I left Granity Sands with mixed feelings. First and foremost, I was excited. Eamonn, Jasna and I were heading north to do a part of the Heaphy Track. The Heaphy Track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. The whole track can take two or three nights to complete. There are huts at various intervals where hikers stay. These huts need to be booked in advance and cost some unknown amount of money.
Jasna, Eamonn and I decided to walk into the track and back out. None of us had the proper equipment (or the desire) to do the entire track. It would have taken a lot more planning that we had put into just the day trip. We would have had to book and pay for huts, arrange for our car to either be driven to the other end of the track or have organized a way for us to get back to our car, and organized all our meals….a bit too much for the three of us who decided to do the track on almost a whim.
It took us a bit of time to get on the road (thanks Jasna ;)). Then we had to drive up the very steep Karamea highway that wound serpent-like through the Karamea bluffs. It was harrowing. We were in an overloaded car and Jasna and I were both prone to car sickness. Luckily it was uneventful. Once we finished the bite-our-nails drive through the bluffs, it was smooth sailing through Karamea.
The Heaphy Track trail head was where the mouth of the Kohaihai river (just a big brown water river) merged with the Tasman Sea. It was beautiful, but full of sandflies (think biting gnats whose bites swell and itch like MAD).
We parked and began our journey. It was like walking into Jurassic Park- yet again. Huge ferns over hanging the trail and massive palm fronds lying in our way. Everything was wet and at the start, we could hear the crash of the waves, but not see them.
My biggest annoyance with many of the trails in New Zealand is that they are not loops. There is a feeling of having completed something when you come full circle without having to back track. A sense of accomplishment even. Walking only a part of the Heaphy turned into an endurance test. How far can we plod in before we spin on our heel and schlep ourselves out again. I am not saying that it wasn’t beautiful and fun and worth it, just a general observation about in and out trails.
But anyway, the first 30 minutes of the hike was completely surrounded in the surreal lost dinosaur world with only a hint of the sea. As we continued on the trail took a turn out onto an open ridge-line with an expansive view of the sea. It was grey, misty and overcast, but still beautiful. The frothing of the waves was mesmerizing.
The trail continued on and the ridge we were walking on slopped down to beach level. There were many high-tide warning signs. The track lead across the beach, but if it was within two hours of high-tide, the upper track needed to be used for safety. All three of us looked at the chart that somehow was supposed to tell us the date and the times of high-tide. We all scratched our heads in confusion and decided the chart was written in mandarin. We did decide to take the safer route and just do the upper track.
After crossing more swing bridges spanning brown, frothing waters, we came to the first shelter. There was a nice Kiwi couple having their afternoon tea and resting before finishing up their trek. We paused to greet them and were accosted by sandflies. I do not understand how they were sitting there calmly sipping tea while the three of us were swatting, slapping and cursing the tiny insects of evil.
Between our fits of swearing, we managed to ask how much further the first hut was (the Heaphy Hut). They said at a pace faster than theirs, which was according to them slow, it would take about two more hours. At this point we had already been hiking two hours and whatever we went in, we’d have to walk out. We decided to attempt it.
Now, we had packed some nut bars, water, crackers and trail mix, but none of us had really prepared a lunch suitable for such a long hike. We also hadn’t really had the heftiest of breakfasts either. Needless to say, it was about lunch time and we were hungry and without too much food. Ok that isn’t true. Nuts are very substantial and we had a lot of them, we just didn’t have a nice picnic sorted for our hike.
We managed to walk another hour or so before coming to another swing bridge over the Wekakura river (Weka’s are a type of flightless bird that look a bit like ducks). I was tired and ready to eat our meager rations and head back. Eamonn was with me (his boots were not the best). Jasna was a bit reluctant at first, but we managed to convince her by reminding her however much longer we walked in, we would have to walk out. We also made the point that the track, while still beautiful, had become rather monotonous.
