Swingbridge over Wekakura Creek

Image: DOC/90 Seconds | ©


Travel through expansive tussock downs, lush forests and nīkau palms to the roaring seas of the West Coast.


  • Look and listen out for great spotted kiwi/roroa and takahē around Gouland Downs.
  • There are nocturnal carnivorous land snails around Heaphy Hut on a damp night.
  • Mountain bikes are allowed between 1 May and 30 November.

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Bookings are open for trips from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021.


Track overview

78.4 km

Mountain biking

2 - 3 days Advanced: Grade 4

Seasonal restrictions

Mountain biking is only allowed from 1 May - 30 November.

Dog access

No dogs

About this track


The Heaphy Track is well formed and well marked. All major stream and river crossings are bridged.

You can start the track either from Brown Hut in Golden Bay (156 km from Nelson) or from Kohaihai on the West Coast (110 km from Westport). It's not a circuit track and is described here from Golden Bay to Kohaihai.

Popular walking options

For a 4 day, 3 night trip, most walkers stay at Perry Saddle, James Mackay and Heaphy Huts.

For a 5 day, 4 night trip, most walkers stay at Perry Saddle, Saxon, James Mackay and Heaphy Huts.

A popular 2 day, 1 night trip on the western side is from Kohaihai to Heaphy Hut, returning to Kohaihai.

Brown Hut to Perry Saddle Hut

Time: 5 hr
Distance: 17.5 km

About 180 m upstream from the hut, cross the bridge over the Brown River, then a grass flat, before winding up a well-defined track and into the bush. The track climbs gradually, following a route once surveyed for a road.

After 4 hours, Aorere shelter is reached. From here, the Aorere Valley is seen extending northwards and on clear days it is possible to see Mt Taranaki/Egmont. Thirty minutes before Perry Saddle Hut, a short track leads to a viewpoint at Flanagans Corner. At 915 m, this is the highest point on the track.

Perry Saddle Hut is 880 m above sea level. Near the hut in Gorge Creek is a deep but cold pool, popular for swimming.

Campsites and huts between Brown Hut and Perry Saddle

Perry Saddle to Gouland Downs Hut

Time: 2 hr
Distance: 7 km

Cross Perry Saddle and sidle above Perry Creek through tussock clearings and patches of beech. Soon the valley widens and the track climbs a small rise to where the Gouland Downs, an open tussock area, is revealed stretching out to the west.

The track meanders easily down to Cave Brook, passing the famed pole to which trampers have tied old boots over the years. Just beyond the brook is Gouland Downs Hut. Nearby, a small patch of beech grows on a limestone outcrop which has escaped erosion. This area is worth exploring. The track crosses one of several limestone arches, which are the remnants of old caves. Nearby, a small waterfall flows out of another cave passage.

Campsites and huts between Perry Saddle and Gouland Downs Hut

Gouland Downs Hut to Saxon Hut

Time: 1 hr 30 min
Distance: 5.4 km

Beyond Gouland Downs Hut the track is relatively level as it crosses the northern part of Gouland Downs. The tussock country and riverbeds make for good exploring but, when the mist lowers, the featureless downs can be confusing and it is easy to become disorientated.

Saxon Hut, nestled near the end of the downs, is named after John Saxon, who surveyed the track in 1886.

Campsites and huts between Gouland Downs Hut and Saxon Hut

Saxon Hut to James Mackay Hut

Time: 3 hr
Distance: 11.8 km

From Saxon Hut the track drops slightly to grassy flats beside the Saxon River and then climbs gently up to a broad ridge, which joins Gouland Downs to Mackay Downs.

Flooded area between Saxon and James Mackay huts.
Flood prone area between Saxon and James Mackay huts

A section on Mackay Downs floods in extremely wet conditions. This is a 70 m piece of the track across a wetland and a bridge. It becomes impassable and quite dangerous. Walkers should wait for the water to recede.

The track now skirts the edge of Mackay Downs to James Mackay Hut, winding in and out of several small streams, just before they tumble off the downs and fall to the Heaphy River on the left. The vegetation is alternately tussock field and shrub-fringed patches of beech forest. Small creeks dissect the landscape and the pink granite sparkles and crunches beneath your feet.

James Mackay Hut is situated just above the track on an open terrace. The Tasman Sea and Heaphy River mouth can be seen from here, 15 km to the west and 750 m below. It is named after the explorer who first pressed for a bridle track to be established between Collingwood and the West Coast.

