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NZ Army swaps training ground for the Heaphy Track

Soldiers from Bravo Company, 2nd/1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment have switched Burnham Military Camp for the beauty of one of New Zealand’s most famous tourist destinations - the Heaphy Track.

02 December, 2021

Most walkers tackle the Department of Conservation (DOC) Great Walk in a recommended four or five days so they can take their time and enjoy the varied, rugged and unique mountain, forest and beach landscapes.

The soldiers, however, walked the 78.4km track, in Kahurangi National Park, in just 24 hours as part of Exercise Bravo Rua last week.

With no sleep and only a few rest stops, the soldiers started at Kohaihai on the West Coast and worked in teams of four to tackle the track to ensure they finished within the time limit. The activity tested their physical fitness and mental endurance in order to build resilience.


Soldiers trek in military gear with packs. A beach-like forest landscape surrounds them with trees stretching far up above.

Soldiers from Bravo Company, 2nd/1st Battalion RNZIR on the Heaphy Track

The sight of 37 soldiers may have been unfamiliar for walkers and mountain bikers on the track.

However, DOC and the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) have a longstanding relationship, said platoon commander, Lieutenant Tony Calder-Steele. 

“DOC grants permission to use conservation land to enable training in environments similar to what we might encounter on operations regionally or globally. The NZDF also supports DOC to access remote islands,” he said. 

“DOC allowing us to walk to Heaphy was not only a great chance to improve our soldiers’ resilience, but also to explore one of the most picturesque places in New Zealand. A big thanks to the Takaka DOC office for giving Bravo Company the opportunity to walk the track,” he added.

A soldier crosses a bridge on the Heaphy Track in the morning. A rocky stream can be seen underneath, and brown and golden trees are scattered around the landscape. Steam rises as the day warms. Soldiers in a line, walk over an elevated swing bridge on the Heaphy Track. Trees reach upwards on either side. Soldiers walk in a line on a winding wooden boardwalk. The landscape to the left shows a wet tussock area and green hills stretching beyond.

Rifleman Private Carl-Jacques Reinecke found the physical aspect of the exercise challenged him most on his first visit to the Heaphy.

“I knew I was fit enough, but I really had to push myself after the first 50km. By that point you’re in pain but the ‘make it or break it’ factor comes in and you have to push through it.

“I learnt I could push myself a lot further than I originally thought. ‘Mind over matter’ people always say, now after completing this exercise I know what they’re talking about,” he said.

Lance Corporal Ngoc Thang Lam and Private Carl-Jacques Reinecke pictured wearing their military gear, with bush and mountain landscapes in the background.

Lance Corporal Ngoc Thang Lam, left, and Private Carl-Jacques Reinecke pushed themselves hard to complete the nearly 80km trek in a day.

Supply Technician Lance Corporal Ngoc Thang Lam said that aside from the physical and mental challenges of walking for 24 hours, Exercise Bravo Rua also tested his leadership skills.

“This gave me the opportunity to command a team of up to four soldiers. After conducting the Junior Non-Commissioned course earlier this year it was a great opportunity to apply those skills.

 “I really had to think about how I lead and ensure that as a team we completed the task successfully. As a team we decided when to have a break and how to set the pace so that it worked for everyone. We didn’t have any sleep stops and I must admit there may have been a time or two when I fell asleep on my feet for a micro-second.”

Five soldiers trek in single file, surrounded by a golden-brown tussock and hill landscape. Early morning sees steam rising as the day warms up.

Soldiers from Bravo Company, 2nd/1st Battalion RNZIR on the Heaphy Track

Two soldiers cross an elevated bridge, with a wide flowing river beneath and forest on either side.

Soldiers from Bravo Company, 2nd/1st Battalion RNZIR on the Heaphy Track

Bravo Company’s Officer Commanding, Major Alex Bowyer, said the walk was also an opportunity to continue the NZ Army’s integration of new Network Enabled Army radios.

“All soldiers on the exercise carried their radio systems which allowed commanders to navigate and track how other teams on the exercise were going,” he said.

“This was also used as a safety control measure. Overall the exercise was a success with all soldiers learning more about themselves and each other. This was an experience they will remember for the rest of their careers,” he said.