Heaphy Track

Key information: Heaphy Track

  • In comparison to the Abel Tasman Coastal track, this 78.4km track, situated in New Zealands stunning Kahurangi National Park, is the longer, wilder and tougher trek.
  • Located in the South Islands Northwest corner, this trek is characterised by the crashing waves of the West Coast and the overwhelming feeling that a route so spectacular should surely be more populated than it ever is.

Walkopedia rating

  • Walkopedia rating78
  • Beauty30
  • Natural interest16
  • Human interest2
  • Charisma30
  • Negative points0
  • Total rating78

Vital Statistics

  • Length: 78.4km
  • 4-6 days
  • Maximum Altitude: 900m
  • Level of Difficulty: Moderate


Located in the wild north-west corner of New Zealands beautiful South Island, the Heaphy track satisfies many of the demands a walker may make of a trail: not only is it challenging, exquisite and thoroughly photogenic, it also has a recognised history. 21st century visitors follow in the centuries-old footsteps of both Maori and European travellers, writing the next chapter of the paths history as they go.


The track takes its name from Charles Heaphy, who, in 1846, in the company of colleague Thomas Brunner negotiated the coastal portion of the current track. Prior to this the route had been the preserve of the Golden Bay Maori, who habitually made the journey to look for Pounamu (greenstone), which they used to make tools, weapons and jewellery. The inland portion of the track was not frequented by Europeans until gold miners began to cross that way in the late 1850s. By the end of the 19th century however, the track had fallen into disrepair and it was not until the 1960s, when the Northwest Nelson Forest Park was set up, that the track was re-established for public use.


The Heaphy Track is considered by many people to be the best of New Zealands Great Walks, as it combines alpine scenery with a rugged, palm-edged coastal panorama. It is possible to walk the track in both directions, but most people start at Collingwood and finish in Karamea. There are huts, evenly spaced along the track, which provide walkers with basic over-night accommodation (with the option of staying in a bunk or camping in the grounds). It is necessary to book your place at these huts with The Department of Conservation before you begin your walk.


Starting from the Collingwood end of the track, the first days walking takes you 17.5km from Brown Hut to Perry Saddle Hut, during which you cross the Brown River and climb to the tracks highest point at Flanagans Corner. The second days trek takes you 12.4kms to Saxon Hut, via open planes, river beds and limestone caves.


From Saxon Hut the track drops to the grassy flats beside the Saxon River and then up again to join Mackay Downs. A 70m section of the track across the Mackay Downs is liable to flood in severe wet weather and walkers are advised to wait for the water to subside should this occur. Passing through fields and areas of beech forest, this section of the track ends at James Mackay Hut.


The fourth days walking starts the ascent to the Heaphy River, 750m below the James Mackay Hut. 12.5 km into the days walking, the Lewis Hut is suddenly reached, at the junction between the Heaphy and Lewis Rivers. It is a good spot to stop for lunch and to apply insect repellent, as it is from this point onward that sand flies abound and all exposed patches of untreated skin will soon be itchy with bites! From Lewis Hut, the track crosses the Heaphy River and continues along its bank, through lush West Coast forest. This is another section of the track that often becomes impassable during times of very heavy rain and walkers are again advised to wait for water to subside before continuing. The culmination of the days walking is the Heaphy Hut, from which the wild West Coast waves can be heard crashing against the shore.


The final days walking takes you south to Kohaihai, largely on forest track, though it is occasionally possible to walk on the beach, when the nikau palms, often dramatic wave formations and rugged coastline make for some spectacular photo opportunities. Be sure to have checked the tide times before completing this last section of the walk, as the section beyond Katipo Creek can be cut off for 2 hours either side of high tide if the seas are rough. Having scaled the Kohaihai Saddle, the track culminates at the Kohaihai Carpark, where it is possible to phone your pick up to confirm your safe arrival.

Be warned that sand flies proliferate on the West Coast of the South Island! Take a strong insect repellent and cover up as much as possible. They are enough of a nuisance to mar your enjoyment of this fantastic area if you do not come prepared. As Captain James Cook noted in his journal when he came across the insects at Fiordlands Dusky Sound, possibly at a sandy beach, in May 1773:

"The most mischievous animal here is the small black sandfly which are exceeding numerous wherever they light they cause a swelling and such intolerable itching that it is not possible to refrain from scratching and at last ends in ulcers like the small Pox."

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Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.

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Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

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Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.


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