Campsites and huts between Saxon Hut and James Mackay

James Mackay Hut to Lewis Hut

Time: 3 hr 30 min
Distance: 12.5 km

Beyond James Mackay Hut, a gradual descent to the Heaphy River begins. The track is through beech forest at first but soon the richer and taller forest typical of the West Coast becomes dominant. Occasional tantalising glimpses of the Heaphy River below are seen through the forest. The sounds of rushing water grow louder and suddenly the hut appears at the junction of the Heaphy River with the smaller Lewis River, along with sandflies and the first nikau palms.

Charles Lewis was a Collingwood surveyor who, in the 1880s, was first to investigate Mackay’s proposed bridle route. 

Campsites and huts between James Mackay and Lewis Hut

Lewis Hut to Heaphy Hut

Time: 2 hr 30 min
Distance: 8 km

From Lewis Hut, head back up the track for a short distance and cross the Heaphy River, via the 148.4 metre suspended deck suspension bridge – the longest ever built by DOC. The track continues along the left bank to the river mouth through a forest of kahikatea, rimu and rata. Glossy-leaved shrubs perch precariously in the tall trees, flourishing in the abundant light and extracting nutrients from humus (accumulated plant debris) in their hosts’ branches.

In dry spells, the sluggish river meanders along peacefully, but in times of heavy rain especially when it’s high tide, sections of the track and bridges get flooded. An area of limestone and karst locally known as Cave Stream about 15 min before Heaphy Hut, floods after periods of heavy rain. Extra care is required at both places in flood conditions and walkers should wait for the water to recede.

Towards the river mouth, nikau palms become more common, the sea’s incessant roaring grows louder and, in some conditions, small waves can be seen running upriver. Heaphy Hut is situated far enough back from the sea to be spared the worst of the winds.

The river mouth is at the junction of two pounamu (greenstone) trails and archaeological work has uncovered evidence of occupation by Maori that extends back 500 years. In 1905, an extensive European settlement was surveyed in the lower valley, but it was never built.

Warning: It is dangerous to wade or swim at the mouth of the Heaphy River due to extreme tidal currents and rips. 

Campsites and huts between Lewis Hut and Heaphy Hut

Heaphy Hut to Kohaihai River Mouth

Time: 5 hr
Distance: 16.2 km

Warning: Sections of the coastal track between Heaphy Hut and Kohaihai may be affected by large wave surges during high tides and rough seas which can cause the track to be temporarily impassable. Check tide timetables

The Heaphy River mouth is an exciting place. The river surges out through a narrow gap into the sea - in-coming waves halt the flow and the churning of salt and fresh waters is spectacular.

The track south to Kohaihai is through forest although beach walking is possible in some places. Some of the small streams are not bridged and can be dangerous after heavy rain. The forest has rata and karaka trees, many vines and groves of nikau palms. Be careful of the stinging nettle that grows in places.

Just beyond Katipo Creek is Crayfish (Koura) Point. Crayfish Point no longer requires visitors to traverse the beach and plan around high tide. There is a high level track above the beach well away from the sea. The only risk that still faces people here is to take care crossing Crayfish Stream particularly after or during rainfall as it can flood quickly (and drops quickly).

Soon Scotts Beach is reached - the clearing here is a good spot to rest before climbing over Kohaihai Saddle and down through wind-blasted shrubs to a bridge across the Kohaihai River. The track follows the riverbank for 400 m to Kohaihai carpark where there is a shelter and phone.

The section of track around the Kohaihai River mouth may experience flooding issues when the river mouth becomes blocked. An alternative track has been put in place to allow visitors to bypass this area when this occurs.

Warning: It is dangerous to wade or swim at the mouth of the Kohaihai River due to extreme tidal currents and rips. 

Campsites and huts between Lewis Hut and Heaphy Hut

Fees and bookings


Fees are charged per person, per night to stay in huts and campsites on the Heaphy Track. There are no fees to complete a day walk on the track or for entry into the Kahurangi National Park.

Pay your fees by booking huts and/or campsites before you start the track. Fees are the same year round.


New Zealand citizens, those ordinarily resident in New Zealand*:

  • Adult (18+ years): $34 per person, per night
  • Child (17 years and under): free but booking still required

International visitors:

  • Adult (18+ years): $34 per person, per night
  • Child (17 years and under): $17 per person, per night

* New Zealand rates:

  • "Ordinarily resident in New Zealand" means those:
    • who hold a residence class, student or work visa; and
    • who have lived in New Zealand for six of the previous 12 months; and
    • for whom New Zealand is their primary place of established residence.
  • Proof of eligibility will be required for the New Zealand rate - see acceptable eligibility proof.

