This is Day Three of my adventure on the Heaphy Track. If you’re just tuning in, the full story starts here.
It’s a nice feeling waking up at the James Mackay Hut. After two days trekking into the hills, I’m deep in the wilderness before I’ve even put my boots on. It’s wonderful to start the day in such a wild place. All my bunkmates are going in the opposite direction, so I’m alone with the birdsongs for the morning.
After being trapped in the thick of the forest all day yesterday, even the scraggly stunted trees are quite a novelty, but as the track climbs higher there are periodic breaks where the trees open up completely and make way for small fields of brown tussock and some sneaky views over the nearby hills. The high country here is much swampier than some of the other alpine areas I’ve visited. Giant dragonflies dog my steps and the tussock is an odd rusty brown rather than the classic golden yellow that I’m used to. The open sections are a nice change from the thick jungle, but even when the track ducks back into the forest, it’s a quaint fairytale sort of place filled with moss and tiny waterfalls. I’m glad for the bright sunny day, there’s obviously no lack of rain up here.
I make it to Saxon Hut just in time for lunch and swallow my disappointment that I’m not staying here. The hut is a bit more rustic than something like the Heaphy Hut, which is definitely not a bad thing. The location is the real winner though. The landscape has opened up and the views over the tussock plains of Gouland Downs stretch all the way to Mount Perry in the distance. It also looks like a suspiciously good place for kiwi spotting. My bed for the night is still two huts away this time round though, and the downs have plenty left for me to explore. After a quick lunch stop, I say goodbye to Saxon Hut and continue on towards the mountains.
The track ducks back into the forest, which I’m slightly annoyed about. I finally arrive in alpine and the track skirts through the forest instead of cutting across. It’s like the mountain views are teasing me! Luckily, I’m just thinking “when does this damn forest end?!”, when the trees open up with some amazing views over Gouland Downs and the surrounding mountains. From here the trail blazes across the downs themselves, where I alternate between admiring the expansive mountain views all around me, and ducking down to spot the tiny beautiful wildflowers that are hiding in the grass. One of those wonderful places where the size contrasts across the landscape add almost as much magic as the features themselves. Tall mountains and tiny details work together and the result is something far more special than either of them going it alone.
Just before Gouland Hut, there’s an amazing little patch of beech forest that is totally different to the others in the area. The soft soil seems to have eroded away everywhere except where the tree roots are, leaving the trees raised up on mossy platforms shaped to fit the form of their roots. There’s also signs of a fairly extensive cave system around here. Fern-lined streams twist into limestone arches and disappear into the darkness beyond. It’s quite strange to have such a small area that contrasts so strongly with it’s surrounds. After the long walk through the tussock it feels like a bizarre little window into another world.
Gouland Hut isn’t really value for money since it costs the same as all the others with less facilities, but it is so damn cute that I think it may be my favorite hut on the trail anyway. It’s a tiny little space with a grassy lawn where you can perch out on picnic tables with some of the best views of the whole track. The strange little beech forest is a hop and a skip away, the views through the tussock are wonderfully expansive, and it’s close enough to Mount Perry and Mount Gouland that you really feel like the peaks are towering over you rather than just peeking up in the distance. I stop to give my feet a rest in the sunshine and admire the cute little spot. It would be a shame not to have a stop here. Besides, my feet are starting to get a few hotspots that I’m sure will blister if I’m not careful.
The track continues towards Mount Perry and passes an amusing pole where trampers have nailed a variety of old shoes. Intriguing. Did people carry spare shoes up here just to nail them on, or spontaneously sacrifice their shoes and do the rest of the track bare foot?
The climb up to Perry Saddle is increasingly stunning. Being right in the thick of Gouland Downs is nice, but looking down from above is another type of magic. The views stretch out so far along the plains that I almost can’t believe the distance that I’ve covered in a few hours. In the other direction, the higher the track goes, the more up close and personal I get with the surrounding mountains. That’s one of my favorite things about the Heaphy Track. It packs so many different landscapes into a few days. As soon as one type of scene dwindles into the distance, another totally different but no less beautiful landscape rises up to take it’s place.
I arrive at the Perry Saddle Hut in the late afternoon. I had thought about leaving my pack and climbing to the summit of Mount Perry, but my feet aren’t particularly keen on that idea, and I decide that I’ve pushed them enough today. Instead I turn in for the evening and make a cup of tea. Perry Saddle is one of the new flash huts like the Heaphy Hut, but it has much more character due to the rugged expansive views over Kahurangi’s jagged peaks that sit straight out the kitchen window. A perfect spot to rest up with a book for the evening.
Continue the adventure with day four…
Listening to: Imuhar – Bombino