Mountain biking the Heaphy Track

Mountain biker on Heaphy Track.
Mountain biker on Heaphy Track

You can mountain bike the the Heaphy Track in the winter season from 1 May to 30 September.

The Heaphy Track is a tough ride and you need to be prepared.

On this page:

The rules
Can I do it?
Planning and preparation
Fitness and experience
What to take
Logistics
The ride
Popular ride options

The rules

The track is shared with walkers and other bikers.

There are several areas on the track where the giant land snail Powelliphanta may be on the track during the day, particularly after rain. Ride carefully and slowly through these areas, which are marked by signs - these snails are rare and unique to this part of New Zealand.

The track may be closed to mountain bike use after storms, heavy rain, snow or high-tide events, which may damage the track, particularly on the West Coast side.

You are responsible for:

  • Obeying the mountain bikers code
  • Following signs and other markers that clearly identify where mountain bikes can be ridden and where they are not allowed
  • Removing your bike from the national park should it break down.

You can ride mountain bikes on the Heaphy Track:

  • In both directions
  • In a group, provided there are no more than 6 riders in the group
  • During the day only (from half an hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset), to protect two threatened nocturnal species found on parts of the track: the Powelliphanta snail and roa (great spotted kiwi)

You are not permitted to take a mountain bike:

  • In or out of the national park by helicopter
  • Into any hut or shelter, or onto hut verandas or porches
  • Off the formed and designated route

Can I do it?

  • The Heaphy is a tough ride and not to be underestimated
  • Plan to spend 2 nights on the track
  • To enjoy your ride you need to be fit and have good equipment
  • The track is suited to riders with advanced skills (Grade 4) and can increase to expert (Grade 5) when factoring in distance, remoteness, and the technical skills riders require in wet and/or cold weather

Mountain bike track grading system

Mountain biker pushing bike through snow on the Heaphy Track.
Mountain biker pushing bike through snow on the Heaphy Track

You can expect:

  • A well formed 78.4 km track maintained to DOC Great Walk standard
  • Numerous bridges, i.e. swing and suspension bridges
  • Bike stands at Perry Saddle, Saxon, James Mackay and Heaphy huts
  • Track sections on the West Coast that are less robust and more vulnerable to damage such as rutting and erosion
  • Changeable weather conditions, including extremely cold temperatures, rain, wind and possibly snow
  • Steep slopes and avoidable obstacles
  • Some track sections that are prone to deep flooding

Planning and preparation

As a multi-day ride, the Heaphy Track is much more demanding than other popular New Zealand multi-day rides, such as the Central Otago Rail Trail and Queen Charlotte Track.

As part of your preparation you should have tackled at least one six-hour plus ride on technical single track, carrying a loaded 25–30 litre pack.

Beware:

  • Of tight corners and slippery rock between James Mackay and Lewis huts.
  • Of being wet, cold and tired, which can cause you and your companions to become hypothermic.
  • Kea at James Mackay Hut have become attracted to bike seats and hydraulic brake lines. When staying overnight in a hut, remove your seat from your bike, keep it with your other personal items, and cover your brake lines.
  • Flooding in the Saxon/James Mackay section and the lower Heaphy Valley can reach 1.5 metres deep over the track. Be prepared to wait until it’s safe to continue, or return to Lewis Hut.
  • A section between Heaphy Hut and Kohaihai Shelter is on sandy beach. High tide or rough seas may delay your ride.

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Fitness and experience

You need to have a good standard of fitness, a reliable bike, and to carry all your food, clothes, overnight and personal gear, and bike tools and equipment.

This is a backcountry environment where you need to be self reliant; at least one member of your party should know how to fix a bike.

What to take

If you plan to stay overnight, book your huts or campsites. Take your hut or campsite ticket with you.

The plan and prepare page lists the clothes, food and personal gear walkers should take; this list is also generally applicable to bikers.

Additional personal gear:

  • Bike gloves
  • Two pairs of bike shorts
  • Helmet
  • Torch/headlamp
  • Locator beacon - you are visiting a very remote area.

Bike gear should include:

  • A recently serviced mountain bike with knobbly off-road tyres, a bell or hooter, and new brake pads (wet-weather pads)
  • A spare set of wet-weather brake pads
  • 1 or 2 spare tubes per rider
  • Puncture repair kit
  • 1 or 2 folding tyres
  • Pump
  • Allen keys
  • Spare derailleur
  • Chain breaker
  • Tyre levers
  • Duct tape
  • Zip ties
  • Chain lube
  • Groundsheet or fly to put down when working on your bike and to cover it at night if you wish

Logistics

Two parties riding in opposite directions can use each other’s car at the conclusion of the trip. Alternatively, commercial operators can shuttle you and your bike or your car to the end of the track.

