Of the 9 Great Walks in New Zealand, the Rakiura Track is the southernmost, and the newest to be designated a ‘Great Walk’. It is also one of the shortest and easiest. At 37km and the major ascent being less than 300 meters, neither the length nor the elevation gain pose much challenge for a hiker. That’s because it’s a primarily coastal hike, which I haven’t experienced yet. The most famous of those in New Zealand, the Abel Tasman, I won’t be seeing until April. So the Rakiura was a good first experience.
I guess one negative to the track was apparent right away. While it is a full circuit track (wonderful!), you do have 7 kilometers of hiking on road, not trail. So a bit of a different start. I didn’t mind at all, it gave me a chance to check out Oban on my way to the trail head in Lee Bay.
Along the way you cross Horseshoe Bay, a lovely sandy beach. The first of several I’d see as it turned out.
And get to see such peculiarities as the telephone tree.
Finally, at Lee Bay, the quick moving clouds had cleared (except in distance lands).
There were a few of these plates at the start of the trail, they had different sayings and made me chuckle.
The Chain Link sculpture. According to Maori Legend, Stewart Island was used as the anchor stone for the Great Canoe (the South Island), and this sculpture symbolizes that connection.
And on the trail to Port William. Quite often the trail would open up to brilliant blue waters.
And there were a few (bridged) stream crossings.
More lovely beaches.
At Maori Beach, the track heads onto the sand itself for a good 20 minutes. There is a campsite here, but I was going to the next one at Port William. This would be a lovely spot to camp though, you have a stellar beach all to yourself, just steps away from the campground!
Another river crossing at the end of Maori Beach.
And this is where I camped for the night. Port William. Absolutely beautiful? Yup.
Can’t get a much better place (or weather) to kick up your feet after several hours of hiking! I also ate my dinner down on the beach.
But unlike most of the Great Walks, some of the highlights of the Rakiura Track only are found at night. Most specifically, wild Kiwi birds roam Stewart Island, and this is often the best place in New Zealand to see them in the wild. So after 10pm, flashlight and camera in hand, I headed out for a quick stroll. And found some furry critters.
The soft and cuddly looking Possum. Unfortunately, these things are huge pests here. And numerous in number. I ended up seeing 5 my first night! That being said, when using the red-light on my flashlight (so as to not blind Kiwis), the possum eyes were downright creepy.
The moon gave good light, the area was pretty quiet…but no Kiwi birds were to be found tonight.
The 2nd day was another partly cloudy, becoming sunny kind of day. It also was the most ‘difficult’ of the 3 days of hiking, with a few small climbs. The only unfortunate part of the hike today was that it was ALL in forest.
Still, there were some items of curiosity. There was a big push for lumber operations on the island in the late 1800s, which ran for some time (until the Great Depression I believe). When business ceased, the machinery was simply abandoned, and now serve as interesting reminders of a different time.
Continuing on towards the North Arm campground and Hut, there was still more nice forest scenery.
Oh, and mud. Lots of mud. Stewart Island is well known as a muddy destination, and while the Rakiura track is better than others on the island for having boardwalks and gravel in muddy spots, you certainly do get dirty. And the worst was yet to come.
One of the perks of the forest walk was the bird life. Stewart Island is rife with birds of all different types. I couldn’t get good pictures of most that I saw, but this, of a Kakariki (type of parakeet), came out decently.
Finally, popping out at the North Arm hut area. The campsite wasn’t very picturesque, being hidden well up in the forest area, but the hut had a wonderful swimming spot.
After a 2nd night without spotting any kiwis (though I did hear them this time), morning rains greeted me today.
But, I did have some coasts to enjoy as I slogged through mud on my way back to Oban.
The tide was way out as I made my way, fairly quickly at that. Rain + Ferry schedule means I didn’t dawdle too much. Indeed, I made good time, averaging over 4km/hr.
Lots of marshy type land here.
And the last stretch of the track, which follows an old logging road. Nice, flat, wide open…and dreadfully muddy. Still, it has character that way!
Back in civilization, I found myself some fish and chips (yum!), and relaxed while waiting for my ferry. Just in case you didn’t believe me about the mud:
And then it was just down to riding the ferry back to the South Island. The Rakiura Track was very enjoyable, giving a relatively easy 3 days of hiking, while stopping at several beautiful spots. I would have stayed at Port William for days if I knew the weather was going to hold. The spot was stellar, and the campground very well laid out. The North Arm campground wasn’t half as nice. But I knew the weather was going to change quickly, and the forecast was correct this time (2 days sun, 1 day rain). It won’t rank up there with the Tongariro any time soon for me, but the beautiful beaches and the cacophony of bird songs were memorable parts of this Great Walk. This is the least walked of all the Great Walks (owing to it’s isolation), but a well maintained and unique experience, well worth the travel times required.