Queen’s birthday weekend Heaphy trip
We’ve done this trip every year for several years now. This year, we decided the kids were old enough for the challenge and recruited another 3 families with kids to join us, figuring that there’s safety in numbers when it comes to children! With the Heaphy Track measuring almost 74km, a 750m climb to start the trip, and 7 children aged 9-13, it was always going to have its moments. We chose to do the trip over 3 nights/4 days to give the kids plenty of time to do more than just ride bikes. The one disadvantage of the leisurely pace was the huge amount of food which was quite a challenge for the parents to carry!
Huts were booked weeks in advance to secure beds during this busy time. It was a great stroke of luck to get 4 days of the most perfect weather we could have hoped for. Clear, frosty and calm for the full four days.
We flew with Mit from Adventure Flights in his cool little plane with bikes hanging from the wings. The flight from Karamea to a grassy paddock landing strip a few kilometres from the start of the trip takes about 20 minutes and is a great way to see the track you’re about to ride from above. The weather was perfect and the views sensational. It was a fun way to start the day and a good distraction from what awaited them!
The kids did amazingly well on the ride up to Perry Saddle hut. It’s a 15km climb that climbs about 750 meters. Most of the kids and even some of the parents had never done anything like that before. As expected, there were tears, tantrums and melt-downs. With the help of some inner-tube towing setups and a few more sugary treats than the recommended daily intake, they all did it in the end. We arrived at the hut at nightfall with the help of head torches. With a roaring fire, bunkrooms to explore and a big dinner, the challenges of the day were soon forgotten.
The second day was frosty and beautifully clear. The trail was alive with kids hollering and hooting down the fun downhill to Gouland Downs hut. “That was epic!” and “That was so sick!” was the consensus. The suffering of the day before was definitely forgotten.
After lunch at Saxon hut and a bit of a climb to James Mackay hut, it was time to enjoy the view with a cold beer in the setting sun while the kids tore around like madmen playing hide and seek.
We woke to another frosty morning and a gang of 7 or so keas intent on destroying anything soft on the bikes. We had been warned to take our seats off, but a few of the group had foam handlebar grips which were well shredded.
Today was our “rest” day. All we had to do was ride down an 11km totally downhill section that dropped nearly 700m to the Heaphy hut. This was a wonderful descent for the kids - flowing and mostly smooth track that seems to go forever.
The Heaphy hut is a beautiful place to spend the afternoon on the beach building forts, having battles and generally enjoying the stunning winter’s day. After marshmallows on fire it was an early night.
We left early on another perfectly clear and cold morning to beat the high tide for the final part of the trip back to Kohaihai beach. The section of trail along the coast is absolutely stunning. The trail surface, the roar of swell rolling in, the views up and down the coast, and the nikau palms are a magical combination.
We descended on the Last Resort and gave their cakes, pies and milkshake stocks a bit of a hammering before the long drive home. I think all the kids slept most of it.
Maybe next year the Old Ghost Road?
Tips, gear and lessons learnt for getting kids through the Heaphy:
I used a New Zealand made Quest Bike Trailer to carry all our food, tools and spares. I could also strap the kids (and some adults!) packs to it when they were tired. It was a great way to carry all the heavy things, off your back and off the bike. I really only was aware of its weight on the steepest climbing sections. The other parents carried all the food for 4 people for 4 days in packs.
Kids don’t seem to be able to dig into energy reserves when they are tired like we can. The transformation from a melting down mess on the side of the trail to a spritely, happy little stomper after a handful of lollies is quite remarkable. Take lots of food and treats.
We all had a front handlebar wrap with a dry bag for our clothes, sleeping bag in a dry bag on a Thule Freeload rack and a Windhoody jacket and snacks for the day in our Zeros and Henry packs. This was a good way of spreading the weight around evenly without ruining the riding experience.
Go with other kids. Safety in numbers. They seem happier in a group of other kids when the going gets tough. And they love hooning down the hills together in little rat packs. It’s quite hilarious listening to them chattering and wooping non-stop.
Kids are so in the moment. When they are hurting up a long boring climb, they can’t think about anything but the hell of the moment they are in now. But when they get to the destination with food, warmth and all their friends they totally forget it all. Don’t worry too much when they’re moaning about how they are about to die on the hard bits. Just keep them distracted by talking about something else - and lots of food and treats!