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Rakiura Track is on Stewart Island, the third island of New Zealand. This 32 km track is a loop and can be walked in either direction. It is generally referred to as a “muddy track” resulting from the constant rainfall it received. For more track information, refer to DoC – Rakiura Track. Stewart Island (or Rakiura – the Land of Glowing Skies) is an old world charm, laid back where 85% of the land is wilderness; heaps of beaches and isolated coasts; native rain forest; wildlife and spectacular night skies with potential to see Aurora Australis (Southern Lights). This is old New Zealand! See my track photos
Day 1 – Lee’s Bay to Port William Hut (8km)
We organised a taxi to the official starting point at Lee’s Bay. This saved 5 km of walking (2 hrs). Greg, our diver enquired if we had witnessed the Southern Lights last night. We were disappointed that we missed it. There was some apprehension and uncertainty at the time of our walk as both huts had serious infestation of bed bugs. However, DOC assured us that it is manageable and the huts as “relatively safe”.
It was a bright and sunny day with a blue sky when we arrived at Lee’s Bay. The beach is spectacular, strewn with rocks, lush coastal vegetation and washed-up kelp on the white sandy beach. The tip of South Island – Bluff, is visible across the unpredictable Foveaux Straits. On the island, several mountains are visible including the highest – Mt Anglem. Closer, on the track, on the ground, local humour – a metal plaque with the inscription “someday I must go over to New Zealand”.
We started our hike at 9 am after passing through a chain link art installation (Te Puka). In Maori history – Maui fished up South Island (Te Wai Pounamu) and Stewart Island (Rakiura). Then, anchored them to a chain. The dawn sunbathed the beach with a soft glow. The light was amazing. However, the water was cold. A predator fence can be viewed across the eastern hills. After a short walk, we took the high tide route. Crossed a few small wooden bridges. We passed a cluster of multi-trunk kamahi trees. The track ascended along a coastal cliff, mostly under tree canopies of beech, kamahi, tree ferns and broad leaf. There were stunning views at Peter’s Point and along Wooding Bay. Crossed white sandy beaches surrounded by lush vegetation. The track ascended and descended with aid of steps. Bird songs filled the forest. We were always on a look out for the elusive Kiwi bird. Wishful thinking perhaps.
We eventually emerged out of the forest canopy onto the long white sand Maori Beach. Amongst the sporadic shrubs, we spotted a deer. A family was enjoying a picnic lunch. This is an old Maori settlement. Tucked into a collection of tall shrubs, remnants of a rusting historic boiler. Timber industry was big in these parts including Port Williams between 1860 and 1930. We walked along this long beach under a hot sun with yellowish giant kelp washed up on the beach. At the northern end of Maori Beach, a swing bridge spanned over an estuary. We crossed the bridge and the track ascended into the forest. There were less bird songs here. At a junction, a track continued north towards Port William. The left track lead towards the North Arm Hut. After a short walk, we descended towards Magnetic Beach and arrived at the Port Williams Hut around 1230. Be aware, the dreaded sand flies await!
A deer foraged in the compound under a handsome collection of blue gum trees. For now, we were there only ones at the hut. It was quite surreal and quiet. Incidentally, there were lots of bees and tui birds. Nearby is a wooden wharf of Port Williams. Weary of the bed bugs, we kept our packs in the dining hall and planned to sleep here as well. With plenty of daylight, we relaxed under the gum trees and walked along the beach. A single cruise boat anchored at the wharf. Several hikers arrived later in the day. With the bed bug scare, only twelve were here today. The hut warden was absent.
I was excited and hopeful to see wild kiwi birds as Rakiura promised to have a sizeable population of these shy and elusive birds. There are sensitive to bright lights and noise. Armed with a torch wrapped with red cellophane, I was eager to get out on the search. After 9 pm, several red-light beams penetrated through the forest floor. I managed to spot a foraging deer and a possum. A distinctive loud screech of a kiwi echoed in the forest nearby. None was sighted but they are definitely around.
