Israeli Traveller Conquers Heaphy Track in Wheelchair


Left to Right Nadav Amit, Arnon Amit, Gul Janovsky and Maayan Kalo at Rongo Backpackers & Gallery in Karamea, New Zealand on January 3, 2015. (Photo by Paul Murray)


Off the Top of My Head

By Paul Murray

Arnon Amit from Israel arrived in Karamea at the top of the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand on January 2, 2015, after successfully negotiating the Heaphy Track in a wheelchair.

The Heaphy Track is one of New Zealand’s nine “Great Walks” and the only one on which mountain biking is permitted (from May 1 to September 30). The track is approximately 80 kilometers long and traverses the Kahurangi National Park at the top of the South Island. Most people walk, ride or now roll, the Heaphy Track from Collingwood in Golden Bay through to Karamea on the West Coast.

great-walks-heaphy-track-350x315 heaphy-track-map-565

With a lot of determination and effort and the help of his brother Nadav and friends Maayan Kalo and Gul Janvosky, Arnon bounced over some rough terrain, through a flood and tacked swarms of sandflies to complete the track in five days to become what is thought to be the first person to complete the track in a chair.


Near the end of the Heaphy Arnon looks back on the Kohaihai River bridge. (Photo by Nadav Amit)

Arnon was injured in a car accident while doing his national service in the Israeli Army in 2008 and lost the use of his legs. He was an enthusiastic outdoors person before the accident and has managed to overcome his physical challenges and maintain his love of tramping and nature with a little help from his friends.


The Three Musketeers: Maayan Kalo (Left) Arnon and Nadav Amit. (Photo by Gul Janovsky)

A special off-road wheelchair manufactured in the United States and made of strong, lightweight titanium metal was Arnon’s Heaphy vehicle. The chair handled the track well, but the rigorous terrain took its toll on the machine and minor repairs were required en route to keep the show rolling.


(Photo by Gul Janovsky)

Recent work by the Department of Conservation (DOC) to improve the track surface and the width and stability of the swing bridges and other river crossings has made the Heaphy Track more easily negotiated by wheeled vehicles like chairs and of course mountain bikes. This may open the possibility of experiencing the wilds of the Kahurangi National Park and the pleasures of traversing the Heaphy Track to a whole range of people, like Arnon, who had previously not been able to tackle the track.


Arnon was able to propel himself over the new wider swing bridges on the Heaphy. (Photo by Nadav Amit)

The most challenging section for the man in the chair was the first uphill section of from the Collingwood end of the Heaphy from Brown Hut to Perry Saddle Hut. The track winds steeply uphill through beech forest and tree roots growing through the track make it rough and uneven, not necessarily the best surface for wheelchairs. However, with brother Nadav and friends Maayan and Gul pushing, Arnon made it to the Perry Hut, which is around the highest point of the track at 1,000 metres, in good shape.


River crossings and sandy beaches also posed challenges that required assistance from the support crew. Nadav piggy-backed his brother across the narrow swing bridges and pulled him along the sand while Maayan pushed from behind.


Push-me-Pull-you: The team negotiate a sandy West Coast beach. (Photo by Gul Janovsky)


Arnon enjoys the view of the Tasman Sea while his buddies help him over a sandy stretch. (Photo by Gul Janovsky)


Nadav piggy-backed his brother Arnon over the older narrow swing bridges. (Photo by Gul Janovsky)


Photo by Gul Janovsky)

The weather turned somewhat inclement on the last day of 2014 and many sections of the track became flooded preventing the group from proceeding and creating a bottleneck at the MacKay Hut in the middle of the Heaphy. Fifty people, including Team Israel, were squeezed into a new hut built for 26. Fortunately, the old James MacKay Hut has yet to be demolished and, with DOCs permission, Nadav broke into the hut and everyone managed to get a bed.

The next day was much improved and Arnon was in his element on the downhill section from MacKay to Lewis Hut. The steep slope afforded him some gravity assisted speed and he apparently even got some air as he bounced the chair over some rocks on the way down.


Possibly the first person in a wheelchair ever to see the Heaphy River, Arnon enjoys the view at the end of a day on the track. (Photo by Nadav Amit)


Brothers Nadav (left) and Arnon Amit on Karamea Radio 107.5 FM (Photo by Paul Murray)

Hear the Interview Here: 

The four travellers are now heading south down the wonderful West Coast and plan on exploring some of the many attractions and tracks along the way and then on to Queenstown and Fiordland, if you see them say hello, they’re a great bunch of fine young folk.

For more information on the Heaphy Track:

Rongo Backpackers & Gallery:

LivingInPeace Project:

Karamea Radio 107.5 FM:

Some more photos…

DSC_7029 DSC_7033 DSC_7037 DSC_7043 DSC_7044

About LivinginPeaceProject

Paul Murray is the founder of the LivinginPeace Project. Paul originally from Australia, but have been living in New Zealand for 14 years. Before that he was in Japan for a decade working as a journalist. He met his wife Sanae in Japan and they married in 2008.
This entry was posted in Buller District Council, Department of Conservation, DOC, Environment, Heaphy Track, Historical, Israel, Kahurangi National Park, Karamea, Karamea Radio, LivinginPeace Project, MTB, New Zealand, Peace, Photography, Social Commentary, SuperMoo the KarameaWonderDog, Tramping, Travel, Uncategorized, West Coast and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Israeli Traveller Conquers Heaphy Track in Wheelchair

  1. coastingnz says:

    Wow – fantastic effort Arnon and of course all your friends too. As the Beatles sing “All I need is a little help from my friends”. Fabulous!

