It was time to depart Westport and head to the end of the road, there are only a few places in New Zealand where the road actually ends Cape Reinga and Bluff being two of the most well known usually covered in heaps of people taking photos. Still, this time we were heading to a much more remote area north of Karamea the last little area with any shops.
Arriving at the DOC Camp at Kohaihai (#6412) located at the Western end of the Heaphy Track right on the beach, such a beautiful spot. The camp is really well organised unlike a lot of the DOC camps we have visited in the South Island with parking spots clearly marked out all with gravel on the ground and surprisingly big enough for a 10-metre motorhome.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a DOC camp without at least a couple of Weka’s poking their heads in to make sure you have paid your camp fees, and your self-containment certificate is up to date. These self-appointed camp managers are so amusing the way they patrol the place.
With a quick bite of lunch out of the way and hiking boots laced up, we set off to explore the first part of the track. With clear signage at the start of the track, that, of course, I misread, stating the estimated walking length of each section, we decided to walk to the first “hut”. Of course, if I had read the signage about mountain biking, I would have realised my mistake.
The walk starts with a short bushwalk before crossing the Kohaihai River another excellent suspension bridge, you really feel like you’ve had a few wines when crossing these as they sway and bounce underneath you. It’s a great way to start the walk with the sea in one direction mountains in the other and native bush in front of you genuinely breathtaking.
From the bridge, the well-formed track runs uphill for around 30 minutes although it’s not steep you still know that you are walking uphill. As you get higher you get occasional glimpses of the sea below and all around you is the native bush that just offers so many varied scenes with all sorts of plants competing for the available sunlight peaking in through the canopy.
Reaching the top, you are afforded the spectacular view of Scott’s beach below that makes that climb really worthwhile of course the great thing about walking uphill is that it’s always followed by the down part. So we set off to see what this beach looked like from a bit closer following the trail as it gently descended towards it.
Many moons ago, when I had first met Sarah, we visited Australia, and I had the chance to take a bush walk with some friends. To this day I remember having to burn off the leeches, just about stepped on a couple of snakes and had to wear a hat to keep out the tic’s so walking the bush in New Zealand without having to worry about these things almost makes you grateful for the Sandflies (just joking). Thankfully even the dreaded West Coast sandflies were on holiday on this glorious day with only the reserve staff manning a couple of feed stations along the way.
Not far from Scotts Beach we reached the “No Stopping” sign that did leave me rather mystified how does keeping moving stop you from being hit by falling rocks, but I guess they meant you don’t stop and have a picnic or something similar. Anyway, as you progress along the narrow path that has been cut into the rocks, there was nowhere to stop even if you wanted to. It would have been slightly uncomfortable to have sat down here.
The path winds along next to the sea sometimes 30 or 40 metres above the rocks below usually this would trigger my fear of heights, especially on such a narrow path. Still, with such breathtaking scenery, I was to busy looking to be concerned about the heights around me.
I almost fell about laughing when we came across the Snail Crossing sign. In my mind, I had this image of a vast Kenworth truck jackknifing as it screeched to a halt while the snail crossed the path. Later on, however, we came across this broken shell on the trail maybe attacked by a bird that shows just how giant these snails are.
I think what’s really interesting is that although we were only walking about 9 km each way the bush around us changed quite a few times. Suddenly it felt like we had been transported to Hawaii when the forest changed to these magnificent Nikau palms right next to the white sand beach. I think what made it easy to keep walking forward was just how much things were changing around us. We wanted to see the next bit of the track.
Of course, it wouldn’t be the Coast Coast if there wasn’t several places where you had to ford a river or stream. We did also meet another tramper coming the other way who was kind enough to snap a couple of shots of us on one of this suspension bridge, they are such fun to walk across the way they bounce up and down and swing side to side.
Yet again the surrounding countryside changed with the path opening up to low lying scrub. It’s incredible how open it felt after the time spent walking through the bush that’s at least twice as tall as you are and growing so close together that it’s almost dark and dingy inside the track.
After just over 2 hours of walking, we reached the Katipo Creek shelter an open hut that would provide shelter if you couldn’t complete the journey or the weather turned to custard and you needed somewhere to hide. It’s not until I started writing this that I realised the name of the place is also the name of one of New Zealand’s poisonous spiders, but since I am only writing about this now we obviously didn’t encounter one.
The walk back was the chance to look at the scenery from the other direction as well as spot things that we might not have noticed along the way, such as the Marine Reserve marker. Or prompt me to take a photo that I missed, such as the one telling you about potential rogue waves washing over the path when you are 15 metres up the cliff.
Although I didn’t get a photo we heard this strange noise behind us at one point I thought I’ve never heard a bird like that before, but it was actually one of the Rangers on his motorbike heading back after servicing one of the huts. I’m glad we didn’t meet him on the steep cliff face part of the track, or he would have been behind us for a while.
After just over another 2 hours of walking and blister-free feet, except for Sarah with one tiny one. We had enjoyed one of the best walks we have ever done. Yes, we didn’t walk the full Heaphy Track, but we did get to experience part of it, and that feels great. I wonder how much fitter we would have to be able to walk the full track with backpacks carrying all the supplies needed for a 4 or 5-day hike.
Back at the campsite, it was time to rest and relax those tired feet, enjoy the sunset and reflect on what was a great afternoon tramping. For those that are looking a for a good tramp then the start of the Heaphy Track certainly offers this 10 out of 10.
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