Tag Archives: Rakiura Track

Things to do in Stewart Island

Contents

Introduction

Stewart Island or Rakiura is NewZealand’s third island with about 85% as reserve land. Early Maori arrived here to hunt for Mutton birds. Settlers arrived and started with whaling and hunting fur seals. This was followed by the timber industry. The first settlement on the main island was at the Neck. The past can be witnessed today in varying state of decay. Besides tourism, which is on the rise, fishing for cod, crayfish, oysters and paua continued. Access to Stewart Island is via a 1 hour ferry from Bluff across the unpredictable Foveaux Strait or a 25 minutes flight from Invercargill. We came here with the intent to do the 3 days Rakiura Track but ended up staying for 7 days. There are lots to see and do especially if you like the wilderness and the isolation. This is literally “old New Zealand”.

See my Stewart Islands Photos

Oban or Half Moon Bay is the hub of the island with restaurants, museums, transportation, accommodations and one store. Its only a short walk from the ferry jetty. However, its laid back attitude, remoteness and picturesque views are unforgettable.

(1) Walk to Ackers Point (3hrs return)

From Oban go past Lonnekers Beach with a backdrop of matured Blue Gum trees. Walk along the road past Leask and Jensen Bays to road end. Then walk along the dirt track to historic Ackers Cottage on picturesque Harold Bay. Continue on through coastal bush past Fisherman’s Bay to Ackers Point Lighthouse. There are fantastic views of Foveaux Strait and scattered Muttonbird/Titi Islands – including Pukeokaoka, Herekopare and Ruapake islands can be seen. Titi or Muttonbird (sooty shearwater) can be spotted in late summer. At dusk, there are possibilities of seeing Blue Penguin returning to nest from feeding. Return to Oban the same way.

(2) Walk Ringaringa and Deep Bay

Just before Loneker Beach, go inland through dense bush across Peterson Hill. Birds including Kaka, Tui and Wood Pigeon can be heard and seen. The track leads to a sealed road and headed towards a golf course. We walked through the course and arrived at wild Ringaringa Beach. Strong wind blew across the crescent beach. Continued on past local residents homes to Wohler’s Monument. Just a short walk , we entered a private farmland with sheep grazing. There were panoramic views of Native Island and the surrounding islets. We back tracked to sheltered Deep Bay at low tide. A rusty fishing vessel laid on the silty shore. From here, you can continue towards Golden Bay. However, we retraced our track back to Peterson Hill and onward to Half Moon Bay/Oban.

(3) Bathing Beach

From Oban, past the Four Square and immediately past the ferry terminal, go up onto Kamahi Rd. The views of the ferry terminal and Thompson Bay is stunning. We stopped at the 1904 wooden Presbyterian Church. Just a short walk is the delightful Church Hill Lodge and restaurant. The road continued into a secondary bush and onto Bathing Beach. Its crescent shape, sandy beach and gentle slope is quiet inviting. From here, we continued towards Mill Creek estuary near the sealed main road. Numerous foot prints were embedded on the muddy path along the creek. Was it Kiwi, Weka and just the common sea gull footprint? It is is a great place to explore at low tide. We followed the road back to Oban. This might be a good place to spot Kiwi at night.

(4) Observation Rock

Several roads lead to this iconic place. It beings with a steep uphill walk on the road before diverting into a bush. However, at the top, there were panoramic views of Paterson Inlet, surrounding mountains including Mt Rakehua, Ulva Island and a few islands. Kaka bird calls can be heard. Surprisingly, one landed on a nearby tree. Its’ colours were brilliant. It is a great place to watch sunset and if lucky, Aurora Australis! Perhaps a Kiwi later in the day.

(5) Horseshoe Point

We hired electric bike from a store just past  South Sea Hotel. Everything in Oban is a short hop and walk. With only 28 km of roads, it is easy and great way to explore the island. From Oban, we headed north past Mill Estuary onto Horseshoe Bay Road. We passed the botanical gardens and ended at Horseshoe Bay. The bay is quite spectacular and as the name suggested, it is shaped like a horse shoe. The weather was cloudy and chilly. We ventured along a walking track from Horseshoe Point Rd. The track skirted along the bay. Matured pine leaned towards the bay in defiance. On the shore below, rocks were covered with green algae. Giant yellow kelp boobed in the water’s edge. The track continued round the coast and ended at Braggs Bay. However, we retraced our steps back to Horseshoe Bay and headed towards a fishing jetty. We met a few fisherman preparing their boat and gear. They are fishing for cod. One young man replied that he’d be away for several days. These guys are hardy souls.

Another interesting place to visit is Lee’s Bay, just 3km away. We’ve been there at the start of our 3 days Rakiura Track.

We returned to Oban for a hot lunch and continued our cycling towards Thule Bay. The weather worsened and became much colder. One of the interesting sites around this road are the rustic sheds along the bays. They certainly add ‘colour’ to the isolated windswept landscape. Across the  rough bay, uninhabited Faith, Hope and Charity islands. Ryan Creek track begins from here skirting the bays with views if Via Vole Bay. The 2hr track joins the Rakiura Track at Fern Gully and onward to Oban.

