The Heaphy Track offers one of the most varied collections of tramping landscape in one place that you could imagine. Rain forest, Beech forest, Tussock, a few side trips up mountains for the keen, and a last day walking through nikau forest down the West Coast to Kohaihai and Karamea, always in earshot of the surf.
It's one of New Zealand's Great Walks, which means that rangers are a bit thicker on the ground, the huts are generally built to a higher standard, and the paths are more carefully maintained. It can be crowded, at night in the huts, but seldom during the day. (Changed booking systems now guarantee a bed in a hut at night, after some massive and increasingly frequent problems with overcrowding.)
I was intrigued by the way our group of three could be solidly together one minute, and a few minutes later each in our own space spread over a kilometre or so.
In general, the paths are graded — there are no gutbusters sections, though the first day does go on a bit, especially considering we're carrying our full week's rations on that day. But if I can manage, at 65, 120 kg+, and a couple of replacement hip joints, I suspect most people can.
Just take your time and take it slowly enough to absorb what you're walking through. Our best example of this was on day three, when Miranda, as tailend Charlie, drew our attention to a 80 mm weta we'd each walked over in the middle of the path. As I said, there's heaps to see, especially for people who spend most of their lives at sea level.
The second day, across Gouland Downs is through tussock, with some spectacular karst landforms just past the Gouland Downs Hut. Here you'll meet your first swing bridges, and after a bit of a climb, Saxon Hut is just up ahead. Saxon to Mackay Hut is undulating, with a marked deterioration in track standard as we pass into the Buller conservancy. The toilets are all flush in Buller, so its swings and roundabouts, I guess. Some interesting boulder formations on the last leg of the Saxon-Mackay day.
Mackay to Lewis is all downhill. Many people skip Mackay and head straight on down the hill, but I reckon it's worth taking your time. Lewis to Heaphy is suspension bridge day, the longest about 65m across the Heaphy, with a magnificent sunset almost guaranteed at the end of the day at the mouth of the Heaphy.
From the Heaphy it's a longish haul - about 16km - down to Kohaihai Shelter along the beach or just back from it. Huge nikaus line the beaches, along with a quantity of NZ Tree Nettle (Urtica ferox). Learn to recognise this and stay well clear. It can kill sensitive persons, and has done, and dogs and horses have also fallen victim to it. So, before you nip through the bush from the track to the beach, watch what you're walking through.
And there's that first hot shower in Karamea, and the wonderful fish and chips at the Karamea pub. Enjoy.