • Zip lock bag for rubbish - As part of the "Leave No Trace" policy, bring a bin bag to take out everything you bring, including food scraps.
  • A warm sleeping bag - A sleeping bag that can cope with freezing temperatures has been one of our best investments on the trip. Whilst you can unzip to cool off, being too cold and trying to sleep is a miserable experience.
  • Battery packs - Another of our favourite investments, a battery pack has made a big difference for the long times you can spend in huts which have no electricity. It's enabled us to listen to music, podcasts and recharge our Apple Watch to monitor distances. We use an Anker Battery pack as it can charge several devices for over four days.
  • Pack liners and pack covers - These are a must as if it rains (which it does a lot, especially on the west coast). However pack covers aren't enough and using a liner too ensures your stuff will be kept dry. We also brought a dry bag to ensure the camera didn't get wet.
  • Small first aid kit - if you want to keep it simple you can buy the kit from the DOC when you pick up your track tickets like we did. 
  • Blister prevention gear - Being able to patch up your feet will stop a very long hike in a lot of pain. It also makes sense to wear in shoes before this hike.
  • Flip flops - Something that comes in very handy as you can't wear your boots in the huts.
  • Wet Wipes - As there's no showers, wet wipes are the best solution.
  • Suncream & Insect Repellant - The Heaphy is famous for it's sandflies and we saw them in swarms at each hut. Insect repellant will help a little, but bites are unavoidable. A lot of the Heaphy Track is exposed (especially on day two), so suncream is an essential too.
  • Headphones & Music or Earplugs - These are our only solution for bunk rooms, especially if you have Mr Sleep Apnoea sharing with you. 
  • Torch - There are some solar powered lights, but they go off pretty early, usually between 9 and 10pm (though in our experience most people are already in bed by this point). Having a torch makes night time toilet stops a little easier.
  • Camera - When hiking, every gram of weight counts. But having a good camera does as well. Check out this blog for some great suggestions for cameras that aren't going to weigh you down.

What you don't need:

  • Water purification tablets - The water on the Heaphy is clean and good to drink without purifying. It is an odd colour though.
  • Toilet paper - All huts and toilets on the track provide toilet paper, including the dunnies.

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Have you hiked any of the Great Walks? Are you planning to do the Heaphy Track? Let us know in the comments below!


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