New Zealand citizens, those ordinarily resident in New Zealand*:

  • Adult (18+ years): $14 per person, per night
  • Child (17 years and under): free but booking still required

International visitors:

  • Adult (18+ years): $14 per person, per night
  • Child (17 years and under): $7 per person, per night

* New Zealand rates:

  • "Ordinarily resident in New Zealand" means those:
    • who hold a residence class, student or work visa; and
    • who have lived in New Zealand for six of the previous 12 months; and
    • for whom New Zealand is their primary place of established residence.
  • Proof of eligibility will be required for the New Zealand rate - see acceptable eligibility proof.

A 10% discount is available to members, staff and instructors of the following organisations, who also hold a valid 12 month Backcountry Hut Pass: NZ Mountain Safety Council; NZ Federated Mountain Clubs; NZ Deer Stalkers Association; NZ Land Search and Rescue (LandSAR); Scouts New Zealand; GirlGuiding NZ.

Discounts are not available online. To receive the discount we need to sight your membership card and Backcountry Hut Pass, so please visit a DOC visitor centre in person. If you get a discount you won't be charged a booking fee.

Book the Heaphy Track online

See Getting there for transport options to the closest towns. 

What to book 

Before you start walking or mountain biking the Heaphy Track, you need to book: 

  • Huts and/or campsites on the track – the track takes 4-6 days to walk or 2-3 days to ride
  • Transport to/from the start/end of the track – the walk is one-way with the track ends approx. 463 km apart

How to book 

Bookings are open for trips from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021.

  1. Decide what direction you want to walk or ride the track in – from Brown Hut in Golden Bay or Kohaihai on the West Coast. Air and shuttle services, and vehicle relocations are available for both ends.
  2. Decide what huts or campsites you want to stay at. Consider:
    • Location of huts and campsites on the track – huts and campsites are not always in the same location
    • Distances between huts/campsites and walking times or mountain biking times
    • Drop off and pick up times of transport operators. 
  3. Decide the date you want to stay at each hut/campsite. Note the maximum stay at each hut/campsite is 2 nights.
  4. Check availability of huts and campsites on the dates you want to stay. If there is no space in one of the huts/campsites you want to stay at, consider:
    • Starting your walk on a different date
    • Rearranging your walk to use a different combination of huts/campsites
  5. Check the availability of transport services on your desired dates.
  6. Book huts/campsites.
    • Book online, or
    • Contact a DOC visitor centre or a local i-SITE for personal assistance
    • Note: Bookings are required for children and/or youth even though it's free for them to stay.
    • If you're booking campsites, you'll need to know the number of people in your group as well as the number of tent sites required.
  7. Book transport services to/from the start/end of the track with a transport operator.

Terms and conditions

Read the booking terms and conditions (scroll to the bottom to find the Terms and Conditions link) for general information, age ranges, prices, discounts, penalty rates and the alterations and cancellations policy. Bookings not meeting the terms and conditions will be treated as invalid and cancelled.

Booking on behalf of others

Guided groups: To operate a commercial activity in an area managed by DOC, you need to apply for a concession (an official permit), in addition to any bookings you would need to make. Read more about concessions 

To make multiple bookings for facilities/services on behalf of customers, you must obtain permission or an agent agreement from DOC. To do this, email: agents@doc.govt.nz 


Getting there

Location of Heaphy Track.
Location of the Heaphy Track in the north-west corner of the South Island

The Heaphy Track is not a circuit track; the start/end of the track at Brown Hut in Golden Bay and Kohaihai on the West Coast are 463 km apart by road.

Air access

Air services make it possible to walk the track one way and return by air to near your starting point.

Air New Zealand flies into Nelson, the closest regional airport to the Brown Hut, and Sounds Air flies into Westport, the closest regional airport to Kohaihai.

A number of local operators provide air transport into Takaka in Golden Bay and Karamea on the West Coast.

Road access

Brown Hut is 156 km and a 2 hr 25 min drive from Nelson. To reach this eastern end of the track:

  • take SH 60 from Nelson to Collingwood (128 km)
  • at Collingwood take the road up the Aorere Valley to Brown Hut (28 km).

Kohaihai is 110 km and a 1 hr 45 min drive from Westport. To reach this western track end:

  • take SH 67 from Westport to Karamea (95 km)
  • at Karamea head north to the car park and campsite at the Kohaihai River (15 km).

Track transport

Bus and taxi services are available to reach either end of the track from nearby towns. Regular bus services link Nelson and Westport. Vehicle relocation services are also available. 

There is a telephone at Brown Hut; local calls for transport are free. There is also mobile coverage at Kohaihai Campsite. 

Know before you go

Your safety is your responsibility. To have a great time in the outdoors, know before you go the five simple rules of the Outdoor Safety Code to help you stay safe:

  1. Plan you trip
  2. Tell someone
  3. Be aware of the weather
  4. Know your limits
  5. Take sufficient supplies

1. Plan your trip

Seek local knowledge, and plan the route you'll take and the amount of time you expect it to take.

