The Heaphy Track: Long Distance & Lots of Rain

Trip Start Nov 10, 2013
Trip End Apr 02, 2014

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Flag of New Zealand  , Westland,
Tuesday, December 10, 2013

After we left Abel Tasman National Park, it was a short drive north to the Golden Bay area and Kahurangi National Park.  Kahurangi, according to Lonely Planet, means "Treasured Possession", and is the second largest National Park in the Country.  Our mission was the Heaphy Track; a four day, 78 km 1-way track.  However, we were not going to be following the typical route, because while the start and end points are only 78 km apart, it is a nearly 500 km drive to get from A to B.  Sooo... we felt the most efficient and cost-effective way to try and enjoy the track would be to hike about 2/3 of the way there, and then turn around and go back to the car.  We had planned to cover 127 km over the course of 5 days, but the non-stop rain the two days leading up to the hike was an indication of things to come... 

The morning we began our hike was - you guessed it - raining.  But the rain had let up from the previous night, so we put on our rain gear headed out along the wide, well-maintained track.  The whole morning was misty and socked in and by 10:30 am it began to rain quite heavily.  At times, the rain would let up and it would be just a steady, misty drizzle, but after a half hour of that, the rain drops would begin to fall fast and furious again.  Luckily, we made pretty good time to Perry Saddle Hut (17.5 km distance) and arrived during a period of mist, so we quickly set up the tents and then retreated inside the hut to attempt to dry out our clothes.  Here, we met a hiking party from Switzerland that were our age, as well as an older fellow that was a local to the area.  After dinner we returned back to the tents for an early bed.

The forecast for the following day looked bleak, and the weather did not disappoint.  It rained incredibly hard that first night; so hard in fact, that I woke up to the sound of the rain pelting the sides and top of the rain fly on the tent.  We quickly broke camp and trudged on through the mist, taking a brief rest stop after 7 km at the Gouland Downs.  After Shaun and Mike finished making coffee, we continued on towards Saxon Hut via subalpine scrubland and tussock.  From there, it was a long 17.2 km go towards the James Mackay Hut (our destination for the day), through periods of mist and drizzle, brief sunshine, and then pounding rain squals.  The track was decent at times, and incredibly wet and muddy at others.  Fortunately, we arrived at Mackay Hut during a brief spell of sunshine, so we set up our tents on these upraised wooden platforms... structures that would soon haunt us!

That night was a brutal sleep, as it rained hard and heavy almost all night long.  The wind gusts would buffet the tents and the wooden platforms caused the rainwater to pool and eventually soak through the tent footprints and into the bottom of each tent, completely soaking packs, clothes and sleeping bags alike!  Becoming mobile at 8 am, we assessed the situation and decided to ex nay our initial plan of leaving the tents set up, while we made a day-trip another 30-odd Km down the track to some pretty scenery along the coast.  But with no pretty scenery to be seen, and our gear already drenched, we decided to break camp and haul ass through the rainstorm back the way we had come.  The local Ranger had informed us that the Gouland Downs Hut would be unoccupied that night, and he said that if we liked, he would be willing to allow us to stay there and dry out our tents and gear.  

 Thanking this friendly, helpful, and sympathetic Department of Conservation Ranger, we quickly headed out into the eye of the storm.  This was the hardest bout of rain the entire trek, and it rained almost non-stop.  Despite having great rain gear (it really held up well, I swear), what little that was dry from the previous night, got soaked, too.  Because of all the rain, the tiny trickling creeks that had crossed the track the day before had now turned into raging rivers and required me to simply bite the bullet and wade knee-deep across.  

Fortunately for me, Shaun and the bros were faster hikers than I and they had gone ahead to the Gouland Downs Hut and got a fire going.  Upon arrival I joined the others in beginning to dry out my effects, while it continued to just piss outside the 8-bunk hut.  Now warm, and I dry, I was tired and crawled into bed before the others, only to awake to a mouse crawling around my ears across the bunks.  This resulted in a hut-wide search and destroy mission, which we eventually accomplished before again trying to return to sleep.

Day 4 of the Heaphy Track started the same as the previous 3... with rain.  In fact, this was the 6th consecutive day of rain in a row! Uff-da!  Eventually though, the rain began to let up and with the same fire from the previous day still drying our things, our spirits began to lift.  We decided that this would be a good day to just relax, hang out in/around the hut and recoup after the previous wet weather days.  At one point during the afternoon, Mike, Kevin and I went for a short little walk through the nearby Downs and stumbled upon a cave which we then spent the next 1.5 hours exploring thoroughly via the light on Mike's iPhone (we had all left our headlamps back at the hut, see...).  This unmarked, extensive cave network was incredibly cool: filled with stalagmites and stalactites, as well as rushing water and local NZ insects called Weva.

... To Be Finished (when I get more reliable internet access...)
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