So 1st May marked the open season for mountain bikers on the newly re-opened (three year trial period) Heaphy Track. Up to fifty bikers were let loose on the trail and we were lucky enough to be on the starting grid that day. Travelling Frenchman and hardtail pinner Clem Martin and myself joined a crew from all over the country to enjoy the white whale that is the Heaphy.
We opted to bring our ride a day ahead once we saw that the weather was going to take a turn for the worse. We made our trip into a three day there-and-back, staying in James MacKay hut both nights. I, along with a lot of others, opted to go the Freeload rack route to spread the weight of food and equipment. A good choice as it meant the singletrack—which almost every inch of the track is—could be enjoyed. Day one was a long 40km (ish) ride up and into the trail ending at James MacKay hut (about half way). It was a busy night in the hut as 26 bikers crammed into the Swedish sauna. The next morning we left our gear at the hut for a day ride down and back to the same hut. This way we could enjoy the 14km one hour descent to the coast and 20km cruise there and back along some of the coastal track and climb back to the hut totally unencumbered. Day three we packed up and rode back out to the start just as the weather broke. The crew we started with (including Spokey Dokeys Jono Baddiley and Tama Easton among many others) opted for a four day there-and-back with one night in Karamea to refuel. Unfortunately this meant their extra day dropped them in the deluge. Jono Baddiley takes up the story from here...
After being abandoned by Seb and Clem we headed out through the Nikau forest to the track end at the Kohaihai river. There's a small climb which is well paid back with a smooth doubletrack that weaves between the trees back down to sea level, and a comfy bed and fantastic food at the Last Resort in Karamea.
The next day we made a sifty run back to the James MacKay hut, harried only by sandflies and looming rainclouds. By the time we made it to the hut, the rain had made its presence fully known, and the Keas had disappeared to a roost better sheltered.
The next morning we woke up to more rain. I was particularly pleased that I still had dry shoes and socks; a state that was quickly dispelled five minutes after setting out as I rode through waist-deep water that was over my top tube. You know it's been properly raining when the boardwalk is 150mm under water and there are freshwater crayfish on the track.
So the simple story is that we got wet. Fully soaked. The downhill back to the cars was a mixture of unexpected waterfalls, corners slushy with piled up leaf litter and the energy brought on by the knowledge that we were a short car trip away from a beer and a sleep in our own beds.
But the weather had the last say on that. The Brown river was running (well, more like raging) at 3.8 metres, and any of the three fords that we would need to have crossed would have easily washed a car out to Golden Bay. So we retreated to Brown hut, chopped wood and stoked up the open fireplace, got changed into dry clothes and rationed out our remaining food (we had eaten almost all of it at MacKay hut so that we didn't need to carry it down the hill). The food was kindly supplemented by a couple of American trampers who were trapped like us, sharing around melty-cheese bread and rice. It was the nicest night I had on the track; I much prefer going to sleep in the flicker of an open fire to the blast-furnace heat generated by the coal fires in MacKay, and the night was surprisingly free of snoring.
We woke the next day to clear skies, fords that weren't a death trap, and a growing realisation that breakfast was only a 30 minute drive away in Takaka...
To see a video which clearly shows how much water there was CLICK HERE.
For more information on the Heaphy and a very comprehensive 'how-to' on the Heaphy by Tama Easton CLICK HERE.
For those interested in riding the Heaphy then I would say don't hesitate. Get in there now and enjoy the singletrack (it might not always be there), pack cleverly, and bring extra food. Full story in the next issue of Spoke if I can get it scribbled and off to Eleanor in time.
All photos courtesy of Clem Martin.