Heaphy Track | Kahurangi National Park

The longest Great Walk in New Zealand at 78km, four or five days walking most common, or two days zipping through on a mountain bike.

The Heaphy is the Great Walk with the most varied scenery: beech tree forest on the Takaka side; tussockland across the top; over into the West Coast forest, a different type, huge rata trees dripping with epiphytes; views of huge limestone bluffs and a creek running out from a cave; the sun plopping down into the sea; then a day walking beside golden beaches, where, if you’re lucky, you may encounter a stray seal.

The level of strenuousness is not high but you are required to lug your sleeping bag, warm clothes and food for those four or five days. The one big uphill, while constant, ie, trudging up for hours, is never more than a moderate gradient, enthusiastic 70-year-olds can cruise on through.

In winter mountain bikers are unleashed for a, usually, two day adrenaline rush, big tires required for the bike, but the 10k rampant downhill fun well worth the effort expended getting up there.

where | Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park

Brown Hut carpark 52km from Takaka, to Kohaihai carpark, 16km north of Karamea on the West Coast.


click to view larger, more interactive topographic map from, err, topomap.co.nz

distance | Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park

78 km

time | Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park

4 – 5 days

when | Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park

Anytime? Sure thing. The climate around Karamea is reasonable mild all year although the exposed Gouland Downs area is around 700m above sea level.

Mountain biking is now permanently allowed from May 1 to September 30 so trampers will be sharing the track during that time.

maps and GPS | Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park

route description | Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park

From the east the start is at the Brown Hut carpark. The Heaphy does the majority of the climbing in the first kilometres through some beech forest, then there’s the tussockland across the top, the drop down to the coast and a walk along the beaches on the West Coast to Kohaihai.

The DOC Heaphy track description site has fairly extensive information, including brief track notes from hut to hut.

Topographic section of Heaphy Track Great Walk, Kahurangi National Park

huts | Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park

Here’s the seven huts:

Brown Hut
Gouland Downs Hut
Heaphy Hut
James MacKay Hut
Lewis Hut
Perry Saddle Hut
Saxon Hut

There’s also 10 official campsites. Camping is not permitted elsewhere, and in any case, due to the nature of the vegetation, not usually feasible:

Aorere Shelter campsite
Brown campsite
Gouland Downs campsite
Heaphy campsite
Katipo Creek Shelter campsite
Kohaihai Shelter campsite
James MacKay campsite
Perry Saddle campsite
Saxon campsite
Scotts Beach campsite

Tramping times | Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park

Here’s the DoC stated tramping times between huts, as shown on their website, usually actual walking times, ie, not taking into account any long breaks. DoC bases its estimation on times for an “average” tramper which means that it’s possible to slash times for more popular sections. With more remote sections the stated time is close to the actual time required.

Unfortunately this time information tends to emphasise a pointless aspect of tramping, The Destination, and, some trampers feel they need to test themselves, rush, to prove something to someone. Aren’t you there to experience your environment, notice things, go down to the river and spot a huge trout, watch the bellbirds flitting around? There’s no actual requirement to occupy the full 10 hours a day racing through the landscape.

Brown Hut to Perry Saddle Hut
Time: 5 hours 

Distance: 17.5 km

Gouland Downs Hut to Saxon Hut
Time: 1 hours 30 minutes 

Distance: 5.4 km

Saxon Hut to James Mackay Hut
Time: 3 hours

Distance: 11.8 km

James Mackay Hut to Lewis Hut
Time: 3 hours 30 minutes 

Distance: 12.5 km

Lewis Hut to Heaphy Hut
Time: 2 hours 30 minutes

Distance: 8 km

Heaphy Hut to Kohaihai River mouth
Time: 5 hours 

Distance: 16.2 km

getting there | Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park

There’s a whole industry been set up to transport people from either end of what was once two of New Zealand’s most obscure road ends: the Brown Hut carpark is 156km from Nelson over windy roads, ie, it takes about 2.5 hours to drive; Kohaihai is 110km, or just under two hours drive north from Westport. It’s a big 463km to zip around by road. Needs some coordination to fly as well.

Try getting your head around these options, it’s somewhat complicated, public transport by road first.

Trek Express offers Nelson to Brown Hut carpark daily during the summer season, usually leaving at 8am, for $65, with a minimum of four trampers. They do have scheduled trips you can join where you only pay the per person price. Brown Hut to Nelson is the same price and conditions and leaves Brown Hut at 11:30am.

