Snails, Sand, Streams and the Tasman Sea (Heaphy track crossing part 3)

…continued from part 2

I awoke to the clanging of pots and pans and the banging of doors at 6 in the morning. Hikers are typically early risers, and there was no mercy for those who wanted a bit of a sleep in. After a solid 9 hours of sleep, I felt refreshed. The bunk was comfortably cool – the temperature had been kept up overnight by residual heat from the woodfire stove in the main hall. I stumbled out of the bunk and joined the others in the dining room for my breakfast of instant noodles and salami.

From looking at the elevation charts, the remaining 16km of the track was meant to be quite tame. Other than a couple of hundred metre climbs right at the end going over a saddle, the track mainly followed the coastline, and so I wasn’t expecting anything other than minor undulations for the most part. The main obstacle that I would face was actually the tide. There was a section of beach at Crayfish Point, just over half-way through, that could become dangerously impassable up to two hours either side high tide. Per the tide charts, high tide for that day was at around 9am. The time was now around 7, so I had already effectively missed my chance to cross prior to high tide.

I certainly wasn’t keen to sit around at crayfish point feeding sandflies while waiting for the tide to recede, so as far as I was concerned, there was no rush. I took my time at breakfast, packed my gear and as Jim and Cathy headed off for Kohaihai, I bade them farewell temporarily and headed out to the beach for a bit of a stroll, managing to connect a call to J in the process, and also update the details around  my “extraction”. I had arranged for a light aircraft to pick me up at Karamea, the nearest town/airport to the end of the track. Being the only passenger, I had to pay a minimum fee for 2, and so Mit, the friendly pilot and owner of Adventure Flights Golden Bay, kindly threw in a return airfare for J & E (who were staying near his base at Takaka) to come and pick me up, and see the sights along the track from the air.

DSCN0377After lazing around and generally procrastinating for around 30 minutes, I hit the trail at around 9am. Although well rested, my legs were still stiff and heavy from the effort the day before, so I started off at a brisk walk. The vegetation was similar to the day before, but the trail was alot firmer and far less rocky. As the blood started pumping through my legs, my joints and muscles began to loosen up, and soon I was able to break into a steady jog.

DSCN0382The weather forecast for the day was rain, but as I made my way along the coast, the sky remained a pale, overcast blue and temperatures were pleasantly cool. The fresh, salty coastal air was a perfect match for the furious roar of the Tasman Sea crashing up against the rocky beaches, and as I made my way down the track, the view alternated between brilliantly green Nikau palm groves and  stretching views of the spectacular coastline, and even though my legs were good for running, the frequent photo and scenery appreciation stops took a chunk out of my overall pace .

On the whole however, I wasn’t too worried. My transport arrangements on the end of the track were relatively flexible – get to the end, give both the shuttle bus driver and the pilot a call, and they would come and pick me up, more or less on demand. And so, rather than play the tortoise, I decided that being the hare might be a more appropriate way to savour this rather spectacular portion of the track.

DSCN0400Speaking of tortoises and hares, it took me a good hour to catch  Jim and Cathy who were steadily making their way along a palm-lined beach, just a couple of k’s from Crayfish point. Considering the weight of their packs and, respectfully, their seniority, they were certainly putting on a very quick pace. A quick exchange of pleasantries, and I bade them farewell, agreeing to pass on a message to the shuttle bus company that they were in fact a day early out from the track.


Looking back towards the Heaphy river mouth

The coastal trail had its share of treats. Sometimes, it would rise up on the steeper sections of the coastline, giving me great views along either direction of the trail. At other times, it would rock hop across  fast flowing streams rushing out to sea. And inbetween, it continued to weave through beautiful palm groves and sections of sandy white beaches awash with the pounding surf.


Crayfish Creek

When I was not busy gawking at the scenery or picking my way across the boulders in the streams, I was generally able to keep up a decent pace, between 6-7min/km, which I was pretty happy with given the lack of training and the big day I’d had the day before. This was pretty much my ideal trail run – no time pressure, no rush to be home by lunchtime, hundreds of miles from urban civilisation and jaw dropping scenery all round. The only thing that wasn’t quite perfect was my niggly tib post tendon, but hey, how often do all the pieces of the puzzle fall in place at the same time? And besides the odd ache or so, it had been relatively well behaved when considering what I was asking it to do.

At around the 10km mark, I arrived at Crayfish creek, and after a bit of careful rock hopping, I made my way down a small rock field and on to the beach at Crayfish point. DSCN0404The sand all the way up to the hillside was wet, indicating that not too long ago, the surf had been washing all the way up the beach. Looking at the crashing two metre waves, it was easy to see why there might be a safety issue if the weather was especially bad and the tide was high. By now though, the retreating waters meant that the sand was relatively firm, and I was just about to break into a run, when I noticed these three characters hanging out on the beach and enjoying the scenery. They must have been pretty accustomed to human traffic, as they were happy to let me within a couple of metres of them, although they did keep a wary eye on me as I snapped away.

