October 1-4 I walked the Heaphy Track with family. The weather was wet on the first day but cleared up nicely and as always we had a great time.
The Heaphy runs from the east end of Kahurangi National Park, near Golden Bay on the northern end of the South Island, west through the hills to the west coast of the South Island, and then south along the coast to the northern end of the road. (It can also be walked in the other direction.) Our first day was steady walking uphill, but not steep. The second day was up and down through the Gouland Downs at an elevation of around 800 metres. The third day is steady downhill to the coast, and the fourth day is along the coast, up and down a bit as you cross small ridges. The Heaphy is the longest Great Walk (about 80km) and we walked 5-6 hours each day. Since we generally set out from a hut at 8:30am or so, on the second and third days we arrived at our destination by 2 or 3pm, leaving plenty of time for card games, short walks and socializing!
One of the neat things about the Heaphy is the variety. Each day you're traveling through quite different terrain, all of it interesting. You really appreciate how the environment changes from the east side of Kahurangi to the west coast. I particularly enjoyed the coastal walk on the last day; that coast is truly wild, and parts can be walked off the track, on the beach. At times there is no sign of human presence whatsoever. The sand, surf, thick palm forest and mist work together to provide a feeling of isolation and timelessness.
Going into the walk I had a bit of a niggle in my right knee. That turned out to be no problem at all --- I didn't feel it since we started the walk, and it seems to be cured! On the second and third days I developed some severe ankle chafing against my boots --- skin worn through, with bleeding. So on the fourth day I walked barefoot the whole way. There wasn't as much time on sand as I thought, and the track was often rocky, so it wasn't particularly comfortable, but I found it surprisingly easy. My feet have learned to distinguish pain from damage; going barefoot was more painful than the ankle chafing, but there was no damage at all apart from a small cut on my big toe. That very evening my feet felt fine, but my ankles are still touchy today. Ironically the most painful part of the walk was the last five minutes where someone had helpfully laid gravel on the track.