The Heaphy Bus is the cheapest option with its once a week scheduled service but it only offers two services: Nelson to Brown Hut carpark, leaving Nelson at 8am on a Wednesday and returning at 11:30am from Brown Hut; and Nelson to Kohaihai carpark, leaving Nelson at

Golden Bay Coachlines, free phone 0800 588 885 or email info@goldenbayair.co.nz, do Takaka to Brown Hut carpark daily leaving at 9:15am for $35. That gives enough time to tramp off to Perry Saddle Hut. They also do a Nelson, or Takaka, to Brown Hut on demand that arrives at Brown Hut carpark about 6:45pm, ie, you have to stay at Brown Hut. Brown Hut to Takaka is the same price and conditions and leaves Brown Hut at 10:15am and goes on to Nelson.

Nelson Lakes Shuttles has scheduled trips to, or from, Brown Hut carpark at $70 per person with a minimum of four, ie, $280.

Getting to the Kohaihai carpark on the West Coast, using public transport, there’s an early morning, 7:15am, seven day a week Intercity bus, $36, from Nelson to Westport that can connect with the Karamea Express bus (03 782 6757; info@karamea-express.co.nz) to, err, Karamea for another $45 a person, then Karamea Connections can whiz you up to Kohaihai for $15 a person, minimum $30 between 9:00am to 5:00pm, after hours minimum $40, phone 03-782 6767. After those 3 bus rides, arriving Kohaihai at about 2pm, there’s usually not enough daylight to get to Heaphy Hut, about 5 hours walk away.

Groups can get from Nelson to the Kohaihai carpark with Trek Express for $115 per person, minimum 4 people. With their scheduled trips you only pay the per person price.

Alternatively, with Nelson Lakes Shuttles, a charter minibus is $95 per person, with a minimum $380 charge, with 24 hours notice.

Exiting via the West Coast there is a public phone box at the Kohaihai carpark, that’s if you have someone to call. There’s also a phone at Brown Hut.

If you have a mountain bike then Bike Track Transport might be useful.

If you are driving your own car then Derry Kingston can assist by whizzing your car around to the other end. Cost is $290 plus the cost of the fuel. Contact at info@heaphytrackhelp.co.nz or ring 03 525 9576. Simple.

There are a few flying options, great way to get an overview of the terrain you have just covered.

Golden Bay Air have an extensive array of options including flights from Nelson or Wellington, a shuttle bus service, but to give you an indication flying Karamea to Takaka is $189 per person for either two or three passengers, $20 less for four or more. If you are flying with your bike it’s a flat $199 per person including the bike. Takaka to Brown Hut by shuttle has a $130 minimum, or $45 per person, Kohaihai to Karamea add in $15 per person.

Wayne at Karamea Helicharter can zip you back to where you started in his helicopter. Phone 03 782 6111 or email julie@karameahelicharter.co.nz for pricing.

supplies | Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park

Nelson, Motueka, or Westport have the usual major supermarkets, Countdown, New World, Pak’nsave, (not Westport), for getting the main supplies. Takaka has a big Freshchoice, owned by Woolworths, that stocks most things you would need. They are all open the usual hours 7 days a week.

Karamea has a small Four Square supermarket that has most of the basics, open 7 days from 8:30am weekdays, 9am weekends.

Gas canisters, Shellite or Fuelite for your stove can be obtained at outdoor and hardware stores in Nelson, Motueka, Takaka or Westport if you haven’t been allowed to fly with it.

warnings | Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park

First, the Crayfish Point tide issue. Actually for most people it’s hard to see how people have drowned getting across
It can seem hard to believe that people have drowned at Crayfish Point. Take care when the tide is high, particularly with higher spring tides, when storm surges are possible. Tide tables are provided at Heaphy Hut and at the Kohaihai shelter. There is an official high tide track but if you need to use it maybe it’s better just to wait an hour or two for the full tide to recede, just remember that huge rogue waves can appear from nowhere.

Much of the track is at an altitude of 700m or so, if it is wet and the winds are high the risk of, err, hypothermia is high, ensure you have wet weather gear whatever the time of year, snow is possible up there, it can be extremely bleak.

Want another warning: there are three streams that are required to be crossed near the end of the road at the Brown Hut carpark before you get to the track which can flood. These can be dangerous to cross in your vehicle. They are currently being bridged.

other websites | Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park

The official DOC website for the Heaphy Track has plenty of info.

DOC also have a 3.2Mb pdf blurb about the Heaphy complete with a map and track description.

a big image slideshow | Heaphy Track – Kahurangi National Park

Here’s a 39 image slideshow from the Heaphy Track giving an indication of the general track conditions and sights along the way, if you need any further convincing.

Click on the thumbnail image below to get the slideshow started, then you can click on the left or right sides of the bigger images to go forward or back.

Heaphy Track - Kahurangi National Park

Images of the Heaphy Track huts and campsites can be found in the Heaphy Track huts and campsites section.

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