The Heaphy Track – New Zealand’s longest and most diverse Great Walk – is opened up to mountain bikers between May and November each year. Stretching for almost 80 km, it retraces the steps of Māori pounamu (greenstone) gatherers and pioneer gold prospectors between Golden Bay and the West Coast of the South Island.
This splendid wilderness adventure is among the most popular New Zealand mountain biking trails. It begins with a climb up to an expansive tussock-covered plateau, ringed by rugged mountains, before descending through lushly forested river valleys to wild West Coast beaches fringed with geometric nikau palms.
There’s unique wildlife in the midst, including great spotted kiwi (roa) roaming the Gouland Downs, spiky wētā and long-legged spiders creeping around limestone caves, and giant, nocturnal carnivorous snails slithering through beech forest. Some of the Heaphy Mountain Biking Trail's wonders are artificial, too, including lofty suspension bridges and charming Great Walk huts where communing with like-minded bikers and walkers enriches the experience.
This mountain biking trail can be ridden in two days, but three is even better as it allows riders to fully appreciate this endlessly fascinating environment. Staying at Saxon Hut on the first night and the riverside Heaphy Hut on the second is a good option, splitting the journey into manageable and enjoyable chunks.
This is a technical mountain biking ride in remote wilderness and should only be attempted by well-equipped, experienced riders. Sound mechanical skills are also essential unless riders are embarking on a guided adventure.
The Heaphy Mountain Biking Track can be completed in either direction but the most popular route is from east to west as the majority of climbing is out of the way on the first day. By road, it’s 448 km between the trailheads, or around seven hours solid driving. Shuttle transport can be arranged through local mountain biking operators, but a scenic flight back from Karamea to Golden Bay or Nelson is a quicker and highly memorable way to finish the ride.