Beyond crayfish point, the trail began to retreat away from the coastline, and the views out to sea became less regular as the trail began to reach back inland and track the last few hills before Kohaihai. DSCN0406As I slowed down to tackle one of the climbs, I noticed a large golf-ball sized object in the middle of the trail. I stooped down in excitement for a closer look. For my entire journey, I had been hoping for a glimpse of the carnivorous powelliphanta snail which called these mountains home. Till now, it had proved elusive. Unfortunately for me, no one was home – this poor snail had either died from dehydration or been picked off by a hungry possum. It’s shell was remarkable to look at though, pretty patterns of brown and deep red, looking almost like a finely polished wooden ornament.

The last coastline view before heading inland

The last coastline view before heading inland

As I made my way through the last couple of kilometers of the track, I started bumping into more and more day hikers who were coming out for a small taste of the Heaphy. The track climbed steadily up towards Kohaihai saddle, and while the gradient for the most part was still runnable, I decided that rushing the last part of my 78km, two day journey just wasn’t the right note to end on. So, out came the poles, and I made a steady hike through the forest, excited that the long journey was coming to an end, but at the same time, feeling a tinge of disappointment at that very same fact.

Kohaihai in the distance

Kohaihai in the distance

The trail twisted round the hillside and up through the saddle, and just over the top, I caught a glimpse of my destination in the distance. Too excited and lazy to pack away my poles, I grabbed them both in one hand and skipped down the 1.5km descent towards finish, weaving through puzzled walkers who must have been wondering what on earth the rush was. The trail was wide and well kept, with minimal rocks and other booby traps that had been a feature of the descent the day before, and I was able to have quite a rollercoaster ride on the windy path down the hill.


Almost there!

At the base of the hill was one last river crossing, the bridge across the large Kohaihai river, marking just over 200m to go. I strolled across the bouncy suspension bridge, looking back up the river at the mountains, and then down the river out to sea, taking in the final magnificent piece of nature that the trail had to show me.

The Kohaihai river flowing lazily out to sea

The Kohaihai river flowing lazily out to sea

Once over to the other side, I made the ceremonial dash over the last 200m of the trail, and took a few short moments to celebrate the successful journey with a sip of bourbon from the hip flask I’d carried all the way over the mountain, and the remaining sticks of beef jerky from my pack.

After taking a selfie at the trail end (which I managed to botch spectacularly – see below), I headed in to the shelter to dial a pickup. A lady from Karamea Connections answered, and I promptly discovered that I’d been given the wrong information by her business partner – my fare was to cost $40 rather than $30, as it was an on-demand pickup rather than a shuttle transfer at the stipulated time. This wasn’t a huge problem, except that I had only brought enough money for a $30 fare, and was hoping to have $20 to spend on lunch and a beer.

Selfie ultra-fail

Selfie ultra-fail

We had quite a nice chat along the way (but I have, to my embarrassment, forgotten her name!), and at the end of it, she decided to chop $5 off the difference, just so I could squeeze in a beer. I am now sold that New Zealand collectively has the friendliest folk on the planet. If you are ever headed out that way and need a lift from the Kohaihai end of the track, please do give Karamea Connections a call – their number is scribbled on the cover of the phone book in the shelter.


The river outside Karamea

Once in town, I ordered a large packet of fish and chips, and whilst waiting, I downed an icy cold New Zealand ale at the local pub. After that, with lunch safely tucked away under my arm, I made the 1.5km jog to the local airfield, just in time to see the tiny propellor driven plane circling round for landing. A family reunion was the perfect end to a 78km (83 including my detour!) epic journey, and I was ecstatic to see J and E (who had unceremoniously fallen asleep on the way). Mit, the pilot, helped me bundle my gear into the tiny cockpit, and with a steady drone of the single propellor on the nose of the plane, away we went.

Mit was extremely knowledgeable about the area, and had quite a few interesting tales to tell about the local mountains, lighthouses and Golden Bay in general. More importantly, he was an all-round good friendly NZ bloke, so once again, I’ll put a plug in for him and say if you’re ever up near Golden Bay and are looking for track air transport or just a scenic flight, look him up at Adventure Flights Golden Bay.

We flew back over up the coast and over the mountain ranges, and I had the arguable pleasure of retracing the route that took me 16 hours on foot, in just a little under half an hour.  As we circled round for the descent into the airfield in Takaka, I looked back over the mountain ranges again and thought to myself, “I just can’t wait to come back out here again!”.


My in-flight meal: Takeaway fish and chips

View out the starboard side of Mit the plane (yes his plane is named after himself).

View of Kahurangi National Park out the starboard side of the plane











Garmin data for leg 2

Combined statistics:

Total distance covered (not including the jog to the airport!): 82.84km

Total elevation gain: 2198m

Total time taken: 16:04:53

Total moving time: 12:46:04

Average pace: 11:39/km

Average moving pace: 9:15/km





This entry was posted in Family, Hiking, Running, Trail running, Ultrarunning and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Snails, Sand, Streams and the Tasman Sea (Heaphy track crossing part 3)

  1. Jill says:

    AGAIN, amazing pictures! Breathtaking.

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