The Heaphy Track to Scott's Beach and Return.....................and What a Return !!


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Published: September 30th 2020
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There was more wind and rain along with a measure of thunder during the night and it didn’t appear as though there was going to be any moderation of the weather during the day.

However we had come to the Buller with a plan in mind and a bit of a wild ‘weather bomb’ wasn’t going to put us off.

To set ourselves up for the assault on the first hour or 3.9km of the Heaphy Track,one of New Zealand’s Great Walks we had to drive to Karamea some 90km north of Westport.

The suggested time to walk the 7.8km round journey from the car park at the start of the track to Scott’s Beach and back was around 2 hours and with the trail described as easy to moderate it looked like that could be achieved even in the wind and passing heavy showers.

We weren’t in any particular hurry to leave Westport as we had overnight accommodation at the Karamea Village Hotel for when we returned from the walk and with daylight saving having started at 2am in the morning we had an extra hour’s daylight on our side.

The drive north was coastal for around half of the distance so we had regular views of the pounding seas being driven in by the galeforce wind and every so often a squall of rain would also reach us on the highway.

We passed the turn off to Denniston,where we had been yesterday,and onto Granity,Ngakawau and Hector all small settlements being home to workers at the open cast coal mine high up on the plateau behind the settlements.

The road then heads inland and soon after starts a winding climb up the Radiant Range to a summit of 450 metres above sea level and then down to a valley where there were a small number of dairy farms on land cleared from the dense native bush.

Another shorter climb took us to 250 metres above sea level before we dropped down to the coastal settlement of Little Wanganui and onto Karamea.

We had made good time so carried on the final 14km to the car park at the start of the Heaphy Track and readied ourselves with snack supplies and water for the walk to Scott’s Beach.The wind was still blowing at gale force in the up in the trees but at least the rain seemed to be staying out to sea…..for now.

So off we headed into the bush with the swing bridge across the Kohaihai River the first challenge for the 6 city dwellers not used to walking over a bridge that moved quite freely beneath one’s feet.

That accomplished we made good progress along a level track with some lovely native bush all around us and stands of Nikau Palms which gives the area a sub tropical look even in the stormy overhead conditions.

The track climbed steadily to the Scott’s Beach lookout where the wind was howling through the low ridge of the lookout making any stop there a short one as we all had a desire to get back into the relative quiet of the native bush.

The track then descended to Scott’s Beach and with about1km to go we came across 4 mountain bikers coming towards us having been on the full length of the track for a couple of days.The woman up front looked and sounded energetic as she earnestly pedalled her way up the hill we were coming down,while her fellow bikers seemed less enthralled in the hill despite the fact that soon it was all downhill for them to the car park.

The rain was still holding off as we reached the camping ground at Scott’s Beach giving us hope that it might do so for our return hike.

We had taken close to an extra 30mins for the journey as my right leg,which has been giving me problems recently, decided it didn’t want to do this hike any more even with the help of a dear friends Nordic poles which I had borrowed before embarking on the South Island trip, to give some assurance on my right hand side.

As we set off for the return hike the rain returned coming in off the sea blown by the gale force wind and even though the dense native bush provided some shelter the slowness of my walking meant we were going to spend longer in the rain and cold than we should have.

The Hoofs went on ahead to get the boys back to the warmth of their car as quickly as possible as the air temperature had dropped with the persistant rain,while Gretchen stayed with me as I ‘hobbled’ along,gritting my teeth,and thinking whether a rescue in the bush might turn out to be the result of what should have been an easy2 hour hike.

At last we got to the swingbridge to cross the river.

However,our arrival coincided with a raging squall of gale force wind which had the trees on the opposite side of the river being lashed sideways while the rain came in horizontally.

The swingbridge,with no one on it,bounced around and during the greatest gusts bounced at angles that we were both convinced would be unsafe to try and walk across.So we waited several minutes until the squall started to abate and the bouncing of the bridge diminished.

Then we went for it,as the squall rose again but to lesser severity than before, while we were half way across the 40 metres odd length of the bridge.We wished we had thought of taking a photo or two and video while we waited, of the wildly rocking and swinging bridge but I think our minds were fixed on when the squall would end to make for the other side and perhaps we had thoughts that we might be here for quite some time.And perhaps there may have been an early onset of what might have ended up as hypothermia confusing our minds.

Getting back to the car was a relief and after disposing of rainwear we immediately turned the car heater onto full and maximum heat to try and get some warmth back into our bodies while at least drying our clothes to some degree as we drove the 14km back to the Karamea Village Hotel for our overnight stay.

That country bar never looked so good after a change into dry clothes.

We did have our sights on front seats by the roaring fireplace but the 4 mountain bike riders who had ridden by us as we approached Scott’s Beach, had beaten us to it and we had to be happy with a row of seats back while we downed a couple of Jim Beams and coke and beers before we tucked into dinner.

All the while the ‘weather bomb’ continued to hammer down on the roof of the hotel but at least we had achieved our goal for the day despite the fact that we couldn’t get through the whole hike without getting close to being hypothermic.

Tomorrow it’s off to Nelson Lakes National Park and some new grand scenery to take in on the way.


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3rd October 2020

Hypothermia missed
Sounds like you had a perfect storm on this trip...for hypothermia- the cold, the wet and the wind...can kill within 30 mins so you were lucky! Sorry to hear your body is not behaving itself...old age arthritis perhaps?
3rd October 2020

Heaphy Track
much when it was happening and the thought how we were going to get over the bucking swing bridge but it caught up with me 24 hrs later.,didn't have time to give the chill factor

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