On a sunny May morning in Karamea, five unicyclists from Australia and New Zealand prepared for a world-first adventure…to traverse the Heaphy Track on unicycles. It is believed to be the first-ever unicycle team to attempt the riding of the Heaphy Track, one of New Zealand’s nine “Great Walks” and the only “Great Ride.”
The riders stayed at Rongo Backpackers & Gallery in Karamea to prepare for the ride. Preparation involved a large meal at the Karamea Village Hotel, some light refreshments, a Czech movie at the hostel, a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast before taking the Karamea Connections van to the Kohaihai Shelter to begin the Heaphy ride.
The unicyclists plan to ride through to Saxon Hut in one day, which is about 48.5 kilometers begins with a steady ride along the Tasman Coast, but includes a large hill climb up to around 800 metres…no doubt the riders will be glad to see the Saxon Hut this evening.
The unicyclists came together through Ken Looi’s adventure travel company, “Adventure Unicyclist” and plan to complete the ride through the Heaphy in two days. They will be met by a TVNZ film crew at the Collingwood end of the track and interviewed about their experience.
The Heaphy Track is open to mountain biking (and unicycling) from May 1 to September 30. Riders from all over the world are coming through the track and often say, “The Heaphy is then best ride I have ever done.”
Mountain Biking on the Heaphy Track
The Heaphy Track, one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks” is now a Great Ride. Mountain Bikers will be permitted by the Department of Conservation to ride the Heaphy Track between May 1 and September 30 for a three-year trial beginning in 2011.
Great Walks/Rides are DOC’s premier tracks through some of the best scenery in New Zealand. The huts on the Great Walks/Rides are of higher standard that other tracks and most have gas cooking facilities, fresh water, bunk beds with mattresses, wood burners, toilets etc.
The Heaphy Track is the only multi-day ride through a National Park in New Zealand. The 80-kilometre course through the Kahurangi National Park traverses dense beech forests, expansive tussock plains and boulder outcrops of the Gouland Downs, takes in the limestone cliffs along the Heaphy River and through the nikau palm groves and white sandy beaches along the West Coast to Karamea.
Riders should be well prepared for inclement weather conditions as the region is known for sudden storms, associated floods, occasional snow falls and strong winds, as well as for sunshine, clear blue skies and warm, calm days. Please carry wet weather gear and warm clothing as well as sun protection, first-aid kits, plenty of water, food supplies as well as spare parts, puncture repair kits etc. Be prepared for all eventualities, as it is a long way from the middle of the track if help is required and it is important that riders take responsibility for their own safety and wellbeing.
Riders can travel the track in either direction, but most are planning to start in Collingwood and finish in Karamea where a friendly bus driver will meet them at the Kohaihai Shelter at the end of the track and deliver them to cold beer, hot showers, great food and comfortable beds at the many accommodation, entertainment, food and beverage services in Karamea.
Mountain Bikers can also do day or multi-day rides into the Kahurangi National Park from either end of the track. The Karamea end of the track is particularly spectacular and riders can spend a couple of nights on the track in either the Heaphy, Lewis or MacKay huts and cycle out again.
Hut bookings are essential and can be made at Information Centres, i-Sites or online through the Department of Conservation.
Browns Hut to Perry Saddle (3-4 hours) 17.5 km
Most of it steadily uphill through beech forest. The Aorere Shelter is about halfway and a short detour to check out Flanagan’s Corner, the highest point on the track is worthwhile for the stunning view.
At Perry Saddle there is a popular bathing pool in nearby Gorge Creek and many people climb to the top of Mt Perry as part of their Heaphy Track experience.
Perry Saddle to Saxon Hut: (2-3 hours)
The historic Gouland Downs Hut is about halfway and provides a good spot for a lunch break or to shelter in case of bad weather. (The Gouland Downs Hut has an excellent fireplace, but does not have gas-cooking facilities). Near the Gouland Downs Hut, a grove of beech trees adorns a limestone outcrop that contains several caves and arches, which are well worth exploring.
The Saxon Hut is the newest hut on the Heaphy Track and is named after John Saxon, who surveyed the track in 1886.
Saxon Hut to James Mackay Hut: (2-3 hours) 11.8 km
Mostly flat riding through stunning tussock, beech forests, creeks, rivers, rock outcrops and you’ll cross the demarcation line between the Tasman (Nelson) and the Buller (West Coast) districts. The view from MacKay Hut is spectacular; you’ll be able to see the Tasman Sea and the Heaphy River mouth on a clear day.
James MacKay Hut to Lewis Hut: (1-2 hours) 12.5 km
Lewis Hut to Heaphy Hut: (1-2 hours) 8 km
A stunning 8-km flat ride along the Heaphy River. You’ll encounter several large swing bridges and it is recommended that riders walk their bikes across the bridges. Flip your bike up onto the back wheel at about 45°, grip the stem with one hand and the top wire of the swing bridge with the other and walk your steed across the river. Several massive rata trees grace the track along the way. The Heaphy River meets the Tasman Sea here creating a turbulent clash of sea and fresh water.
Heaphy Hut to Kohaihai Shelter: (3-4 hours) 16.2 km
Mostly flat riding through nikau palm groves beside the beautiful white sand beaches of the West Coast and the roaring Tasman Sea. The Katipo Shelter is about halfway and there are also campgrounds at Scott’s Beach and Kohaihai.
Kohaihai Shelter to Karamea: (1-2 hours) 15 km
Mostly sealed flat road through farmland.
Word from MTBers coming the other way is that the unicyclists were looking a little “down in the mouth” about halfway to the Heaphy Hut…which is about 1/4 of their intended distance for today…will our intrepid one-wheeled adventurers make Saxon Hut tonight? Stay tuned for updates on the progress of Team Unicycle.
More news…our intrepid mono-wheeled adventurers made it to McKay Hut on dark where they found shelter, but no beds…the hut was fully booked, so I imagine they slept on the floor…their original intention was to cycle on to Saxon Hut where they had a reservation. This highlights the need to plan your Heaphy ride well, don’t overestimate your ability and underestimate the track…it’s better to take a couple of days on the track…slow down, enjoy the scenery….and make sure you get a bed at the end of a day’s cycling.
We made it through the Heaphy in one piece! Yes, it took us longer than we expected….a few too many photo ops and we underestimated how much the packs slowed us down. First night was spent at Mackay Hut as we made it there just after sunset. Got up real early the next day and enjoyed the scenery along the alpine area, before bombing down the most amazing downhill to Brown Hut.
I’ll have pics up later this week on Adventure Unicyclist. Thanks for your hospitality at Rongos 🙂
Good Oh Ken, very glad to hear you made it OK, we had various reports on your progress from other MTBers finishing the track the other way. Did you catch up with TVNZ?
I look forward to seeing the photos.
It was great to meet y’all, thanks a lot for staying with us and come on back anytime!
(no one has ever ridden a unicycle up Mt Stormy!)
For more information on the Heaphy and to see other photos of Team Unicycle, please check out the Heaphy Track FB Page: https://www.facebook.com/HeaphyTrack