When we make the effort and take the time to go on a biking adventure, we want it to be an enjoyable experience. To have a ‘great’ multi-day biking adventure it comes down to planning and preparation. In this story I am going to introduce you to the planning and preparation that the goRide team did to ride the 78km Heaphy Track, November 2017.
The Heaphy Track is part of the Department of Conservations (DoC)- Great Walks and is located in the Kahurangi National Park.
From May 1st through to November 30th the track is also open to Mountain bikers…and becomes a Great Ride. Currently it is the the only track that you are able to ride in a National Park in New Zealand. Check out this link to DOC for details on Mountain Biking the Heaphy Track.
Where is it and how to get there and back?
To ride the Heaphy Track you can start the track either from Brown Hut in Golden Bay (156 km from Nelson) or from Kohaihai on the West Coast (110 km from Westport). It’s not a circuit track. The start and finish is geographically at very distant points when traveling by road. Due to this there needs to be some thoughtful planning and preparation to allow you to complete the whole track. Don’t be put off though, there are many support services. However some of these services are not available during the ‘off season’ – when you are allowed to mountain bike the trail.
What are your options?
- Independent – Organise 2 parties to do the trip at the same time. One starting at each end of the track. Drive to the start and swap keys on the track so both parties will have a car waiting at the carpark when they complete the ride (we were fortunate enough to have organised this option). Meet at a common point to switch cars back or drive the other groups car on your first day starting the track.
- Car transfer options – There are some companies that will transfer your car to the end of the track, for a fee, while you bike it. Trek Express, Heaphy Track Help
- Flight options – Small airports are located near Takaka and Karamea so you can choose to fly to the start or back from the finish. Companies offering these services also offer transportation to the start or pick up from the end of the track to the airports.
- Bus options – the bus companies are generally running on their ‘off peak schedule’ during mountain biking season so check availability before you plan any further.
You can find a comprehensive list of support service options on the Heaphy Track website
If completing the whole track is not an option because of the geographical locations of the start and finish consider starting and finishing at the same end. It still makes for a great trip. Also there is the option of biking all the way to the end and back again, turning your adventure into 156km.
Is it doable?
How far is the biking journey? 78.4km. It is suggested that you either complete this over a 2 or 3 day journey.
We have chosen to do it over a 2 day journey. With multiple hut options along the track this could easily be ridden over 3 days. Remember you need to carry your own food, so the longer it takes you the more food you will need. Check out the facilities at the huts so you know what you need to carry.
DAY ONE – Browns River Hut through to James Mackay Hut = 38.8 km– is it doable?
Brown River to Aorere Shelter – 10.5 km – uphill, snack and drink. Check out details here.
Aorere Shelter to Perry Saddle Hut – 4.5 km – uphill, first lunch. Check out details here
Perry Saddle Hut to Gouland Downs Hut – 7 km – relatively flat, drink. Check out details here
Gouland Downs Hut to Saxon Hut – 5 km – relatively flat, second lunch or another substantial snack. Check out details here
Saxon Hut to James MacKay Hut – 11.8 km – relatively flat. Stay the night. Check out details here
Accommodation – James Mackay Hut
We are staying roughly at the half way point – James Mackay Hut. This is a cosy and comfortable hut, the newest on the Heaphy Track built in 2014. Facilities include double-glazed windows, solar lighting, wood stove, gas-cooking facilities, toilets, fresh water, bunk beds and mattresses – is it doable, can you carry what you need to take?
DAY TWO – James MacKay to track end – 39.6km
James MacKay to Lewis Hut – 12.5 km – Downhill, some rough sections may require dismounting and walking. Check out details here
Lewis Hut to Heaphy Hut – 8km – beside the Heaphy river, substantial snack or first lunch. Lots of swing bridges including the longest in New Zealand. Check out details here
Heaphy Hut to Katipo Creek Shelter – 7.1 km – Check out details here
Katipo Shelter to Scotts Beach – 5.3 km – Do not cross at 2 hours either side of high tide. Check out details here
Scotts Beach to Ko haihai (track end) – 3 km – Check out details here
What skills will you need to do this ride? This track is graded as an intermediate 3 plus track and in a few places, advanced grade 4 track.
The track is ride able most of the way. There are small sections that may require you to push your bike but they are only for very short distances. The track does have many obstacles and is often quite rocky, there are creeks and tight corners to negogiate. You need to be comfortable biking over rocks up and down hills, and negoiating obstacles to enjoy riding this track. Is it doable?
What level of fitness will you need to do this ride? You will need moderate to advanced levels of fitness. Whatever direction you start in you will have a sustained uphill section that is a good ride able gradient. When you are on the tops (the flat lands) there is also short up and downhill sections to negotiate. Consider the distances you are travelling and how long that will take you each day. Make sure you have ridden for that length of time with some load prior to riding the Heaphy – Is it doable?
How could the weather effect the success of your journey? Expect the weather to play a part in your biking journey when you ride the Heaphy Track. You are on the West Coast of New Zealand and thus likely to expereince rain and you are in the backcountry so you need to be prepared for all types of weather – Is it doable?
To have an enjoyable experience riding the Heaphy Track you need to make sure you are comfortable in the weather conditions while riding your bike. You also need to be comfortable carrying gear and have access to the food and water that you will need.
