It has sure been a long time coming - that is for the Great Walk the Heaphy Track to be opened for mountain biking during the winter. Naturally Em has been very happy about this because the west end of the track is right in her backyard on the West Coast. One of the main issues with doing the Heaphy is the transport logistics, and how to avoid the 8 hr car shuttle if you plan to ride the track one-way. Hooking up with mates and doing a key-swap is a good solution, or you can use one of the local shuttle services. And if you want to drop $350 you can take a chopper back to your car.
We started out on the track with an auspicious beginning... 3 flat tyres before we even hit the track! However it was a bright and sunny West Coast day and nothing was going to dampen our spirits. After finally getting things sorted, we were on our way. The first section from Kohaihai to the Heaphy Hut and then onto the Lewis Hut takes about 3 hours, a bit slower than we anticipated. Not any major hills but the sand and mud certainly slowed the pace down. We were careful to keep the drive chains as clean as possible stopping for quick washes at the huts, and re-lube the chains. As we passed people riding out the words of warning came "you'd better be prepared for a boggy, tough climb up to Mackay". We were expecting the section from Lewis to Mackay to be torture the way everyone was talking! The climb was gradual, and although there were muddy slippery bits most of it was quite rideable. That took about 2-3 hours to get to Mackay where we stayed for the night.
The next morning we were greeted with brilliant sunshine again and were the first ones from the hut to hit the trail. Mackay to Saxon was MTB bliss - swooping tracks, less mud, and very fun undulations! It only took about 1hr 20 mins to hit Saxon hut and then another 20 minutes to Gouland Downs, which was another amazing section of trail-bliss. No more mud!
Gouland to Perry Saddle was a bit of a grind climbing up which seemed to be taking forever (it only takes about 1 hr). Just before Perry Saddle, there was a very loud "BANG". Blow-out. Mitch's back tyre had gone, and as Murphy's law would have it my gear was all fine. It was no problem to get the tyre quasi-repaired so we could carry on and enjoy the last descent to the end at Brown Hut. However our pump decided to have a holiday! No pump, no riding. We were stuck! Thankfully some other riders were coming from the other direction and lent us a pump. Before we knew it we were back on the trail. Flying down the Perry Saddle was great fun, and the track was in remarkable condition, wet or dry.
The Heaphy is not to be under-estimated. Anyone can do the track however pace yourself and allow 3-4 days if you're unfit. 2 days for most people is the nrom, and 1 day for the insane. Be prepared for all kinds of weather, check with DoC, book your huts, and carry plenty of gear for your bike such as lot's of lube, a rag, spare brake pads, spare deraileur hanger, chain-breaker and anything else you might think you need. From now on we will always carry a spare tyre as well ;-)
Don't forget your Em's Power Cookies!