As a child I used to go walking on the English moors, and since then I’ve hiked in many parts of the world. It was inevitable that my 12-yearold son Courtney would inherit my love of wide-open spaces. Or so I imagined.
Although we have often gone mountain biking together, he seemed indifferent to the allure of bushwalking. All this changed when I announced one night that we were going “tramping” in New Zealand for four days.
The walk I’d chosen, the Heaphy Track, is challenging without being too demanding. At 82 kms in length, the walk can easily be completed in four days, with plenty of well-equipped huts along the way providing basic accommodation.
Located on the northwest coast of the South Island, the Heaphy plunges through the remote, pristine and often extremely wet Kahurangi National Park. Trampers must decide whether to begin from the north at Collingwood or the west at Karamea. We began from the Karamea end, arranging for my wife, a confirmed non-walker, to drive the campervan to Collingwood and collect us at a prearranged time.
The Heaphy offers a wide variety of landscapes, from windswept beaches and open heath to beech forest. It also boasts that all-important lure for kids: precariouslooking suspension bridges. I watched in horror as Courtney swung mid-way across some terrifying ravine. “Come on dad, this is great fun!” he shouted over his shoulder. “Where’s the next one?”
Only once did my energetic son lose his composure. That was at the end of a very long walk from the mouth of the Heaphy River to MacKay Hut at 750 m above sea level. After a six-hour tramp he refused to believe that we would ever reach our destination, but of course we did.
Apart from the pleasure of actually completing the walk, I was delighted to find that Courtney acquired plenty of new survival skills. As our food supplies dwindled he became adept at eking out essentials such as nuts, biscuits and chocolate.
By the time we reached Brown Hut we had tired feet, sore shoulders and a hatred of freeze-dried food. But I doubt either of us will ever forget our four days spent walking the Heaphy.