Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Top end of the Heaphy

 I took the ferry back to the South Island on the 15th. With Christmas coming up and the Aucklanders at last being let out of 4 months of lockdown I'd had to book my ticket south before they all sold out. Which was prescient, because they did!!

There was still quite a bit of rain lingering so I did my usual and headed east to avoid most of the bad weather. I camped a couple of nights at Marfells Beach and did the walk out to the lighthouse at Cape Campbell. The coastline was uplifted almost a metre during the Kaikoura Earthquake in 2016, resulting in large scale death of species growing in the intertidal zone, which is now beginning to recover. It also moved the cape 2 metres closer to the north island!!

After a couple of cruisy days by the beach I booked some accommodation on the Heaphy Track and drove up to Golden Bay, staying the night at Brown Hut, which is about 5 minutes walk from the road end. I'd walked the Heaphy from Kohaihai in the south back in June 2020, but had only gone as far as Gouland Downs. I had 2 further huts and one shelter to bag, some caves to explore, and I was keen for a close up encounter with some prehistoric looking birds....

The next morning I headed off early up the track to Perry Saddle. It's pleasant walking in the forest, with a few nice cascades along the track, but not much in the way of views until you get to the top and the lookout off Flanagans Corner.

The descent to Perry Saddle Hut takes about half an hour. I had lunch and a cuppa there and then continued on to Gouland Downs. 

As I walked in to the clearing at the hut there were two Takahe feeding. Their names are Scoot and Temple, and they were rumoured to have a chick, but there was only the two of them all afternoon. They seemed to be pretty used to humans.
There was also a brilliantly coloured Tui, either balancing on the top branches of the nearby beech trees or flying in close to feed on flax nectar.
I set up my tent and sat in the sun watching the birds, and later chatting to a young couple who had been off exploring the caves when I'd arrived.

The next morning the couple headed off and I went spelunking. I spent a few hours exploring the many caverns nearby, including the one that comes out above a waterfall looking out over the Downs. 

When I returned to the hut there were people everywhere, it being a popular stop for trampers walking either direction. The Takahe stayed away whilst the crowds were there, only returning after they'd all left.

I had heard a helicopter land and then take off again whilst I was out exploring, and it returned and did a circle of the hut later that morning but didn't land. Then mid afternoon Aaron turned up, part of a DOC biodiversity team doing the traplines, which are pretty extensive in order to protect the Takahe and other native birds from predators. It turned out he was a packrafter too, having recently built his own from a kit, so we spent quite a few hours talking all things paddling. And then Marty turned up.

Marty is a contractor, and he was monitoring the Takahe, having worked for six years down at the Te Anau sanctuary. He knew where the nest was, and confirmed that they had been sitting on it two weeks ago. He took us to see the nest, and as expected it was empty. Chick survival since the Takahe have been reintroduced to the Gouland Downs hasn't been great. After chatting for a while over a cuppa, he continued on to Saxon Hut, hoping to check on another chick further down the valley.

empty Takahe nest

The next morning I packed up and headed back out. Perry Saddle Hut was deserted when I got there, so I popped down to the waterhole for a refreshing dip before continuing the walk up to the top of the hill.

I stopped at Aorere Shelter for lunch, where I met a curious chap labouring uphill with a massive load. He had two metal boxes filled with heavy junk and a pack on top of them. He was in training for something I'd not heard of before, an esoteric pursuit where you follow in the footsteps of the early pioneers and carry over fifty kilograms on your back just like they did. Retrace their routes I get, ruining your joints in the process??

Further down the hill I met the Perry Saddle Hut Warden, walking in for his 10 days on the track. I'd met the departing warden at Gouland Downs on my first day, he'd told me the names of the takahe.

Just before the carpark I had a quick look at the Aorere River. Aaron was telling me he's planning a run on it in the next few weeks. Not sure I'll still be around then as I plan to be in Wanaka in the New Year.

But first, off to Takaka for a hot shower and to check the weather forecasts. I'm planning a Kahurangi Christmas...

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