Day 2 – Port William to North Arm Hut (13km)
As expected, the day began as cloudy with dark clouds. Early in the morning, I ventured into the bush looking, rather optimistically, for Kiwi. We finally left the hut at 0830 and retraced our track back along the coast for 1 km. Then divert right and inland. It began to rain lightly. Humidity was high. I was sweating profusely with my rain jacket on. We stopped to check out the historic log hauler site. It was abandoned in 1931 after the timber industry collapsed. The abandoned machines are reminders of an era gone by. Via a long steep wooden step, we descended into the mixed forest -rimu, totara, podocarps, beech and tree ferns. Yellow autumn leaves littered on the track. We crossed little streams and walked past matured trees with twisted trunks. Lichen and moss hung from branches. All added a dramatic image of the forest.
The track undulated with the ebb and flow of the rain forested mountain. There was little birdsong. The track is a combination of earth, gravel, wooden steps, ponga (tree fern) logs and mud. The early part of the track was dominated by tall tree ferns with clusters of broad leaf trees. Patches of mud made walking difficult. This was further exasperated with exposed tree roots resulting from leeching by heavy rainfall. Today’s rain was light and did not contribute to the deteriorated state of the track. Fortunately, several dry days prior, had made walking rather easier than normal (very wet and muddy most of the track).
Mid way point is marked with a ball hanging off a tree branch. More muddy patches to negotiate. The final stretch is a descend towards the coast into North Arm Hut. We were the only hikers here. Several staff and contractors were busy ripping and spraying pesticide to get rid of a persistent infestation of bed bug. The rain eased and surprisingly the sun was out. However, thick clouds hung just below. Strong south-westerlies blew across the coast and hut. Temperatures dropped. We took a shot walk through dense vegetation towards a very small sandy beach. Wind swept trees clanged strongly onto the sloppy shore. A deer wandered into the hut compound.
Dinner time in the hut is full of camaraderie between the hikers. No burners are available in this hut. A few other hikers also arrived from Port William. A wild deer foraged around the hut compound. The wind picked up and rained intermittently. Doug, the warden, gave the usual hut talk. Another young and enthusiastic warden, Ant, offered anyone to spot Kiwi later. “I’ve got a bright red light”.
At 10pm, Ant, turned up and most of were ready for some surprise. The cold wind was relentless. This may have prompted the wild kiwi to stay hidden in the bush. In this cold windy day, I would too. However, the night sky – the milky way, was stunning. LC and I continued our search, Hoping. No sighting though. As a precaution against the nasty bed bugs, we slept in the lounge.
Day 3 – North Arm Hut to Half Moon Bay (Oban) – 12km
Surprising, at breakfast, no one experienced any bites. Perhaps we were just lucky. Left the hut at 0840 and entered a matured forest. Not long after, the track weaved in and out between the forest and the coast. Last night’s rain caused the already muddy track to become worse. New impromptu tracks were created to forge forwards. The walk is quite invigorating especially near water bodies like fast flowing streams. We stood on a bridge listening to the soothing sounds of the crashing waterfall.
Through twisted trunks of native bush, we spotted an abandoned and rusting boiler (used by the timber industry). We later emerged out of the tree canopy and walked along the debris filled Sawdust Bay. It was low tide. The blue sky reflected on the shallow water to create a striking view. The sun was out. The forest began to take on a “refreshing” appearance. Shafts of light penetrated through the goblin like twisted trees. The ground covered with clumps of lime green ferns. The atmosphere was invigorating. Young rimu trees seemed to thrive here.
At 1100, we arrived at yet another historic timber processing site – Gallo’s Sawmill. The only visible reminder is the signage and the stream that was used to power the mill. After crossing a long wooden bridge over an estuary, we reached a short detour to Kapipi Bay. We thought this might be a pleasant place for lunch. However, cold wind blew across the choppy bay. Shellfish clung tightly onto the rocky shore. A few fellow hikers joined us. They were young and boisterous. They too decided it was best not to linger here too long. Yellow Autumn leaves were scattered on the track. We continued walking under tree canopy dominated by tree ferns.
At 1pm, we arrived at a junction. The right track led towards Half Moon Bay via Ryans Creek adding a couple of kilometres (2hrs). We took, the left track via the Fern Gully with a 1 hr return to Half Moon Bay. Incidentally, all the young hikers opted for this choice too. Within a few minutes, we had reached the end of the 32 km Rakiura Track. From here on, we walked on gravel road for another hour to reach Half Moon Bay (Oban). Despite the wet and muddy track and no sight of any kiwi bird (although we heard several screeching calls), Rakiura Track is a delightful track with a mixture of stunning and dense rain forest, enchanting structural native trees, coastal walk and unique ecosystems and habitats.