It's important to plan, prepare and equip yourself well. Have the right gear and skills required for the trip and always check the latest information about facilities you plan to use and local weather conditions.

Walking seasons

You can walk the Heaphy Track all year. The most popular period is during the summer from Christmas through to Easter, but walking the track in autumn can be good option - there are fewer people on the track and the weather is often calm and settled.

Mountain biking is only permitted on the Heaphy Track from 1 May to 30 November each year.


There is a small risk of giardia, we recommend that you treat water before you use it.

Other risks

Major hazards are generally managed on the track during the summer (October to April) but not those hazards that are off track or on side tracks.

Facilities and services

Transport, activity, equipment and accommodation businesses operate in the summer. Some businesses do not operate in winter.

Huts and campsites must be booked all year round. See Fees and bookings.

In summer (November to April) DOC rangers rotate among the huts, while in winter they are on the track or at the huts less frequently.

For the latest information, check for alerts/important notices on the Heaphy Track page, or contact the Nelson Visitor Centre. 

2. Tell someone

Tell someone your plans and leave a date to raise the alarm if you haven't returned.

The Outdoors Intentions process on the AdventureSmart website is endorsed by New Zealand's search and rescue agencies and provides three simple options to tell someone you trust the details about your trip.

Fill in the visitor’s book if you are staying in a hut. In summer (October to April), one of our DOC rangers will be at each hut and is able to pass on information about the area or assist should an emergency arise.

3. Be aware of the weather

New Zealand's weather can be highly unpredictable. Check the forecast and expect weather changes.

On the Heaphy Track the weather is changeable with annual rainfall averaging over 4000 mm. Heavy rain can occur with little warning and cause streams to flood - do not attempt to cross these when they are in flood. Be prepared for rain, snow and wind especially on the exposed sections of the track.

Weather information at Bainham (closest weather station to the Heaphy Track)
  Average daily high temp ˚C Average daily low temp ˚C Average number of rainy days
January 22 11 11
February 23 11 9
March 20 9 10
April 18 7 12
May 16 4 13
June 14 2 13
July 13 1 13
August 14 3 14
September 15 5 14
October 17 6 15
November 19 8 13
December 21 10 12

4. Know your limits

Challenge yourself within your physical limits and experience.

To do the trip you need to be reasonably fit and have good equipment to cover all possibilities.

The Heaphy Track is classed as an easy tramping track suitable for walkers with moderate fitness and limited experience. The track is mostly well formed and some sections maybe steep, rough or muddy. It has signs, poles or markers and major stream and river crossings are bridged.

You can expect to:

  • Walk or bike up to 3 - 5 hours a day and longer dependent on your fitness and trip
  • Carry a pack of up to 15 kg for 78.4 kms
  • For a 4 day trip, to walk up to 24 km per day
  • For a 5 day trip, to walk up to 21 km per day
  • Parts of the track to have a hard and uneven walking/biking surface

5. Take sufficient supplies

You must be sufficient: make sure you have enough food, clothing, equipment and emergency rations for the worst-case scenario. Take an appropriate means of communication such as personal locator beacon.

On the Heaphy Track be aware that:

  • Food is not available for purchase at any of the huts.
  • Generally cellphone coverage is poor and unreliable. At Aorere Shelter, on the beach near the Heaphy River mouth and along the coast track between the Heaphy Hut and Kohaihai Scotts Beach, coverage is usually available, although this depends on which telephone company you use.
  • There are no rubbish facilities on the track.Trampers are reminded there is a pack-in pack-out policy for all rubbish. All rubbish must be removed.

More information:

See: What to take

Tide tables

Heaphy Track coast tide tables

Visitors need to subtract 30 minutes from the Land Information New Zealand Westport Port tide timetables to get the correct tide times for the Heaphy Track coastline.

Wave surge warning

When planning your trip, ensure you check the tide tables and allow adequate time in case of delays.

Sections of the coastal track between Kohaihai and Heaphy Hut may also be affected by rogue waves, large wave surges during high tides and rough seas which can cause the track to be temporarily impassable.

Sections affected are clearly signposted.

You must make your own safety assessment and be prepared to wait until the tide retreats as there are no alternative tracks available.

