Tramping to the Heaphy Hut

For the adventure minded traveler, tramping in New Zealand is just something you do. Kiwis have developed one of the most well organized hut systems in the world. To visit and not spend time wandering in some of the world's most spectacular terrain is a missed opportunity.
For the adventure minded traveler, tramping in New Zealand is just something you do. Kiwis have developed one of the most well organized hut systems in the world. To visit and not spend time wandering in some of the world's most spectacular terrain is a missed opportunity. Perhaps the most difficult decision most adventure travelers make is figuring out which tramp to undertake. The options are many and each has its own particular appeal. Some tramps traverse high alpine ridge lines, others hug the beaches and rocky cliffs just feet away from the ocean. Because we live in the mountains of the American West, my wife and I chose to check out terrain we don't normally have access to ( we are fortunate to get more than our fair share of mountain time). The northwestern coastline along the Tasman Sea looked particularly appealing; a rugged coastline with expansive stretches of sandy beach. Perfect. We planned an out and back with a couple nights tent camping in between. Our destination was the Heaphy Hut.
We parked in an empty lot at the trailhead and readied our packs. It was early spring and the crowds hadn't showed up yet. Again...perfect. One of the biggest allures of the outdoors is being able to "get out there", be alone, and lose all the distractions that come with " people". We were quick to figure out, however that we were far from alone. The sand flies were on us. We had been warned. Tiny black dots swarmed out of the grass as soon as we stepped out of the car. We moved swiftly. Standing idle meant more bites, more welts. Before long we were chugging our way up the coast and the sand flies settled down...thankfully. IMGP1161
We hiked nearly six hours along a single track trail bordered on one side by densely vegetated steep hill sides and crushing waves of the Tasman Sea on the other. Only the most shrill birds could communicate over the constant pounding of the waves. Such Power ! Spectacular scenery glowing with color. Primordial fens and forest lined the muddy track. Frequently, the trail would deposit us on an empty stretch of sand, always with a last warning of high tides, unpredictable waves, and the dire consequences of unsound judgement. Some beaches are made for swimming, not these. These beaches were mother nature in all her glory; raw energy.

We encountered no one as we wound our way north along the west coast. IMGP1175
When we walked into the clearing surrounding the Hut I was ready to be done. No matter that we were hiking at sea level and not traversing lofty peaks in the clouds, six hours with a heavy backpack is enough to make my feet hurt. The hut lay on the eastern edge of a large lawn. Behind the hut, were the forested slopes of the hillside. The view from the hut was of the huge green lawn then the sandy beach and finally the Tasman Sea. It was a remarkable setting.
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We quickly poked our heads into the hut to get a sense of the place and see if we needed to "check-in". There was no one around. All was quiet. It looked typical for a tramping hut; a wood stove, a cook stove, a few cook pots and pans scattered around the shelves, a random assortment of fiction in various languages, a huge wooden table, and a back room with bunk beds. Bare bones but functional. Since we never intended to stay in the hut we didn't linger. On the way out I briefly perused the log book. There had been trampers here last night. The solitary tent set up in close proximity to the hut pretty much guaranteed visitors tonight as well.
We found a private campsite well off to the side with huge views. The door of our tent opened to the expansive green grass lawn, the river's mouth and the Tasman sea beyond. Wow! Behind us was a small lean- to structure designed to give the weather-beaten traveler cover from the rain. We had experienced a lot of rain as we moved up the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island. Knowing we had a lean-to as back-up was reassuring.

As quickly as we moved from boots to flip-flops, the flies were there. They were not just "there", they were EVERYWHERE!! The grass was thick with tiny biting dots. This meant our ankles and all other exposed skin was thick with tiny biting dots. Bummer.
Unfortunately, this beautiful "lawn" was appreciated as much by the sand flies as it was by us. We changed our game plan and started putting on clothes instead of taking them off. Pants instead of shorts, socks and shoes instead of barefoot and flip-flops, long sleeve shirts with the collar up and every button buttoned. The grass was the problem, it was the same at the car park; nice grass = bad flies. We headed west to the beach now aglow in golden sunset.
The beach was the answer. Between the shifting sands and a light coastal breeze, the flies diminished proportionately as we neared the waterline. Off came the shoes and socks, we rolled up our pants and plopped down in the warm sand. Popping a bottle of wine, we traded swigs and enjoyed a perfect evening looking at nothing more than the horizon line on the ocean. Perfect.