On our way out of the wilds, we managed to take a detour. It started when we decided to take the track across the beach instead of the upper track used for high tide. We were picking up shells and kicking sand, not paying too much attention to the orange triangles that marked the rejoining of the track. Oops. We did a bit of bouldering that made me a bit nervous. I don’t understand the ocean or how often tides go in or out or how far they go in or out. I had the worst case scenario of us being on these beach rocks as high-tide and the pounding waves swept closer eventually smashing us into the rocks and dragging us into the sea….not the best image. But we survived. No problem. No sneak high-tide caught us off guard and we bushwacked back to the track.
A few minutes from the end of the track was a nice little lookout where the three of us sat wearily. I would have continued on, because it actually hurt a bit to rest and actually feel the pain in my feet, but it was sandfly free and I knew that the campsite would not be.
Back at camp we haphazardly set up the tent and walked to the beach. There we built a driftwood fire (to keep sandflies away) and had a beer to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. We started to cook our dinner of couscous and canned chicken, when the horizon started to look threatening. We scurried back to the tent and hid ourselves inside to avoid the sandflies.
As we finished our meal, I started to hear rain drops on the tent. Good timing, I thought. But then the rain stopped. And a few minutes later started again. I looked up. It wasn’t rain I was hearing, it was the bouncing of sandflies between the rainfly and the mesh of our tent. It sounded like the snap, crackle and pop of rice crispies in milk. It was disgusting.
The three of us started to keep track of how many sandflies we killed in a very Gimli/Legolas like competition. We were each in the 20’s or 30’s before we decided it was time to sleep.
For whatever reason, probably because it was dark, but still early and we weren’t that tired, we started making stories. Each of us would say a word until a story was created. Ridiculousness ensued. I can’t remember any of the stories, but we were laughing our heads off.
At about this time it did start to rain and the tent (or maybe our tent set up skills) failed us. Panic. Not all three of us would fit very well in the car, but the tent was dripping on Eamonn. He made the decision to sacrifice his nights rest and sleep in the car, leaving Jasna and I to hope for the best. I spent the majority of the night waking up whenever the wind picked up or squall hit the tent to check the sides, the sleeping bags and the general dampness of the tent.
It wasn’t the best nights sleep, but we all did manage to catch some shut eye. Jasna and I were awakened by a weka (that flightles duck like bird), running into the tent with a nice thwap sound a “kaaaw!”. It was bizarre.
We packed up the tent and left to have breakfast in the cafe across from where we WWOOFed in Granity Sands and then headed down to Punakaiki. Eamonn and I were headed that way to WWOOF furhter south and we were dropping Jasna off a minute north of Punakaiki. It was sad to leave Jasna stranded with a very nice seeming lady who made beads, but all travelers must part ways….or something equally metaphorical and sentimental. Eamonn and I intend to met up with Jasna somewhere later on our adventures. It was just too much fun making up those stories!
Punakaiki is a non existent town on the West Coast that is only known because of its rock formations. There are what are called the Pancake Rocks in Punakaki. They are limestone cliffs jutting out into the sea that look like huge stacks of hundreds of pancakes. Geologists are still trying to figure out how the rocks where formed that way. At high tide there are also blowholes where the ocean forces its way up chimneys of stone and create a huge racket. We weren’t there at the right time, but they are supposed to be pretty cool.
After Punakaki, we stopped for groceries in Greymouth and then headed to our campsite for the night. Our campsite was inland (less sandflies) by an active gold fossiking river and old gold mining area It was called Goldsbourough and was a nice enough site with a few pleasant short tracks that we wandered on.
Eamonn and I, ok mostly just me, got really frustrated by how hard the ground was when putting the tent spikes in the ground. After last nights droopy, leaky tent fiasco, I wanted it perfect. So we ended up spending a good amount of time making sure the tent was set up to the best of our abilities. It didn’t even rain and we weren’t able to find out if our new anti-leaky tent stratagems worked. Alas, there will always be another cloudy and a chance of meatballs, I mean rain…..