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Home > Treks > Heaphy > Day 3 > 3.2
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Hut in the subalpine scrub

Hut in the subalpine scrub
 
 
 
 
 

THERE WAS no clearly defined point on the track where the lowland rimu forest changed to the mountain beech forest typical of the higher altitudes throughout New Zealand. The transition happened gradually with the moss covered beech appearing around the end of each spur only to return to rimu forest when back in the shelter of the gullies.

Bush becoming thinner

Bush becoming thinner

I did notice as I continued to gain altitude though the ratio between beech on the ridges and rimu in the gullies increased, so there was no obvious location where this chapter is supposed to start.

In the occasional small viewpoint between gaps in the trees I could see another ridge rising below me. This ridge formed part of a fault line that followed the northern side of the Heaphy River all the way downstream to Heaphy Bluff. I now realised that the Lewis Hut was perhaps just a hundred metres away from this fault line, and the Heaphy Hut had been a couple of hundred metres across the river from it.

Over a flat spur

Over a flat spur

The river had followed this fault line up to this point, eroding into the weakness caused by the fracture between the mountain blocks as they rose out of the ocean. From here the river bent inland towards its headwaters off the Gouland Range. The fault line followed Deception Creek, one of the tributaries of the Heaphy River.

The forested ridge that gradually rose on the other side of Deception Creek now obscured the Heaphy River, so although I will continue to be hiking within the catchment of the river, I would not see the main river again this trip.

Sunny in the forest

Sunny in the forest

At this point Deception Creek was a long way below and hidden deep in the rimu forest. The track would follow the top of the ridge above the creek at a lesser gradient until eventually the track and creek would be at the same altitude, but that won’t happen until tomorrow morning when I cross the fault line.

The terrain levelled off again as the track was almost at the top of a saddle on the range that I was still following going between the Lewis and Heaphy Rivers. The sun was shining quite brightly now through the increasing gaps in the clouds, emphasising the thick carpets of moss growing along the sides of the track.

The forest changes

The forest changes

Ferns were now dominating the undergrowth and the middle canopy as the beech trees now stood taller. The tree trunks were now covered in thick moss. The occasional small stream was crossing the track, going under small well constructed bridges. The water channels exposed the white granite rock in stark contrast to the almost black soil and bright green moss that covered everything else.

Stream in a mossy gully

Stream in a mossy gully

The water was ochre coloured but otherwise looking very clean. Dead trees had fallen over each stream. These were covered in carpets of beautiful moss looking fresh and invigorated by the recent rain. In between the streams fallen logs and the broken trunks were all covered in thick moss. The remains of trunks still sitting in the ground looked rather mysterious with their rounded heads of moss growing on top of them. It was almost as if they were tiny sentinels watching over the forest floor.

Stream in a mossy gully

Stream in a mossy gully

Most of the moss was green, but upon closer look I could see patches of the moss were almost white, and other patches were a pale orange colour. There was a lot of variety in the colouring indicating there was a lot more going on there than just a static green carpet. It was a very dynamic ecosystem supporting a huge variety of tiny bugs and worms supporting the soil for the forest. In sections of the track where the giant native snails lived, they formed the top of the food chain as they ate the worms.

Fallen tree covered in thick moss

Fallen tree covered in thick moss

The tall beech trees began to get stunted and scrubby as I continued gaining altitude. I realised I hadn’t seen any rimu for quite a while now. The forest undergrowth had become a lot thicker. Earlier I had been able to see a long way through the forest with the canopy providing lots of shade to stunt the undergrowth. This had gone now and I could hardly see more than a metre on either side of the track.

The forest grew higher again in a gully and the undergrowth subsequently thinned enough for me to once more see through it. The mysterious moss covered forest continued for some time with the occasional echo of some mysterious birds calling in the forest. More small streams flowed under bridges across the track in each gully. The streams were all ochre coloured from tannin stains, but otherwise were crystal clear.

Mossy forest giving way to scrubby bush

Mossy forest giving way to scrubby bush

I found another small seam of coal indicating another part of the prehistoric swamp that had once been here before the fault line I was following lifted this block up to its current altitude.

The forest suddenly turned to thick scrub again. The air was definitely cooler up here having gained over half a kilometre of elevation since leaving the hut this morning. I saw a couple of logs poking up either side of the gravel that had once been part of the endless row of logs crossing the track the entire way between the huts.

Small stream

Small stream

The track was otherwise very smooth and covered in granite sand, replacing the leaf litter and gravel. The scrub was only three metres tall and consisted of subalpine plants. The ridge continued rising to the left towards some rounded hills at the top of the ridge I had been following.

A tiny square wooden sign hanging off a branch beside the track said the hut was two kilometres away. Thankfully I was near the top of the climb onto Mackay Downs.

Face carved in stump

Face carved in stump

The moss that had been bright green was now in various shades of greenish brown, most likely due to the exposed sun around this area. That being said the sky had completely clouded over again though the cloud was a little above the surrounding hills. The cloud would have been at about a thousand metres above sea level.

