Day 62: Heaphy Hut to James Mackay Hut

Sat 25 March 2017

  • Km Today: 21
  • Total Km: 1109

Heaphy Track

There was a little group of trampers who set off early from the hut to connect with the shuttle from Kohaihai but I’m happy to be ready to depart at 0800 after some porridge and a cup of tea. Most do the track from the Golden Bay end and make their way south west through to Kohaihai, however there are the rare few which make the walk in the direction that I am taking. One such group is a couple of sisters of a certain age who are doing a guided gourmet walk with Angus from Southern Wilderness – their hearty meals are cooked for them by Angus and they get to start the evenings with cheese, crackers and some wine. It is an enviable way to experience the track. Todays walk will be along the bank of the Heaphy River until the Lewis Hut, then a steady climb up to the next hut. The overnight rain has stopped when I set out and it is a very pleasant flat walk through the lush vegetation alongside the river. In places the track has been cut around limestone  outcrops which are now overgrown with moss and creepers. They are dark, eerie and fantastic in the dim morning light.

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The nikau palms give way to Northern rata (Metrosideros robusta) which is one of New Zealand’s tallest flowering trees. It usually begins life as an epiphyte (or plant perched on a host tree) high in the forest canopy. Its roots grow down to the ground, finally enclosing the host tree and producing a huge tree up to 25 metres high with a trunk of 2.5 metres through. There are many fabulous specimens of rata along the track which can be marvelled at and photographed from all angles like I am prone to do. Thank goodness for panoramic mode on the S5 camera which allows for capturing the enormity of these trees.

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The track emerged at Lewis Hut where I had a poke around and a quick bite to eat. The hut was otherwise empty and there had been no one staying last night. As I set off the drizzle commenced and it was to stay for the rest of the day. Fortunately there was some over from the trees along the track until the next hut. Swing bridges cross the Gunner and Heaphy Rivers which thankfully keep the feet dry. I am always on the look out for Whio, our native blue duck, but only see the vocal paradise ducks and geese when crossing these rivers.

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The track climbs at a continual gradient for the rest of the day through the podocarp and beech forest. Occasionally there are open views to the valley floor and across the Kahurangi park but for the most part is enclosed by the trees. At one point the track is cut through a seam of coal. On and on I continue climbing ever higher along the track. I have not seen anyone else until late morning when I encounter the ’08:30 from Mackay’ an analogy to a departure of a train or bus which signals a whole group of trampers  leaving the hut around the same time. They pass in small waves, all giving the usual ‘hi’ or a greeting of encouragement as I continue upwards – they all happy to be on the downhill for this section. Signage warns of the 1080 drop that was made recently to curb the opossum population but I see no pellets on the track. The continual predator work which DOC does in the park is evident in the strength and diversity of the birdlife. The bush rings with the wonderful chorus of tuis and bellbirds plus I see many other types of birds such as fantails, weka, kereru, rifleman and even a friendly little robin which landed at my feet and had a nice little chatter. I sang and hummed ‘rocking robin’ for the rest of the day…

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I had heard of the giant snails that I may see on the Heaphy Track and was overjoyed when I saw my first one quite near to the Mackay Hut. Powelliphanta are a species of native carnivorous snails that are the largest in the world, some growing as big as a man’s fist. The name rolls off the tongue pleasingly Pow-elle-ee-fanta, it has a nice ring to it. They suck up earthworms like spaghetti and can reach up to 90mm across, although my one was a decent 50-60mm. They are as representative of New Zealand’s unique evolutionary history as the kakapo, moa or kiwi. Even though they are hermaphrodites, unfortunately they are also one of the most threatened of New Zealand’s invertebrates. Nearby are amusing heads carved from tree stumps and personified with accessories.

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It is cold and bleak at the James Mackay hut. The explorer preferred his surname pronounced as ‘Mackie’ but all refer to the hut as ‘Mackay’. Like the Heaphy Hut it has modern facilities including the gas hobs and LED lighting at night. A large group had stopped for lunch and moved on shortly after I arrived. Therefore I was able to hang out my wet gear in-front of the coal fire. Many more trampers arrive over the course of the afternoon and evening until the hut is mostly occupied. The warden pays a visit  around 1800 to give a speil about DOC activities in the park, the birdlife and to answer any questions. He records our hut bookings to ensure we are all law abiding.

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