(6) Fuchsia walk

This is a delightful short walk which I had taken several times. From the DoC centre, head west and turn left at Dundee Street. There is a sign post on the right. The walk is filled with fuchsia and several native trees. Bird songs can be heard all the time. I used this track to get to Traill Park.

(7) Ulva Island

This is a pristine predator free island with lush native forest, picturesque sandy beaches and coves, native birds including tui, kaka, kiwi, kereru, weka and saddleback. Occasionally, wildlife on the beach. It has high numbers of brown Kiwi (Southern Tokoeka). You might even see them at daytime. To make it even better, several walking tracks crisscross the small island. We took about 3 hrs wandering. However, on a tour, time is limited. The only way to get here is  a 10 minutes boat ride – regular water taxi from Golden Bay or on a tour. First port of call is at Post Office Bay. Look out for jellyfish and star fish. This is must do in Stewart Island.

(8) Kiwi Spotting

Traill Park is an open field surrounded with matured bush. This a a great place to see wild kiwi birds. However, it is late, after 10 pm. I had been here from 10pm till 1am. No sightings. On the second day, around 1230, I managed to get a fleeting view of a single kiwi foraging at the fringe of the bush. Patience, silence and warm gear is essential. Apparently, these elusive birds do come out onto the field to forage. I was happy with my brief but satisfying encounter. Beware, it can get very cold here. Typical screeching kiwi calls can be heard around the bush. However. sightings can be difficult. An alternate is to join several outfits on a tour ($100). They literally guarantee sightings (at the airport or isolated beaches on a boat).

(9) Star gazing

Stewart Island is the southern most Dark Sky Sanctuary with unimpeded views of the night sky. We gazed at Milky Way and distant stars everyday. The reason, there is literally no light pollution here. You don’t have to walk far either.

(10) Aurora Australis

The possibility of witnessing the Southern Lights is here in Stewart Island. However, the lights depended on geomagnetic activities. I missed the one day in seven where it was on show (low level). You can always be hopeful and it would be a bonus. Good place is Observation Hill.

(11) The boat jetty/wharf

We came here after dinner to hopefully spot resident Blue Penguins returning after feeding all day at sea. Their nests are hidden on the cliffs near the jetty. We did not see any. However, I managed to see a shark swim just under the jetty. This is my first sighting of a wild shark. There are plenty in the water around Stewart Island. At daytime, it is a great place to observe hype of activities of disembarking passengers and goods. After a few days, we’re like locals giving directions and suggestions to the ‘green horns’.

(12) Fish and chips

The Kai Kart is a popular place to sample fresh and hot seafood and chips. It is one of the best I had tasted – prawns, squid, fish, oysters and more. It was served in a typical kiwi style, paper. However, please note the opening times and long queues are common.

(13) Rakiura Museum

This is a great place to get an insight into the history of the island, its pioneering people and native cultures including artefacts and photographs. The locals running it are very accommodating and friendly.

(14) Bunkhouse Theatre

Across the Museum is this unassuming local theatre. We tried several times to get in but was closed. The suggested show then was ‘A Local’s Tail’ .

(15) Fin and Feathers Eatery

This is a great place for dinner, close to the theatre. It is a small kart but makes the best gourmet burgers and many other delicious choices. Like all eateries in Oban, be quick to get in.

(16) South Seas Hotel

The most centrally located and walking distance from the jetty. It has several types of accommodation, restaurant and the only pub in town. Great atmosphere and best place to rub shoulders with the locals. Check out the exterior ‘bus stop’. They are not waiting for a bus either! We stayed here. If you’re nice, they may even let you use their washing machine. Dinner bookings are essential. Try their fabulous cod dish. We enjoyed 2021 America’s Cup and St Patrick’s  Day at the pub.

Another moderately priced accommodation is Stewart Island Backpackers. A great place with private rooms and kitchen. Staples can be bought at the only outlet – Four Squares. There are few accommodations on the island and besides the two mentioned, can be pricey. Early booking is essential as the island is becoming a bucket’s list for Kiwis. Perhaps, consider travelling during the low season between May through October.

(17) Hiking the 3 day Rakiura Track (36km)

This is a walk into native forests, secluded sandy beaches and coves, historic milling sites and wildlife. Hopefully a wild kiwi! Read about my Hiking Rakiura Track and track photos. For the adventurous and well prepared, there is the tough 9 – 11 days North West Circuit and 4 – 6 days Southern Circuit.

Stewart Islands photos

These are my photos of my journey to New Zealand’s third island. Rakiura or Stewart Island is an ancient land that reminded us of ‘old New Zealand’. This island’s history is in timber, whaling and hunting by early Maori. Today, with 85% reserve, it is a wonderland of native forest, stunning beaches and bays, fishing, wildlife and hiking. It is also a place to experience the magnetic night sky (milky way) and to occasionally witness the erratic Aurora Australis (Southern Lights). The highlight may be, with a lot of hope, to see the elusive and iconic Kiwi bird in the wild.

Hiking Rakiura Track

Table of Contents

Day 1 – Lee’s Bay to Port William Hut (8km)

Day 2 – Port William to North Arm Hut (13km)

Day 3 – North Arm Hut to Half Moon Bay (Oban) – 12km

Track information

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.