Comfortable in the weather conditions
You will be riding for a number of hours each day so clothing choice needs to not restrict any movement. It also needs to protect and regulate temperature. The Heaphy Track is a back counrty track so you need to be prepared for all types of weather conditions. See gear list for multi-day mountain bike riding
Comfortable on the bike
The right type of bike. You are going to be riding on undulating terrain with many obstacles, so mountain bikes are ideal. Our group had three on full suspension mountain bikes, one with front suspension and a hardtail.
Comfortable at the contact points on the bike. You are on the bike for a number of hours each day, for 2 consecutive days. The surface is bumpy, being comfortable on the bike is a MUST.
- Your bottom on the seat. A comfortable saddle – a women’s specific saddle that is set up correctly. Bike seat adjustment Shop Padded Bike Pants and Women’s Bike Saddles .
- Hands on the handlebars. Bike gloves and bike brake levers set up correctly, shop womens bike gloves
- Feet on the pedals. Merino socks and footwear on and off the bike.
Comfortable carrying gear
You are riding in the back country away from support – so you need to be completely independent and self-reliant. Our accommodation at the James MacKay hut requires us to carry sleeping bags, and cooking and eating utensils. We carried one pot between the 4 of us. See Gear List for multiday mountain biking.
To help with balance and control of our bikes on challenging terrain, we are carrying our gear in a small backpack, frame bags, handle bar bags, seat bags, and a rear carrier with a dry bag.
Access to water & food…We need to carry food and water for 2 days. There are numerous huts along the way which have cooking facilities and water for refilling and rehydrating at. Our food is nutritious including dehydrated meals. We are taking 4 meals per day when riding back country – breakfast, lunch 1 and 2, dinner and snacks for each day of riding.
Example of our food.
- Breakfast- Dehydrated porridge.
- Lunch 1 and 2. 1 x cooked at a hut – Rissotto and pita pocket.
- Dinner Dehydrated Curry and Rice.
- Snacks – Muesli bars, bliss balls, chocolate, nuts
Gear set up – Jo
Thule Carrier with rear dry bag and tie downs – pot, food and spare clothes
Backpack and hydration reservoir (Camelbak low rider) – warm top, snacks, water
Frame bag – carrying tools and spare tubes
Handlebar bag with sleeping bag, lightweight food
Jo and Annette’s loaded bikes
Gear set up – Annette
Thule Carrier with rear dry bag and tie downs – clothes and food
Backpack (Camelbak low rider) – warm top, snacks
Drink bottle cage – drink bottle carrying water
Seat tool bag – carrying tools/tube and second spare tube taped to the frame
Dry bag – tie downs used to attach to handlebars – sleeping bag, jacket.
There is a lot of crossover between feeling comfortable and being safe – being comfortable will also support your safety. The main thing is we need you to consider both comfort and safety.
Your bike and safety
Clean and prepare the bike and the chain. Do you need to do any maintenance work? Change the brake pads? Check the tyres for tread and any wear. Carrying tools split between us to help ensure that we can fix most problems or challenges along the way.
What tools will you need to take and carry? Check out our tool kit suggestions for a multi day mountain bike ride.
Before you head out on the trail each day you will need to do a pre-ride bike safety check – is it safe? A checklist to complete pre-ride so that you know your bike is in working order, and then you can prevent and/or solve any issues before you start the day.
You and safety
You are in the backcountry you need to tell someone when and where you are going, how long you are going for and when you expect to be back. Carrying a cellphone is always a good idea but there any many areas of the New Zealand backcountry that do not have cell phone coverage. If you are in a remote area it is suggested that you carry a personal locator beacon. PLB.
You have checked your bike now we need to know that YOU are safe. See Am I safe to Bike Tour? A checklist to complete that ensures you are safe to goRide.
Safety in the environment
Carry a Map – The Heaphy is a great walk and well signposted right throughout the track. We will carry a map showing distances between huts etc. To help with planning and motivation along the way.
Carry a First Aid Kit – Accidents can and will happen. We are prepared with a compact first aid kit for mountain bikers to help us deal with minor injuries See First Aid Kit for Bike Touring.
Tool Kit, Personal Locator Beacon, First Aid Kit, Emergency Blanket
Food for 1 person – 2 days. We will all have our own food preferences but keep it nutritious and lightweight and plan.
Riding the Heaphy and experiencing its diversity is the fun. The highlight would be sharing that experience with others. Riding through luxuriant rainforest; sub-alpine tussock grasslands; high, rugged mountains; across swing and suspension bridges and along lowland forest and palm-fringed surf beaches. Remember to stop and take the time to enjoy the experience.
Kohaihai River a great swimming spot if finishing at the Karamea end. For a swimming spot at the Collingwood end try The Salisbury Bridge. Neither is probably particularly warm at the time of year you will be riding but a great way to finish the ride and make the trip home a little more pleasant.
There are some great food and drink options in Takaka – Check out the main street and then there is always the The Mussel Inn between Takaka and Collingwood.
Check out this diversity- the start of day 1
The end of day 1
Does it fit?
If you are keen to experience a multi-day 78.4km backcountry mountain biking trip on an intermediate graded track then the Heaphy Track from 1st of May though to 30th November is right for you.
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