The ride

It’s a 2 or 3 day ride, requiring a good level of fitness, self reliance, and an advanced level of skills to ride in a backcountry environment across a variety of landscapes. Although rideable in both directions, riding from Aorere to Karamea is the most popular.

Distance

78.4 km one way; add 28 km to get from Collingwood to Brown Hut and 15 km from Kohaihai Shelter to Karamea.

Ride notes

  • It’s not recommended to ride the track in one day/
  • Fit, experienced riders should plan for two full days, staying overnight in a hut or designated campsite. Less experienced riders should anticipate a 3 day, 2 night trip.
  • Day trips from both track ends are possible; the full Heaphy Track ride requires at least one overnight stay to appreciate the natural features of the area.
  • Plan to finish later than you expect. The Aorere and Heaphy area is prone to flooding and it is not uncommon for people to get delayed by rising rivers.

Brown Hut to Perry Saddle Hut

Time: 2 hr 30 min–3 hr 30 min
Distance: 17.5 km

The ride starts with a gentle steady climb, passing Aorere Shelter and winding up to 890 metres through beech forest to Perry Saddle Hut.

Mountain biking near Saxon Hut.
Mountain biking near Saxon Hut

Perry Saddle Hut to Saxon Hut

Time: 2–3 hr
Distance: 12.4 km

A mainly downhill ride to Gouland Downs on a wide, well formed track. Initially the track is quite steep with technical stony sections and deep streams.

Roughly halfway is Gouland Downs Hut; from here it’s 5.4 km to Saxon Hut.

Saxon Hut to James Mackay Hut

Time: 2–3 hr
Distance: 11.8 km

Boardwalks and a well formed single track climb to James Mackay Hut with its spectacular view of the Heaphy River and West Coast. Look out for Powelliphanta snails on this section.

James Mackay Hut to Lewis Hut

Time: 1–2 hr
Distance: 12.5 km

This section is technical but an invigorating descent to Lewis Hut.

The track is rocky, rutted and soft in places; get off your bike and walk these soft, muddy sections to avoid damage to the track or yourself.

Control your speed and be aware of people approaching.

Lewis Hut to Heaphy Hut

Time: 1.5 hr–2.5 hr
Distance: 8 km

There are a number of suspension and swing bridges on this section.

Mountain biker crossing bridge.
Mountain biker crossing bridge

The suspension bridges are ride-able, or alternatively use the approved MTB swing bridge crossing method: flip your bike on its back with the rear wheel angled away from you at 45 degrees; with the stem in one hand move yourself by gripping the top wire with your other hand.

Flooding occurs over the track in the lower Heaphy Valley and can reach up to 1.5 m depth. Be prepared to wait or return to Lewis Hut until it’s safe to continue.

Avoid further damage to this part of the track by walking your bike through the muddy sections.

Look out for Powelliphanta snails in the Heaphy Valley and around Heaphy Hut.

Mountain biker on the coastal section of the Heaphy Track.
Mountain biking on the coastal section of the Heaphy Track

Heaphy Hut to Kohaihai Shelter

Time: 3–4 hr
Distance: 16.2 km

This spectacular coastal section of track weaves in and out of nīkau palms and native bush on one side and the roaring Tasman Sea on the other; it’s a highlight of the Heaphy Track and a great way to finish the ride.

Look out for Powelliphanta snails on the track around Katipo Creek.

Popular ride options

Option 1

Three days, two nights. This is a lot more manageable for most people and seems to be the most popular option. This makes a 44.7 km second day and two easier half days.

  • Brown Hut to Perry Saddle Hut: 2 hr 30 min–3 hr 30 min, 17.5 km
  • Perry Saddle to Heaphy Hut: 6 hr 30 min–10 hr 30 min, 44.7 km
  • Heaphy Hut to Kohaihai Shelter: 3–4 hr, 16.2 km.

Option 2

Two days, one night. This option roughly splits the ride in half.

  • Brown Hut to James Mackay Hut: 6 hr 30 min–9 hr 30min, 41.7 km
  • James Mackay Hut to Kohaihai Shelter: 5 hr 30 min–8 hr 30 min, 36.7 km.

Option 3

A two day, one night ride from Kohaihai Shelter to Heaphy Hut is a good introduction to the track. Stay overnight in the hut and ride back out the next day. This is a popular family ride along the spectacular, rugged West Coast coastline.

  • Kohaihai Shelter to Heaphy Hut: 3–4 hr, 16.2 km (each way). 

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