What to take

Personal equipment

  • Backpack (40–60 litre size for multi-day hiking)
  • Waterproof/plastic pack liner
  • Sleeping bag (3–4 season)
  • First aid kit (including insect repellent, sunscreen, blisterkit, personal medication e.g. antihistamine for allergy towasp stings)
  • Survival kit (survival blanket, whistle, paper, pencil, highenergy snack food)
  • Safety equipment relevant to the track and time of year (e.g. map, compass)
  • Drink bottle (1-2 litre capacity)
  • Eating and cooking utensils (knife, fork, spoon, plate, cup,pot/pan/billy, cleaning kit, tea towel)
  • Matches or lighter in waterproof container
  • Toiletries
  • Torch/flashlight and spare batteries
  • Rubbish bag
  • Booking confirmation letter and ID
  • Use a toilet when you see one and be prepared with a back-up toilet option
If you're staying at Brown Hut or Gouland Downs Hut

These huts don't have gas cooking facilities or lighting. You'll need to take:

  • Portable stove and fuel
  • Candles
If you're camping
  • Tent
  • Sleeping mat
  • Camera
  • Ear plugs for communual bunkrooms


  • For multi-day walking you'll need at least one set of clothes to walk in and another dry set to change into at night. Walking boots or firm footwear (should be comfortable and well broken in)
  • Socks (wool or polypropylene)
  • Shorts (quick dry material)
  • Shirt (wool or polypropylene)
  • Under layers, top and bottom (wool or polypropylene)
  • Mid-layers (wool or polar fleece)
  • Raincoat (waterproof, windproof with hood)
  • Overtrousers (wind and water proof)
  • Warm hat and gloves
  • Sunhat and sunglasses
  • Extra socks, underwear, shirt/lightweight jersey
  • Gaiters
  • Lightweight shoes for inside the huts


You can't buy food on the track.

Bring food that is lightweight, fast cooking and high in energy value. For example:

  • Breakfast: cereal/porridge/oats, firm bread, honeyor other spreads
  • Lunch: cracker biscuits, cheese, salami, jam/jelly, fruit
  • Dinner: instant soup, pasta or rice, dried vegetables or fruit, cheese or dehydrated (freeze-dried) meals.

You'll also need water, snacks, biscuits, muesli bars, tea or coffee, powdered fruit drinks and emergency food in case of any delays on the track.

Mountain biking the Heaphy Track

The rules

  • Bikers must give way to walkers.
  • Night riding is not permitted.
  • Electric bikes are not allowed on the track.
  • You're not permitted to take a mountain bike into any hut or shelter, or onto hut porches.

You're responsible for:

  • obeying the mountain bikers code. The track is shared with hikers and other bikers – show respect for other users.
  • following signs and other markers that clearly identify where mountain bikes can be ridden and where they are not allowed
  • removing your bike from the national park should it break down.
  • obeying the closure of the track to mountain bike use. This will usually be after storms, heavy rain, snow or high-tide events, which may damage the track, particularly on the West Coast side.

When you can mountain bike

You can mountain bike the Heaphy Track in the winter season from 1 May to 30 November. Walkers will also be on the track during this time.

Where you can bike

You can ride mountain bikes on the Heaphy Track:

  • in both directions
  • in a group, provided there are no more than 6 riders in the group
  • during the day only from half an hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset. This is to protect two threatened nocturnal species found on parts of the track: the Powelliphanta snail and roa (great spotted kiwi).

You are not permitted to take a mountain bike:

  • in or out of the national park by helicopter
  • into any hut or shelter, or onto hut verandas or porches
  • off the formed and designated route.

Planning and preparation

As a multi-day ride, the Heaphy Track is much more demanding than other popular New Zealand multi-day rides.

As part of your preparation, you should have tackled at least one six-hour plus ride on technical singletrack, carrying a loaded 25–30-litre pack.

Track advice

The Heaphy Track is a tough ride – to ride safely you need to be fit, experienced and have good equipment.

The track is suited to riders that can do advanced Grade 4 mountain biking tracks. Fit, experienced riders should plan for two full days, staying overnight in a hut or designated campsite. Less experienced riders should anticipate a 3 day, 2-night trip.

Mountain bike track grade description

You can expect:

  • a well-formed 78.4 km track maintained to DOC Great Walk standard
  • bike stands at Perry Saddle, Saxon, James Mackay and Heaphy huts
  • numerous bridges, like swing and suspension, bridges
  • some rough track on the West Coast side. This area is more vulnerable to damage from rutting and erosion
  • changeable weather, including extremely cold temperatures, rain, wind and possibly snow. There are steep slopes, many bridges, avoidable obstacles and sections of track prone to deep flooding.

Watch out for takahē and the giant land snail:

  • Takahē have been released into Gouland Downs and are sometimes seen on or near the track. Ride with caution in this area.
  • The giant land snail, Powelliphanta, maybe on the track during the day, particularly after rain. Ride carefully and slowly through these areas, which are marked by signs – these snails are rare and unique to this part of New Zealand.


