This is Day Two of my adventure on the Heaphy Track. If you’re just tuning in, the full story starts here.
I set out nice and early from the Heaphy Hut on my second day on the trail. One of the nice things about doing the track in reverse is no one is ever walking sections in the same direction as me, and the huts are far enough apart that if I make an early start, there are always a fair few hours every morning where I get to have the whole place to myself. Today I turn away from the coastline as soon as I set off, and this solitary part of the day coincides with my plunge into the jungle.
It’s a nice flat stroll along the river to the Lewis Hut, but the wildness of the place doesn’t match the ease of the trek. The trees here are mostly the same breeds as yesterday, but the way they grow is a world apart from their coastal brothers and sisters. Everything turns thick and squiggly, with branches curling and weaving their way in tight tangles all around the sedate path. The thick canopy blocks a lot of light, which isn’t the best for photos, but is great for critter spotting. There are plenty more of the local feathered characters hanging around and I even spot one of the elusive carnivorous land snails making his way across the path. Very cool.
By this point I’m totally wrapped up in my own little jungle world and become quite flustered when I hear footsteps coming towards me all of a sudden. I have a tendency to forget how to interact with people when I’ve been hanging out alone in the trees too long (too long isn’t even that long), so the prospect of actually having to talk to someone leaves me at a complete loss what to do with myself. Luckily this time I’m passing a lone DoC worker who looks quite as shocked to see me as I am to see him. Instead of me simply embarrassing myself like usual, what follows is an amusing attempt at social interaction where we both completely forget how conversations actually work, and do our best to cover this up by trading a few nonsensical phrases of pure awkwardness, which try and fail to masquerade as some sort of greeting. Realising the futility of the situation, we both proceed to give up, grin at our own ridiculousness, and hurry away just in case there’s even a small possibility that this conversation could get any worse. I have plenty of experience with the “oh god, I just realised I have no idea how to talk to you” feeling, but this is first time it’s gone both ways.
The forest opens up briefly near the Lewis Hut as the track crosses the Heaphy River. From the swing bridge there’s a clear view up the valley. If the place didn’t have enough of a jungle feel already, the wide river lined with tangled vines and towering limestone cliffs is the icing on the cake. The last bit of jungle before the Lewis Hut is particularly impressive as well. The trail sneaks through a grove of enormous twisting ratas, turning the track into a short obstacle course of massive curving limbs.
I make a pit stop at the Lewis Hut for a cup of tea and then start the climb up to the James Mackay Hut. The elevation profile in the DoC profile tricks me for a while. I keep waiting for the climb to start until I finally realise that I’ve been doing the climb for a while now, it’s just nowhere near as steep as I expected. The first hour or so is pretty cool. There are frequent gaps in the forest with views down to the river below. Having just been immersed in the thick jungle, it’s nice to get a birds eye view of the same landscape. The forest here is nice too, with different trees to the lower areas. After about an hour though, the forest stays consistently thick and enclosed for the rest of the climb, making it one of the more tedious parts of the track. The climb isn’t hard, but being ringed in by trees for 3 hours gets a bit frustrating. There’s no views and no obvious landmarks, so I have no indication of how much progress I’ve actually made. I know time has passed, but judging by the lay of the land it’s entirely possible that I haven’t actually moved.
To my relief, after hours of drudging through the endless repetitive forest, the trees start to get a scraggly alpine look about them. The higher elevation attracts adorable little riflemen as well, which are fast becoming my favourite birds. The forest quickly transforms into scrub and before I know it there’s expansive views over the hills and I can see that, not only have I moved, I’ve moved quite a long way. I can see all the way down to the mouth of the Heaphy River where I started this morning, and it looks like an impressive distance from up here. This is also the first spot where I can actually see some of Kahurangi’s gorgeous peaks that I flew over in the plane. They’re just barely peaking their heads over the scrub but it’s nice to feel their presence around the place. Just in case the views weren’t confirmation enough that I’d moved, there’s some interesting landmarks in this area as well. Just before the Mackay Hut there are a group of old tree stumps that have been decked out to look like people. I wonder if this is what Hut Wardens get up to in their spare time.
I get to the Mackay Hut with plenty of day left, but the wind has whipped up something fierce so I hide in the hut and look out at the view from there for the rest of the day. Close by I can see clouds racing each other around the hill tops, and further out the view stretches right down to the misty coastline. It’s quite a strange feeling to be sitting up in the chill of the alpine and still be able to watch the sea fog in the distance.
My fellow hut goers are a surprisingly local bunch this evening. There’s a young lad who’s from Golden Bay like me, and a group of teachers from Westport. It’s a bit of an odd camaraderie/conflict having locals from both ends. We all absolutely love the track and absolutely can’t understand why you would live at the ‘wrong’ end of it. One of the Westporters tells me they saw a teaching job advertised in Golden Bay once and thought about applying but decided that the Bay was just too isolated. Which is a fair point if you live in a city, but an odd one coming from someone from Westport, which isn’t exactly a bastion of civilization. Differing opinions aside though, the conversations are always interesting and kill enough time for me not to chew through my whole book in one day. I go to sleep tired but excited for tomorrow’s adventure, where I’ll finally hit the alpine proper.
Continue the adventure with day three.
Listening to: Various Methods of Escape – Nine Inch Nails