Exploring Golden Bay is made much easier by the fact that there are very few roads with just three longer than about 30kms and they all head inland; two ending in the Kahurangi National Park and the other one on the west coast at Anatori (that’s if you don’t count the 4WD road that can take you further on past Anatori). The rest are reasonably short and usually service the beach settlements and farming communities in the area.
The Heaphy Track, another “NZ Great Walk”, begins right at the end of one of the longer roads, at the head of the Aorere Valley. And while we aren’t going to walk the 78km, 4-5 day walk we wanted to check out the beginning of the track and explore a few areas along the way.
First things first though; it’s lunch at the ‘Naked Possum’, a well known cafe at the end of a side road surrounded by cow paddocks. Lucky the sign points down the road to the café otherwise we might just have thought this was it. There's sure to be a few very naked possums in there though.
Unfortunately there aren’t too many people about at the cafe. Well in fact, there’s only us but we had an enjoyable visit, we both had their signature venison pie which was very tasty indeed. Apparently during the summer (and over the weekends) this is a busy place, the cafe is also located at the start of the Kaituna Track, a 15km tramp up and over the Whakamarama Range ending out near the west coast (we’ll pass the other end later in the week). But for the moment it’s just us & the lunches they supply to the builders of a new dairy shed down the road.
After lunch we’re back on the road and heading towards Bainham and the ‘famous in NZ’ Langfords Store. The store is thought to be the oldest operating shop in New Zealand. But it was not operating when we visited. It’s been closed for winter, reopening this week. The store first opened it’s doors in 1928 and it’s still in the same family with the original owner's great, great grand-daughter running it now.
With no visitors and the shop shut, it gave me a good opportunity to take photos. But I’d love to see inside so I’m hoping to head back there this week sometime to check it out.
Further down the road a sign post pointed down another side road towards a historic bridge which of course we had to check out. The Salisbury Bridge was a suspension foot bridge that crossed a narrow gorge over the Upper Aorere River. But all that remains of it, is one of the supports (middle right), the 37m long wire bridge, built in 1902, was swept away in a huge 14 metre flood on 28th December 2010, only 6 years after being fully restored and becoming one of Golden Bay’s tourist icons.
It would seem that the 2010 flood (the biggest in 150 years) was horrendous and probably the cause of all the new embankments on rivers and streams, and a couple of new bridges, that we’ve seen in the area and also why there are so many whole trees and huge tree trunks littering the estuaries in all directions. A tour guide we spoke to told us that the Aorere River has an average water flow of 80 cubic metres per second and at the height of the flood it was 8000 cubic metres per second.
What an interesting little gorge; very narrow with deep clear pools of forest green water. I can imagine the water raging through here in a flood, it would be quite terrifying crossing it on the swingbridge (especially if it was during the 2010 flood!). Can you see our shadows on the rocks? A short side walk to the end of the gorge reveals the Salisbury Falls located on a stream that enters the river near the bend. After nearly a month of little more than a few light showers, Golden Bay needs a heavy dose of rain, that would be certain to increase the flow of the falls. The whitebaiters back at camp are also wanting a good dousing to flush out the rivers, they think this will improve their catches. Going by the quantity we’ve seen some come back with we aren’t convinced the lack of rain is the reason others haven't started to fill their freezers yet.
The road to the Heaphy Track has now turned to gravel and narrows down considerably, it seems a long way in too. Travelling a dusty winding gravel road always feels twice as long as it actually is. It must be to do with all the bouncing about in the cab at half (or less) the usual speed & the taste of dust. I know David curses everytime we hit gravel as the wellside fills up with dust leaving a thick coating over everything we store back there and he’ll have to get out with the hose when we get back home. But needs must, and gravel roads are very much a part of our journey. We wouldn’t have explored half the area that we have if we kept off them.
This is Mt Olympus (1519m) and for LOTR fans this was the "Rugged Country south of Rivendell Eregion Hills"
Finally we reach the Heaphy Track carpark and as it’s getting on into the afternoon we decide to walk to the first hut only; Brown River Hut. Once again it’s deserted although there were 3 vehicles in the carpark.
This hut is very clean & tidy compared with most of the others we’ve visited but it still doesn’t make us want to stay over anytime soon. The next hut is 17km further on and the walk to it is the steepest on all the Heaphy, climbing from 500m above sea level, here at Brown River Hut, to 3000m at Perry Saddle. It’s the reason we’ve decided we’ll do a day walk on the Heaphy Track from the other end, when we get to the West Coast early next year.
I walk a little further on up the track to a wooden bridge that crosses the Aorere River, no swing bridges here. I wonder how this one faired in the flood.
Then it’s back down the track to the ute and a quick shot of the sign board at the carpark. What? You weren’t expecting us to put in a long walk late in the day were you? Our shortest walk ever! Just what we needed at the end of another day exploring.