  • of tight corners and slippery rock between James Mackay and Lewis huts.
  • kea at James Mackay Hut have become attracted to bike seats and hydraulic brake lines. When staying overnight in a hut, remove your seat from your bike, keep it with your other personal items, and cover your brake lines.
  • flooding in the Saxon/James Mackay section and the lower Heaphy Valley can reach 1.5 metres deep over the track. Be prepared to wait until it’s safe to continue, or return to Lewis Hut.
  • a section between Heaphy Hut and Kohaihai Shelter is on a sandy beach. High tide or rough seas may delay your ride.

Fitness and what to take

You need to have a good standard of fitness, a reliable bike, and to carry all your food, clothes, overnight and personal gear, and bike tools and equipment.

This is a backcountry environment where you need to be self-reliant. At least one member of your party should know how to fix a bike.

If you plan to stay overnight, book your huts or campsites. Take your hut or campsite ticket with you if that is what you're using.

Hut to hut description

Brown Hut to Perry Saddle Hut

Time: 2 hr 30 min–3 hr 30 min
Distance: 17.5 km

The ride starts with a gentle steady climb, passing Aorere Shelter and winding up to 890 m through beech forest to Perry Saddle Hut.

Perry Saddle Hut to Saxon Hut

Time: 2–3 hr
Distance: 12.4 km

A mainly downhill ride to Gouland Downs on a wide, well-formed track. Initially, the track is quite steep with technical stony sections and deep streams.

Roughly halfway is Gouland Downs Hut. From here it’s 5.4 km to Saxon Hut.

Saxon Hut to James Mackay Hut

Time: 2–3 hr
Distance: 11.8 km

Boardwalks and a well-formed single track climb to James Mackay Hut with its spectacular view of the Heaphy River and West Coast. Look out for Powelliphanta giant snails in this section.

James Mackay Hut to Lewis Hut

Time: 1–2 hr
Distance: 12.5 km

This section is technical but an invigorating descent to Lewis Hut.

The track is rocky, rutted and soft in places. Get off your bike and walk these soft, muddy sections to avoid damage to the track or yourself.

Lewis Hut to Heaphy Hut

Time: 1.5 hr–2.5 hr
Distance: 8 km

There are a number of suspension and swing bridges on this section.

The suspension bridges are ride-able or alternatively use the approved MTB swing bridge crossing method. This method involves flipping your bike on its back with the rear wheel angled away from you at 45 degrees. With the stem in one hand move yourself by gripping the top wire with your other hand.

Flooding occurs over the track in the lower Heaphy Valley and can reach up to 1.5 m depth. Be prepared to wait or return to Lewis Hut until it’s safe to continue.

Avoid further damage to this part of the track by walking your bike through the muddy sections.

Look out for Powelliphanta giant snails in the Heaphy Valley and around Heaphy Hut.

Heaphy Hut to Kohaihai Shelter

Time: 3–4 hr
Distance: 16.2 km

This spectacular coastal section of track weaves in and out of nīkau palms and native bush on one side and the roaring Tasman Sea on the other.

Look out for Powelliphanta giant snails on the track around Katipo Creek.

Popular ride options

Two nights

This is a lot more manageable for most people and is a popular option. The second day is 44.7 km long leaving two easier half days.

  • Brown Hut to Perry Saddle Hut: 2 hr 30 min–3 hr 30 min, 17.5 km
  • Perry Saddle to Heaphy Hut: 6 hr 30 min–10 hr 30 min, 44.7 km
  • Heaphy Hut to Kohaihai Shelter: 3–4 hr, 16.2 km.

One night from Brown Hut

Two days, one night. This option roughly splits the ride in half.

  • Brown Hut to James Mackay Hut: 6 hr 30 min–9 hr 30min, 41.7 km
  • James Mackay Hut to Kohaihai Shelter: 5 hr 30 min–8 hr 30 min, 36.7 km.

One night from Kohaihai Shelter

A two day, one night ride from Kohaihai Shelter to Heaphy Hut is a good introduction to the track. Stay overnight in the hut and ride back out the next day. This is a popular family ride along the spectacular, rugged West Coast coastline.

  • Kohaihai Shelter to Heaphy Hut: 3–4 hr, 16.2 km. 

Nature and conservation


Trees and plants, east to west

The first section of the track climbs through a beautiful forest dominated by red and silver beech. Tiny orchids grow on the forest floor, many of them flowering in summer. At higher levels the trees are stunted and mountain beech appears near Perry Saddle.

Beyond the saddle are the Gouland Downs, a remnant of an earlier New Zealand, eroded to a nearly flat surface known as a peneplain. At 500 million years, the rocks here are among New Zealand’s oldest.

