Top 10 walking tips for the Heaphy and Abel Tasman Coast Tracks

By Simon Thomas: 2 January, 2021

The Heaphy Track and Abel Tasman Coast Track are two incredible Great Walks in the upper South Island—lush forest, stunning coastlines, abundant wildlife and plenty of history. To up your game and make your walking experience as unforgettable as the scenery, there's a few magical tips you need to know about. Read on for details...

1. Hiking poles

Want 10% extra power on the hills ... and more speed on the flats? Want to save your knees ... and lessen the chance of spraining an ankle? What's not to like about a set of hiking poles? Remember though, you must have a pair of poles and practice your timing to get these benefits. Your left pole should hit the ground when your right foot does, and vice versa, giving you always two points of support (one leg, one pole)—so invest in some practice to use them correctly. Pro-tip: adjust your poles a touch shorter for a sustained uphill, and lengthen them slightly when you're going down.

2. Trail runners, not tramping boots

Trail runners are much lighter than hiking boots, but do have less ankle support. On most Great Walk trails you can make up for this lack of support by keeping your pack light and using hiking poles (tip 1)!

View over Scotts Beach with green bushy frame and blue sky
Scotts Beach, last day en route to Kohaihai

3. Dry your own food

Every gram of water is extra weight, so dehydrated meals are a great weight saver. You can lighten up and save money if you can access a dehydrator. In the weeks leading up to your tramp, cook twice what you need for each regular evening meal, then put half aside and dehydrate it. Store these home-dehydrated meals in the freezer. Pro tip: dehydrated yoghurt and muesli breakfast is lighter than normal muesli, and delicious! Rehydrate with hot water for a tasty, nutritious start to your day.

4. Your phone can be your camera, GPS, map, and torch

Modern phones take great pictures (did you ever watch one of the feature movies shot entirely on an iPhone 5?). Download and save the DOC track map or topographic map on your phone. And if you want a GPS, download the Gaia GPS or Great Hikes app onto your phone. You don't need cell reception to use Gaia. Phone batteries can play up if it's cold, so I take a tiny battery bank as a backup.

5. Select flight-mode on your phone!

Preserve your phone battery because there are only a few spots on the Heaphy with cellphone reception. You can pick up some reception at Aorere Shelter, at the top of Mount Perry and on the Beach at Heaphy Hut, and parts of the coast between Heaphy and Kohaihai. There are landline phones at both Kohaihai and Brown Hut.

On the Abel Tasman Coast Track there is no wifi access and only a few spots on headlands where you can get very limited cell reception. There are public phones at Marahau and Totaranui, or ask a teenage camper where to find the 'texting-tree'!

6. Foam sitting mat

A 30cm square of closed-cell foam weighs nothing, and keeps your backside warm, dry and comfortable when you sit on the ground for lunch. Fold it in half and stuff inside the back mesh of your pack or stow under your pack lid.

7. Lightweight rain pants

On my South Island Te Araroa Trail trip, I left home and walked 3km to the railway station in light southerly rain. I was wearing a rain jacket and shorts but when I reached the station I was deeply chilled. That day, before I caught the flight to Invercargill, I shopped for lightweight, waterproof rain pants. Then when I experienced rain and cold in the bogs and swamps of Southland—I stayed toasty warm! You'll love your lightweight leggings if things turn bad.

8. Tramping in the rain? Wear a cap

Wearing a peak under your rain jacket's hood gives you much better vision when walking in the wet. A super light, peaked tennis visor/cap is ideal.

9. Travel lightweight or ultralight

Consider lightening your load to less than 10kg (lightweight) or under 5kg (ultralight). See my lightweight walking tips on how to do this.

Golden Bay Air Airvan en route to Karamea
Golden Bay Air Airvan en route Takaka to Karamea

10. Choose flying at the end of your tramp

Golden Bay Air looks after all your transport needs with complete return flight and shuttle transport from Wellington, Nelson, Takaka or Karamea, so you can spend more time on the track and less on getting there—plus you'll have a spectacular birds eye view over the tracks—so your transport is part of the adventure!

These tips can make the world of difference, try them out and see for yourself—and make walking the Heaphy and Abel Tasman Coast Tracks the best multi-day walks you've ever done.

For more information check out our Complete Guide to the Heaphy Track.

Simon Thomas is a Wellington-based writer who has biked and walked dozens of back-country tracks in New Zealand and abroad—including the Heaphy and Abel Tasman Coast Tracks.

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