Tim booked our Heaphy Track trip in December, soon after the announcement of the 3 year mountain bike trial. After 5 months of anticipation the trip kind of creapt up on us.
The plan was to fly to Takaka on Golden Bay Air on Friday, spend the night at Brown Hut, then ride through to James Mackay for Saturday night, spend Sunday night in Karamea and then ride to Westport to fly home on Monday. Things didn't exactly go to plan. The weather conditions in Wellington and Takaka prevented Golden Bay Air Flying, I thought this would be the end of our trip however Golden Bay Air flew us to Nelson, drove over and picked us up and then shuttled us to Takaka. I have to say they were fantastic and totally exceeded our expectations.
On arrival at Takaka we made a last minute decision to stay at the Junction Hotel, put our bikes together in the dry, and have a warm comfortable night. The weather in Takaka was very wet, and as we had got soaked through on the tarmac at Wellington staying was an easy decision.
The Golden Bay Air pilot kindly picked us up at 7am (on his day off) and dropped us ot the first ford on the Heaphy Access road. We used the farmers bridge to cross this one, the second ford was up to my waist and the water was moving fast, Tim had to rescue me from the main flow when I got stuck!
The rain was steadily falling and it wasn't exactly warm. All our gear was in plastic bags inside our dry bags, and secured to Freeload Racks. We both put most of the weight on the bike.
I wore a jacket, baggies, a merino base layer, and cycle top, Tim had the same plus his wet suit top, and long skins. By the time we reached Aorere Shelter we were both frozen. For some reason we found the climb, about 12km very slow, it was wet, with various sized rocks, but the gradient wasn't too bad. Due to the weather I spent most of the time looking at the ground.
At the shelter we were glad of the gas cooker we were carrying. I cooked us a hot meal and a hot drink, and we had a general purpose grizzle. We were concerned about our lack of progress and started to worry we weren't going to make it to James Mackay before dark. We made a conscious decision to up the pace.
After half an hour more riding we made it to Perry Saddle Hut, the gradient here was almost flat and we were heartened when passing the sign noting the "highest point on the Heaphy track." - 910m we think
After Perry Saddle the ride was down hill and rocky. On this part of the track the rocks were sharp so some care was required. The descent was great fun and it was wet enough for the mud on the trail to slow you. On reflection this was my favourite part of the ride. We were still focused on moving at a good rate and started passing people who had started over an hour before us.
We made it to Gouland Downs in what seemed like no time. The ride on the downs was undulating, there were big boulders and fast moving rivers. I am sure it was quite pretty, but we just couldn't see anything. We met the first two swing bridges on the downs - what a pain! They were hard to cross, energy sapping, cloth snagging, and dry bag ripping. We found out later that a rider in a group behind us had decided to cross the river with his bike, rather than use the swing bridge, he got swept 40m downstream and was close to drowning!We had a coffee break at Saxton Hut and then headed up the climb so we could descend to James Mackay Hut. This section of the track floods regularly and we were lucky not to have a flood. The descent to the Hut was very wet and the type of mud seemed to change from grippy to slippery. Just before we reached the hut I caught a whiff of a coal fire - I never thought a coal fire smell would be so welcoming.
The first day took us 7 hours including all breaks etc. I think we had at least 1 hour inside huts and could have moved quite a lot faster in the first few hours. I ripped my dry bag on a swing bridge and so double bagging our kit paid off. The hut was warm and it was easy to dry our stuff, and we stayed warm in 2 season sleeping bags all night. We were comfortable in the hut and managed to consume about 1.5 litres of wine! (Thanks for carrying the cask Tim)
We were joined in the hut by 12 members of the Ground Effect team. Guy, Laurence, and the guys were exceptional company! It is easy to see why Ground Effect is such a successful business, the enthusiasm and positive manner of the group was neat.
Thunder and lightning entertained us overnight and we awoke to a southerly change and more rain. After a hearty porridge breakfast we were off. Both Tim and I put on every piece of clothing we had, we were both comfortably warm on the 1.5 hour down hill ride to Lewis Hut.
The descent was heaps of fun, and certainly the most technical part of the trail. I really enjoyed it, it challenged me but was still fun. We both had a couple of crashes, I was most amused to see Tim slowly go over the handle bars in one of those slow speed crashes you can't do much about.
After Lewis Hut we were greeted by 4 more swing bridges and a lot of energy sapping mud! We started to get cold at this point. We were both wet through and waiting at the bridges didn't help retain heat. I think I whinged a lot on this section. We lubed our chains regularly on this section but both still got chain suck. My drive train was brand new (wrecked now) and so I'm not sure what else I could have done to prevent this.
Finally we reached Heaphy Hut and we had lunch with the ground Effect crew heading in our direction. They were a lot warmer than we were (superior kit maybe?), I was pleased to be wearing my Helter Skelters, why I carried them all day on Saturday and never put them on is beyond me.
The terrain after Heaphy Hut was pretty much flat and coastal. There was a lot of getting on and off bikes to cross streams, sandy sections and more mud. I think this was the most scenic section with huge forests of Nikau Palms right down to the sea. After about 1.5 hours we reached the track end.
At the track end it started raining again and we realised our 16km ride into Karamea was going to be into a 100kph head wind! As we were riding past the very green coastal farms even the cows looked unhappy and Tim said to mention he was riding with his right eye closed to keep the hail out! (I was drafting and sheltering of course)
After an eternity we arrived at our motel, Karamea River Motels. These guys were excellent. Kay and Joe had the heater on in the room and the washing machine ready. Kay then took us to the Last Resort for a yummy dinner. When having dinner we mentioned that given the weather we would try and get a lift to Westport, Joe didn't hesitate to offer us a ride as he was heading that way anyway. If you are in Karamea I thoroughly recommend the Karamea River Motel
In the morning Kay and Joe drove us to Westport and we learnt a lot about the history of the area on the way. We managed to waste the day in Westport with coffee, food, beer tasting, coffee and food. We just about didn't make out of Westport as our plane had trouble finding a gap in the clouds to land.
It was a challenging weekend indeed mainly because of the weather, my advice is:
- double and triple bag your stuff when in dry bags
- wear polypro, merino is not warm enough
- take matches to light the cookers
- 2 season bags are warm enough
- take some extra brake pads just in case (neither of us wore out a set but nearly - we are not hard on brakes)
- take a little gas stove for emergency warm food
- candles are useful in the huts
- take lots of lube and use it, also make sure your drive chain is in good condition
- there are pots etc in most of the huts
- Hot chocolate sachets rock
- If you can keep your back wheel off the ground when crossing the swing bridges it is easier