The rolling areas of red tussock with occasional patches of stunted silver beech are a spectacular sight, and somewhat eerie when the clouds lower. Flax, stunted shrubs and small herbs live among the sheltering tussocks. In boggy places, tiny sundews catch insects on sticky droplets, absorbing valuable nutrients from their quarry. Several plants found on the downs occur nowhere else, including a yellow-flowered lily and a small native foxglove.

Beyond Gouland Downs, the track skirts the Mackay Downs through more tussock fields and patches of beech. The bedrock here is glistening pink granite with large black and white crystals of mica and quartz.

From James Mackay Hut the track descends, passing initially through beech. Below an altitude of about 300 metres, the forest changes and podocarps — the fleshy-fruited New Zealand “pine” trees — appear, often emerging high above their neighbours. The most common is rimu, but miro, kahikatea and matai will also be seen. Beech is no longer the main canopy species at this level. Other broad-leaved species, such as rata, mahoe, kamahi, pigeonwood, hinau, pokaka and pukatea, appear, adding diversity to the forest. Undergrowth is generally richer than at higher altitude too. Kiekie and supplejack twist their way upwards, while many small shrubs jostle for light near the forest floor.

At the Lewis River junction the first nikau palms appear. The track continues through a bright and vine-festooned forest, following the naturally tannin-stained Heaphy River to its mouth.

The final section of the track skirts the beach and has both a subtropical and a sub-Antarctic feel to it; while the forest is very lush with many large-leaved glossy plants and vines, the cold sea is far from inviting, running far up the beaches and pounding the rocky points. Tight clumps of wiry shrubs huddle together, their form testifying to the wind’s strength and direction.


Weka, tui, bellbird, pigeon and robin are a few of the native birds which are readily seen. You may also see the large parrots - kea and kaka, the smaller parakeet and the blue duck. With luck and a bit more commitment it is possible to see, or at least hear, the great spotted kiwi.

Gouland Downs could be the home to the first wild population of takahē outside of their Murchison Mountain refuge. Get more information

Long-tailed bats are seen more rarely coming out at dusk to feed in the open on insects. They locate their prey using echolocation, sending out sound pulses inaudible to humans, which bounce back off anything in their path. This bat and the rarer short-tailed bat were New Zealand’s only land mammals before the arrival of people. Both are now threatened by destruction of their habitat and introduced predators, such as rats and stoats. Any bat sightings should be reported to DOC.

Kahurangi National Park harbours half of New Zealand’s 40 species of carnivorous land snail (Powelliphanta). Several may be seen along the track, particularly near limestone outcrops where there is enough calcium to nourish their sizeable shells. They shelter during the day and come out on damp nights to feed on native worms, which grow up to a metre long.

A number of animals brought to New Zealand by European settlers have become established in the national park. Deer numbers are low, while pigs (which eat Powelliphanta), goats and hares have yet to spread to the west of the park in any numbers.

Damage to forests near the track is minimal except on the West Coast, where the impact of possums on mature rata trees is becoming severe. Possums are also known to feed on Powelliphanta. All native wildlife in the park is protected. Taking live snails or their empty shells is prohibited.

Conservation projects

Great spotted kiwi

Kiwi surveys occur every five years at Gouland Downs and have now taken place three times. The good news for the great spotted kiwi is that this species appears to be holding its own. 

Kiwi numbers and population densities have remained much the same over the past 15 years. The recording of the presence of young kiwi is an encouraging sign that the population is renewing itself.

Great spotted kiwi live within Kahurangi National Park in the area around Gouland Downs. You may hear the birds calling at night from the Perry Saddle, Gouland Downs and Saxon huts. Kiwi are most likely to be heard after dark. Male and female make different calls. Male great spotted kiwi make a shrill, repeated, drawn-out whistle “kiwi”. The female great spotted kiwi makes a harsh, low “churr”.

Keep an eye out for kiwi feathers caught in vegetation along track edges, kiwi footprints in snow, probe holes where the birds have been digging with their powerful beaks in search of grubs and worms, and kiwi poo, which resembles extra large (up to 5cm) bird droppings.

Before your trip, you can hear the noise of a female great spotted kiwi on the What Bird? website.

Kiwi were once widespread throughout New Zealand in the time before Maori and Europeans arrived with their rats, dogs, cats, stoats and other mustelids. Kiwi evolved for thousands of years with little competition for the ground space of the forest. And back then there was plenty of forest! When mammals turned up, hunting with sound and smell, kiwi had no defences to deal with them.

