Author(s): Chris Petyt
The Heaphy Track has a long and rich history that stretches back to pre-European times. Archaeological evidence from the mouth of the Heaphy River indicates that Maori may have been present from the late 1400s during what is referred to as the Moa-hunter period, but perhaps not continuously. A route which roughly follows the present Heaphy Track was subsequently found through the hills from Golden Bay to the Heaphy Valley and used to access the pounamu (greenstone) further south on the West Coast. Although the track is named after the explorer Charles Heaphy he never actually followed the whole route. He along with Thomas Brunner and Kehu, their Maori guide, travelled down the coast in 1846 from the north and only traversed the coastal section of the track from the Heaphy River to the Kohaihai River. The first Europeans to traverse the route are only recorded as 'Aldridge and his mate'. Following the discovery of gold in the Aorere Valley in late 1865, the route of the Heaphy Track was used by gold miners to traverse between the Aorere Goldfield and those that were subsequently discovered on the West Coast. Author Chris Petyt has dug deep and wide to assemble this first comprehensive account of the human history of the Heaphy Track. Today, the Heaphy is one of New Zealand's premier walking tracks and the longest of the multi-day tracks designated by the Department of Conservation as Great Walks. The struggles to establish and maintain a walkable track and the huts are documented along with the controversies surrounding various road proposals and the more recent saga of whether mountain bikes should be permitted on the track. The natural history of the area is not overlooked with chapters on how the Gouland Downs became a sanctuary to try and protect the large numbers of native birds and the discovery of the special plants and animals that inhabit the area. This book will appeal not only to those who have walked the track but also the armchair recreationists who are curious about the origins of the track and its history, including the various mishaps that have occurred to some people while on the track. Those contemplating a trip over the track will also find it useful as the final chapter is a guide to walking the track.