Complete Guide to the Heaphy Track

By Richard and Lisa: 1 January, 2022

The Heaphy Track is a heady combination of lush forest, tussock downs, rock outcrops and booming West Coast surf—and it's one of our favourite walks in the country here at Golden Bay Air. Whether you're wondering what you'll see, deciding what to pack, or thinking about logistics, read on for a complete guide to walking the Heaphy Track.

Navigate incredible landscapes

Stand of Niaku Palms on Heaphy Track Coastal Section
Stand of Niaku Palms on Heaphy Track Coastal Section

The Heaphy Track has the most diverse scenery of any Great Walk in New Zealand—you'll be winding up from Golden Bay through beech forest and up into rocky heights with soaring valley views. You'll cross expansive tussock and Dracophyllum ("Dr Seuss tree") landscape, dipping into a refreshing mountain pool.

You'll see stunning limestone formations, and you'll cross over into rainforest thick with Nikau palms and Rata trees. You'll eventually reach the West Coast with its rugged beaches and crashing surf. Along the way, you might have seen wild Takahe strutting the downs, heard the call of the great spotted Kiwi (Roroa), seen Whio (Blue Duck) navigate whitewater rapids, explored enchanted caves, and wondered at the giant, native Powelliphanta snails.

For more details head to our blog 7 must-dos when tramping the Heaphy Track.

Pack light

Having the right gear can make all the difference to your enjoyment of walking the Heaphy and Abel Tasman Coast Tracks. More and more people are choosing to carry less than 10kg (lightweight) or even less than 5kg (ultralight), so that they can walk long distances in comfort. You can also choose to stay in huts rather than camp, so that you don't have to carry a tent. All huts (except Brown Hut) have gas burners which saves having to carry a cooker. For a complete packing list for gear and clothing to have you walking light in no time, read What gear to pack on the Heaphy and Abel Tasman Coast Tracks.

You can also go even lighter with certain tricks. Take clothing that could be used in multiple ways (e.g. a puffer jacket can be worn when hiking and when sleeping, or as a pillow). Spend as much as your budget allows so that your gear is quality and lightweight, buy a lightweight pack, consider a sleeping quilt rather than a sleeping bag, take light raingear, buy a light tent and lightweight sleeping mat.

Make sure you get your menu sorted for the walk too. It's best to go high-energy, non-crushable with your food items. Check out Tips to save weight on the Heaphy and Abel Tasman Coast Tracks for more detail and an example of a yummy super-light menu for one person for one day (which you could repeat and substitute over the days).

Add some life-changing items

Biker negotiating boardwalk en route to James Mackay Hut, Heaphy Track
Biker negotiating boardwalk en route to James Mackay Hut

There are some things that can make all the difference when you are out there walking. For example:

  • Hiking poles really are worth it: you get 10% extra power on the hills, and saves your knees!
  • Wearing trail running shoes can be easier than boots
  • Drying your own food yields delicious meals that you know are nutritious, light and inexpensive
  • Your phone can serve as your camera, GPS, map and torch
  • A foam sitting mat weighs nothing but keeps your backside dry on rest stops
  • Lightweight rain pants that actually work will keep you warm and happy
  • A cap is not just for the sun, wear one under you raincoat hood to keep the rain out of your eyes

Get more detail on these tips on our blog Top 10 walking tips for the Heaphy and Abel Tasman Coast Tracks. And read Planning your Heaphy Track trip for an overview of this Great Walk!

Plan your trip in advance

Planning your walk before you begin is critical—and thankfully it's easy to do. You need to estimate how long the walk will take you—it's 78 kilometres of gentle hills and flats, with uneven track in some places. The Department of Conservation (DOC) recommends 4-6 days for walkers, 2-3 days for riders. Once you've estimated your pace, you can book the right huts (you might want to go on some day hikes to test your pace). Read our blog Planning your Heaphy Track trip for help with choosing your Heaphy huts or campsites.

You'll also want to plan transport to get to and from the beginning and end of the track. Golden Bay Air's full Heaphy Track flight and shuttle packages for walkers and mountain bikers include transport to and from the Heaphy track from Takaka, Wellington and Nelson. All packages allow you to leave home and connect to the track same morning, then return home on the day you finish the track. Or you can break your journey in Takaka and/or Karamea if you'd like to spend some more time exploring each area (well worth it!) Plus all packages include a scenic flight out of Karamea, back over the track if you're landing back at Takaka. The perfect end to your adventure...

We hope you enjoy the whole process—organising your gear, packing, the journey to and from the track, and of course the track itself. Walking or biking the Heaphy Track is one of those bucket list experiences—so start planning now!

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