The result is that today all kiwi are classed as threatened species. In some area, kiwi are managed very intensively—eggs and chicks are removed to pest-free zones, raised and returned to the wild when strong enough to survive on their own. To date, Kahurangi’s great spotted kiwi do not need this kind of attention.

Most Powelliphanta species occur in North-west Nelson and north Westland but, despite their diversity within Kahurangi National Park, you will be very lucky to see one alive.

They are nocturnal creatures but occasionally venture out on a rainy day. Their most active forays for food will be on warm, moist nights, especially those following a long, dry spell.

It is more likely that you will come across snail shells but remember—collecting Powelliphanta shells is illegal.

The largest species is Powelliphanta superba prouseorum, found in Kahurangi National Park and measuring about 90mm across. These are the Sumo wrestlers of the snail world, weighing in at 90 grams, or the equivalent of a female tui.

Powelliphanta land snails are under serious threat. Habitat loss and predation are the main problems. As a result of major habitat loss in the past, many snail populations are now restricted to tiny pockets of native forest.

If the forest is removed, opened up or dried out, many isolated populations could be gone forever. Domestic cattle, feral pigs, deer and goats trample the ground, which removes cover and causes drying—snails must have dampness. Possums, pigs and rats eat and crush the snails, as do weka, thrushes and hedgehogs. Possum control, rat control, weed control, revegetation programmes, habitat protection and wetland restoration are all conservation measures that are currently being carried out to give Powelliphanta a chance for survival.

History and culture

For many generations, Golden Bay Māori travelled to central Westland, where they sought pounamu (greenstone) for tools, weapons and ornaments. They followed a trail over Gouland Downs from the Aorere to the Whakapoai (Heaphy River) and also travelled the treacherous coast north of the Heaphy River mouth, risking wave-swept beaches and rounding huge bluffs using flax ladders.

The track is named after Charles Heaphy. In 1846, while a draughtsman with the New Zealand Company, he and Thomas Brunner, a surveyor with the company, were the first Europeans to traverse the coastal portion of the modern track. At the time, they were on an exploratory trip along the west coast with a Māori guide, Kehu.

The inland portion of the route remained uncrossed by Europeans for more than a decade after Heaphy’s coastal trek. A gold miner named Aldridge is believed to have traversed it first, in 1859, followed in 1860 by James Mackay, a warden on the Collingwood goldfields. Over the ensuring years the route was developed to a pack-track standard by prospectors, but by 1900 it was overgrown and infrequently used. With the 1965 establishment of the former North-west Nelson Forest Park, the track was cleared again for use by the public.

Controversy arose in the early 1970s over a proposed road from Collingwood to the West Coast. The former New Zealand Forest Service improved the track facilities and now a route with a long tradition of use for commerce has a new life as a premier tourist attraction.

Ancient settlement

Trampers staying at Heaphy Hut are resting right next to one of New Zealand’s oldest and most interesting archaeological sites.

The nearby bank of the Heaphy River was once a 13th to 14th century village, settled by people whose parents or grandparents could well have been born in Polynesia.

As is typical of early sites in New Zealand, many types of stone sourced from throughout the country were used at the Heaphy for tool manufacturing; argillite from D'Urville Island, obsidian from Mayor Island (east coast of North Island), chert from central Otago, West Coast greenstone and Heaphyite.

The abundance of stone from many sources adds weight to the idea that the first people in New Zealand explored the country quickly, readily discovering the best stone.

“Sections of stone paving were found at the site during excavations in the 1960s, which is extremely rare for early New Zealand archaeological sites. This was however quite common in parts of Polynesia”, reports DOC Technical Support Officer Jackie Breen.

The site was first excavated in 1961, which is just as well because two thirds of the original site has now eroded. A team from DOC, the University of Otago, the Historic Places Trust and Ngati Waewae is recording as much of the remaining site as possible before the river reclaims it.


For more information about the Heaphy Track contact:

Whakatū / Nelson Visitor Centre
Phone:   +64 3 546 9339
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Email:   nelsonvc@doc.govt.nz
Address:   Millers Acre/Taha o te Awa
79 Trafalgar Street
Nelson 7010
Postal Address:   Private Bag 5
Nelson 7042

For huts and campsites bookings help contact:

Nelson Marlborough Bookings Helpdesk
Phone:   +64 3 546 8210
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Email:   nmbookings@doc.govt.nz
Postal Address:   Private Bag 5
Nelson 7042


Whakatū / Nelson Visitor Centre
Phone:   +64 3 546 9339
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Email:   nelsonvc@doc.govt.nz
Address:   Millers Acre/Taha o te Awa
79 Trafalgar Street
Nelson 7010
Postal Address:   Private Bag 5
Nelson 7042
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