  2. Thanks guys, they’re a fantastic group of fine young people and they’re heading your way.

  3. jacqui says:

    An amazing effort by everyone.A true adventure and a total team effort.Fantastic!!

  4. El DJ Pukeko III says:

    Shalom! I must be getting softer than I thought! Tough customer!!~

  5. sunilwilliams says:

    Arnon got his injuries while serving as a member of terrorist organisation. He should never have been allowed into the country. At the very least he should have been arrested at the border.

    Last year the IDF killed 514 children (conservative UN estimate) during their terror raids into Gaza. Gaza’s infrastructure has been destroyed and access to clean drinking water and basic hygiene is scarce.

    The IDF’s behaviour has been called “trigger happy” by Amnesty International in a report issued before that campaign.

    The IDF enforces Israels policy of ethnic cleansing and apartheid. Arnon is complicit in war crimes, including daily violations of the Geneva Conventions.

    • Hi Sunil, Thank you for your comment, but this is a positive news story about a group of young Israeli travellers who compulsorily served in the Israeli military, one of whom was seriously injured in a traffic accident and is trying very hard to live a full life and come to terms with his injuries. I don’t hold them personally responsible for the policies of their country. This is not a forum for political debate or vitriol, please respect that.

  6. Tal says:

    Amazing and inspiring!!!!!!

  7. Bonnie Ranen says:

    Paul, Thank you for getting so much info about the trip from my boys.. I would never have known about all this if Gul hadn’t sent a link! I agree with you – they are a great bunch!
    Ironically enough, Arnon did an extra service year before his army service doing extreme sports with disabled children and adults – tandem biking, accompanying hand-bikers and his special love, climbing (walls and boulders).. I think that year left him with alot of respect and awareness of the challenges a disability can bring in an unaccessible environment but also a strong belief that almost anything is possible with determination and a great support group!
    I’d like to take this opportunity to thank 2 of his pals who accompanied Arnon for 6 months in Australia before he was joined by Nadav, Maayan and Gul and the countless amazingly friendly, helpful people he has encountered in both New Zealand and Australia.
    Finally, we miss him … we hope to meet up with them in a month in Australia where Arnon plans to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef before finally returning home after 10 months down under..
    Bonnie (Nadav and Arnon’s mom)

    • You’re most welcome Bonnie. It was a great pleasure to meet your boys Arnon and Nadav and the crew…their story was an inspiration for me and hopefully for my readers. Thank you for your message and I wish you and your family (and country) peace and love for the coming year and beyond. Should you happen to make it to New Zealand, please come and visit…you are all most welcome here any time.

      Regards from Sunny Karamea,


      LivingInPeace Project

      Karamea Farm Baches
      17 Wharf Rd
      P.O. Box 54

      Rongo Backpackers & Gallery
      130 Waverley St
      P.O. Box 54

      Karamea Connections

      Heaphy Track

      Karamea Community Web site:

      ***Welcoming Heaphy Track MTBers/Trampers to Sunny Karamea***

      “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Mark Twain.

      • Bonnie Ranen says:

        Paul, Thank you for your good wishes- i appreciate your insights and reply to Sunil.. the Middle East situation is incredibly volatile and complex but i think Sunil would be surprised how many israeli citizens of Palestinian (both Muslim and Christian ) and Jewish backgrounds have chosen to try and work together for a better future..
        Living in a democracy you may not always stand behind your government’s policies (and i have strong objections to many) but change must be made through the ballot and discussion , slow and arduous as that is..
        During the many months of Arnon’s hospital stay both in the ICU and rehabilitation wards after his spinal cord injury , it was an eyeopener even for me to see how well the medical staff work together and how the patients and their families cooperate to help each other through painful and tragic circumstances.. Religious and secular Jews, Druse, Beduin , Muslims from cities and villages, Russian immigrants, South American , French , Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, Ethiopian Jews, refugees from Africa, Filipino workers , immigrants from North America (like myself) young and old with a common purpose- health , vitality , rehabilitation – it was truly uplifting when we were all reeling from shock at the blows life can mete out to us…

  8. You’re welcome Bonnie. “Rongo” means “Peace” in Maori and I have made a conscious decision to devote my life to that end. I established the LivingInPeace Project in 2004 and have been working to create an environment where everyone is welcome and can relax in a peaceful and accepting environment. You can see more of what the LivingInPeace Project is about here:

    I don’t believe perpetuating hatred and being angry is an effective way to overcome the myriad challenges we face as we struggle to understand each other and live together harmoniously. I also don’t believe governments have the answers or the will to lead us to a brighter future, we must take that initiative ourselves.

    Governments and the corporations that control them are the problem, we are the solution and we can start by being nice to each other.

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion and that is mine.

    I hope you and yours have a peaceful and happy 2015.

    Regards from Sunny Karamea,


  9. Dave Barnes says:

    I had the pleasure of these guys staying at my house at Lake Tarawera,to say they were interesting was an understatement and i enjoyed their company immensly.I asaw how they could overcome any obstacle and they certainly thrived on any challenge.i advised to go to fiordland and Dusky sound which they did and greatly enjoyed it,i think they may have even gained weight as i taught them how to catch fish and mussels and they sure got lots of both.
    well done guys.your welcome back at lake tarawera anytime.
    dave Barnes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s