Solo Expedition

Mackay Downs - Heaphy Track

If there is one thing I am certain about in my life, it is how much I love my husband. But after spending six months together nearly 24/7, we both agreed some time apart might do us some good. So, two days after we completed our kayak trip in Abel Tasman National Park, I headed off for my first ever solo backpacking trip on the Heaphy Track, one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks.

I had never even heard of the Heaphy Track before we arrived in New Zealand. Yet, it was just a few dozen kilometers from where we had been staying in Golden Bay. And at 78.4 kilometers long, within the 452,000-hectare Kahurangi National Park (one of New Zealand’s largest), it sounded like the perfect trip.

Although most people who hike the Great Walks take advantage of the huts along the way to avoid carrying a tent and stove, I booked into three campsites along the route, staying in a hut only where camping was unavailable. That meant donning one of the heaviest packs I’ve ever carried, as the tent we procured in Chile weighs in at a whopping 3.5 kilograms (~8 pounds), not to mention all my other gear and food. We estimated my starting weight at about 18 kilograms (~40 pounds).

And I was definitely feeling that weight as I started out from the Brown Hut towards Perry Saddle on Day 1. But my thoughts were quickly diverted to the beauty of the scenery around me as I climbed steadily up, up, up, surrounded by lush, bush-covered mountains and clear streams shrouded in thick vegetation.

Aorere River - Heaphy Track

At times I felt a bit like Snow White as songbirds flitted about, descending from high perches to follow me along the trail. Often they would perch just a few feet off the trail, seemingly quite curious about this human in their midst. The South Island robins were notably unafraid, a few even coming down to land on my backpack as I took a needed rest on a bench or next to a stream.

South Island Robin

South Island Robin

Unlike the dramatic mountain scenery of its well-known South Island cousins (like the Milford, Kepler and Routeburn tracks), the beauty of the Heaphy Track is more understated. It is found in the diversity of ecosystems and constantly changing colors and textures.

You hike through the verdant bush of Middle Earth one day…

Heaphy Track New Zealand

Kahurangi National Park - Heaphy Track

…gaze across the expanse of the low slung gold and red tussock downs the next…

Gouland Downs - Heaphy Track

Gouland Downs - Heaphy Track

…search for hidden limestone caves beneath your feet…

Heaphy Track Cave

Heaphy Track Cave

…meander through sub-tropical forests with towering Rata trees and Nikau palms with springs emanating from massive limestone formations…

Ancient Rata Tree - Heaphy Track

Nikau Palms - Heaphy Track

Nikau Palm - Heaphy Track

Heaphy Track - Spring

…finally arriving at the wild and rocky West Coast, blue and white frothy waves crashing on every shore.

Heaphy Track

Along the way, I met some incredibly kind people who offered good conversation and chocolate. I also had a lot of time to reflect on the trip thus far and some lessons learned along the way, as well as my relationship with Alex and how it has evolved over 14+ years together.

And I learned a few things about myself as well. Most importantly, I learned that I am mentally and physically stronger than I give myself credit for. And ultimately, I was quite proud of accomplishing the journey alone. Turns out, I’m pretty good company.

End of the Heaphy Track

Categories: National Parks, New Zealand | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “Solo Expedition

  1. Annie Tabard

    Great, wonderfull, what an experience you’ve had !!!! and it is not finish ?!!!! we wish you both a wonderful new year, could it be as nice as 2015 ?


  2. Aubrie

    Way to go! You rock! Inspiring – and beautiful scenery.


  3. Tom Madden

    You certainly are great company, and not just for yourself. Again, congrats on your solo journey. You both continue to amaze and inspire me and I’m sure many others. Great pictures again. Love you both, Dad Madden


  4. Carrie Richardson

    Sounds absolutely amazing! I’m proud of you!


  5. Missy

    That’s amazing! Way to go. And I love that robin’s gorgeous legs.


  6. Lynn

    Way to go Erin! I have no doubts about your mental and physical strength, and good company 🙂 .



    Makes for beautiful picture postcards. Kudos on your Mission Accomplished and we wish you a very Happy Birthday!! Love you, Aunt Sherrie and Uncle Clint


  8. I love you Erin. Thanks for sharing your story.


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