Saturday, March 09, 2013

"A Journey of Contrasts"

Greetings All,
We have just finished a five-day trek on the Heaphy Track.  The Heaphy Track runs through Kahurangi National Park in the northwest corner of the South Island of New Zealand.  The track route was first used by Maori jade collectors who traveled from Golden Bay on the north coast to the jade rivers on the west coast.  At 51 miles, the Heaphy is New Zealand's longest "Great Walk".    The Track is not a circuit and its two ends are 288 miles apart by road making logistics a bit tricky.  We arranged transport through a local company called Trek Express.  They picked us up from our motel in Nelson Monday morning and drove us 3 hours to the start of the track at Brown Hut.

The first day of the trek was the most difficult but not too bad.  We had to climb 2600 feet over 10.5 miles.  The track, once graded for a road, climbed gradually through beech forest before reaching Flanagans Corner, the highest point on the track at 3000 feet.

We reached Perry Saddle Hut, our objective for the night, at around 4:30.  The Hut had been rebuilt last year so it was very nice.  There was a large kitchen and dining area and three bunk rooms.  We picked two bunks and boiled water for a delicious freeze-dried dinner of honey soy chicken.

We opted to do the trek in five days so the second day was a short one, about half a day.  We had to walk 8 miles to Saxon Hut.  Today's route took us across the red tussock grasslands of Gouland Downs.

A Weka popped out of the grass and crossed the trail in front of us.

Tiny red Sundews grew in the drainage ditch along the trail.

We passed a pole to which trampers have tied old hiking boots over the years, although there were a purple pair of high heels!

As we neared Saxon Hut I could hear a motor.  What on earth is a vehicle doing up here?  As we rounded the corner a DOC employee was doing trail maintenance with a mini backhoe, the ultimate tool for creating water bars!

We chatted a bit and I asked him where the best place was to see the rare Blue Duck.  He told us we could see some at Saxon River or Blue Duck Creek, both not far from Saxon Hut.  We continued on to the Hut and settled in.  After lunch we went in search of the elusive Blue Duck.  We crossed a bridge over the Saxon River - no ducks.  We crossed a bridge over Blue Duck Creek - no ducks.  We continued on and I found an open spot on the creek.  I told Marc it would be a good place to sit and wait for the ducks.  After about 20 minutes Marc started getting antsy.  I asked him the time and he replied "4:55."  I told him "just give it five more minutes."  He responded "What do you think, they are just going to swim by?"  Two minutes later a beautiful pair of blue ducks did just that!

The blue duck (or whio; Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos) is a unique threatened species of waterfowl endemic to New Zealand. It is the only member of its genus and has no close relative anywhere in the world.  The male whistled and the female growled back as they swam up river.  We followed them to another open area and watched as they preened, fed, flapped their wings and chased one another.

It was a perfect sighting of an extraordinary bird!  When we returned to the Hut, the ranger had been there.  Today is census day in New Zealand.  He left forms for us to fill out even though we're not Kiwis (nickname for New Zealanders).  They wanted to count everyone in New Zealand - even visitors.  I hope this doesn't mean we have to start paying New Zealand taxes!

We had another short day, about 9 miles to hike to MacKay Hut.  We left the grassland behind and entered the forest.  Some had heard Kiwis (the bird) calling last night.  This is the only Kiwi we saw along the track.

The forest was filled with unusual mosses, lichen, fungus.  A carnivorous land snail,  Powelliphanta, also lives here.

At MacKay Hut you get your first view of the Heaphy River emptying into the Tasman Sea far below, about 2200 feet down and a day's walk away.

We settled into our cramped quarters but managed to secure the only two bunks not connected to others.

I finally discovered the secret to sleeping in crowded huts where snoring is almost a certainty - noise canceling earbuds!  I picked up a pair in Nelson and they did the trick.  Marc photographed a beautiful sunset over the Tasman Sea.

Our fourth day of hiking was our longest.  We had to cover 13 miles to reach the Heaphy Hut near the mouth of the river we could see from Mackay Hut.  We were on the trail by 7:30 and entered a forest filled with interesting birds.  The Robins fought over Marc when he sat in the trail.  They pecked at his boots and trek poles to get his attention, "photograph me, photograph me"! they chirped.

Look closely, there is a robin pecking Marc's left boot

Little Fantails swooped down and perched close by displaying their white and gray tail feathers. 

As we got closer to the coast, the forest became more lush.  Tree ferns, Nikau Palms and giant Rata trees grew along the track. 

We arrived at the Heaphy Hut around 1:00 and selected our bunks.  Like the Percy Saddle Hut, the Heaphy Hut had been rebuilt last year.  A large kitchen/dining area overlooks Heaphy Beach and the bunks are in four separate rooms, each accommodating up to 8 trampers.  After lunch we went for a walk along the Heaphy River to it's mouth where the river surges out through a narrow gap into the sea. 

On the beach I spotted two penguins!  As we got closer I could see they were only Shags, pretty birds nonetheless.

A Tui, another one of New Zealand's endemic birds, was feeding in the cabbage trees near the Hut.  They are striking birds with a white tuff under their throats which contrasts with their glossy black color.

It was time to prepare dinner back at the Hut.  One group was on a gourmet tramping tour and had a real beef stir fry.   The rest of us had our freeze-dried dinners.

Marc prepared roast chicken complete with mashed potatoes (in plastic bag).

The fifth and final day of the Track took us 10 miles along the West Coast past beaches littered with drift wood and strewn with boulders.

One of our fellow trampers has spotted a native New Zealand Wood Pigeon perched in a tree above the track.

Our final climb was up Kohaihai Saddle.  From the top there was a great viewpoint from which we could see Scott's Beach and as far back as Heaphy Beach.

We climbed back down and crossed a suspension bridge over the Kohaihai River before reaching the Kohaihai car park at the end of the trek.  It was about 12:15 and we had until 1:30 for the Trek Express bus to pick us up.  Most of us that hiked from the Heaphy Hut were waiting for the same bus.  It arrived in time and we piled in for the long drive back to Nelson.

We arrived in Nelson around 8:00 a bit weary but satisfied with our trek. The Heaphy Track is truly a journey of contrasts with lush rainforest, sub-alpine tussock grasslands, high rugged mountains, lowland forest and palm fringed beaches.
We hope all is well back home.
Peggy and Marc

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