I rounded a corner where another sign said there was one kilometre to go to the hut. The scrub was quite tall here, but there were two old tree stumps beside the track. These stumps were decorated to look like faces. They had a very Pacific Island look to them with eyes, nose and mouth chainsawed into them, small stones inserted into the mouth as teeth and some strips of vegetation on top of the head held down by a rock for its hair. The sides, base and back of the stumps were covered in naturally growing moss.

Moss growing under the scrub

Moss growing under the scrub

The moss on the other side of the track was some of the most spectacular I had seen so far. Perhaps the combination of the altitude and high rainfall in the clearing of the track provides perfect conditions here.

The scrub continued to thin out and as the terrain levelled, much of the undergrowth turned to flax, not the harakeke I had seen along the coast, but a smaller alpine variety the Maori call wharariki, Although these plants are called flax, they are not related to  the flax varieties of the northern hemisphere. Instead they are actually a type of lilly. These were sometimes found along rugged coastlines – I had seen a few the other day, but they are almost non-existent along the lowlands where the Maori lived, so this variety wouldn’t have been utilised as much as the harakeke.

Entering the scrub of Mackay Downs

Entering the scrub of Mackay Downs

The scrub was very fine leafed. There were almost no broadleaf plants up here. The scrub was various shades of brown and yellow, indicating the harsh climate.

The scrub gradually lowered so most plants were only about a metre high. The track was wide creating a huge scar through the granite where past storms had eroded quite a channel into the granite soil. In clearer area tufts of red tussock was growing. In just a few short hours the vegetation had changed enormously from subtropical forest to subalpine swampland tussock in the seven hundred metres I had ascended from the junction of the Lewis and Heaphy Rivers.

James Mackay Hut

James Mackay Hut

The trail levelled off in a scrubby valley marking the start of the Mackay Downs I could see the James Mackay hut emerging from desolate scrub above me. The track reached a cross junction. A short side track led a little downhill to a helipad on the last patch of flat land before it dropped into Deception Creek hidden in the scrubby bush just a few metres below. The main track continued ahead across the downs having reached the top of a small saddle. To the right a broad track led straight up the gradual spur towards the hut.

View back down the Heaphy Valley

View back down the Heaphy Valley

The track went around the front of the huge hut where a massive verandah extended out overhead. Below the verandah was a large wooden bike rack. There were no bikes on it today now that the cycling season was well past, but I imagined during winter it would fill pretty quickly. The track continued up the hill towards a campsite and to the ranger’s hut standing about two hundred metres further up the spur under the scrub covered Otepo Hill. The hill towered about a hundred metres above the valley.

Main room and wood burner

Main room and wood burner

I walked around the back of the hut up to the main entrance. A sign indicated the hut was 700 metres above sea level – 680 higher than the Lewis Hut. It had been built exactly one year ago in November 2014.

I was the first to arrive at the enormous hut. It still smelled of new timber and paint and was in immaculate condition. It felt more like a luxury resort than a tramping hut. The main entrance opened to a mud room just like the one at Heaphy Hut. I entered the extremely clean mud room and removed my boots, which were fortunately mostly dry. That’s a big relief.

One of the bunk rooms

One of the bunk rooms

A short hallway led from the main room to four small bunkrooms. I entered the nearest bunk room and set up my bed. A small wood burner was just inside the main entrance followed by a large preparation area with several sinks and gas cookers. On either side of the preparation area was a large wooden table with benches with windows giving a spectacular view down the Heaphy River towards the coast.

There was a set of two flush toilets attached to the main building so you could go outside without getting exposed too much to the elements. These were the newest and cleanest toilets I had ever seen on a hiking trail. Overall the hut was better accommodated than many hotels I have stayed in over the years.

Preparing an early dinner

Preparing an early dinner

I headed out to the large wooden verandah. The views from here were stunning. The hut was high enough above the scrub to get clear views all around. To the right stood a range rising a hundred metres high, Otepo being the highest hill. The ranger’s hut stood on the ridge a little further up the hill. Looking from the front of the hut I could see over the edge of the Mackay Downs down to the very end of the Heaphy River from where the last bluffs jutted out over the river. Extending past the bluff was the long sand bank covered in driftwood that I had explored yesterday morning. I could just see the flat near the end of the river where the Heaphy Hut stood, but the hut itself was too far back into the hill to be visible from here.

Reading the intentions book

Reading the intentions book

A thick layer of cloud covered overhead down to about nine hundred metres above sea level. It was very close to me but still had enough clarity for me to see out to the sea which was bright blue. The end of the Iwituaroa Range and hills behind the Heaphy Hut were sunny, indicating the sky was clear out there with the cloud lingering around the mountains. If this was the case it would be highly likely the cloud will clear when night sets in.

Hungry from my hike up the hill I decided to cook an early dinner. Once cooked I settled at one of the big dining room tables and read a large folder of information on the history of the track. Some of the facts and figures have been added into here. It provided an in-depth historical record of the track, along with survey maps of the Heaphy River and coast from the early 1900s.

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Date:

 

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05 November 2015

 

Kahurangi Nat Park

New Zealand

 

40°55'S
172°11'E
400 - 700m ASL

 

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