Stewart Island/Rakiura

Published: February 7th 2011
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Jan. 28, 2011 - Bungaree Hut
An early start, for what promises to be an epic tramp. South, off the tip of New Zealand's South Island lies Stewart Island. This is our next destination. We rise at 6:00 in order to make it to the small southernmost town of Bluff in time to catch the 8:00 ferry. The crossing takes about one hour.
We had nice calm seas, and before long arrive in Halfmoon Bay in the only town on the island, Oban. We check in briefly with DOC, and we're tramping by 10:00. The terrain of Stewart Island is not overly difficult, although the mud can be quite substantial (sometimes over waist deep). The real difficulty lies in the tramp's length, which clocks in at roughly 80 miles. This makes for some pretty long days.
We start our 18 km day right in Oban. To reach the trailhead, we first must tramp 5 km on the road. This is easy walking, and goes by quickly. Soon we're on the trail proper. This track is coastal for the most part. Often, as we tramp along through the thick trees, ocean is in view. I love the ocean; its smell and sounds. Always fills me with a wonderful feeling of nostalgia, as I used to take family vacations to the Atlantic Coast once a year or so, as child.
Our pace is good and we make excellent time. We spend most of the day tramping in light rain; a rain that was still able to turn parts of the track into thick mud. This slows you down a bit, but beyond leaving you filthy, is only a minor annoyance. When you tramp on Stewart Island, you come in expecting heavy mud.
A little before 5:30 we arrive at our hut. One of the nice things about this tramp is that we'll always be in huts. Knowing you have a dry and warm sanctuary waiting for you is nice; especially when faced with long days. We've just finished dinner. Time for some reading and nursing of some sore feet.

Jan. 29, 2011 - Christmas Village Hut
We woke at 8:00, with the thought of getting going by 9:00. However, as is so often the case with us, we quickly make the executive decision that we're not in any hurry. By the time we had breakfasted and packed, it was past 10:00. It is a very cool thing though, to wake up and see the morning views of the rolling ocean and watch as the waves come crashing into the shoreline.
Today's trail began by heading into the forest. The trees and vegetation here are unique. The island is more like a rainforest, the scrub, ferns, and trees are all thick and vines and green damp moss cover everything. Stewart Island is a glimpse into what New Zealand's old environment used to look like, pre colonization and settlement by humans. The bush is thick, but the trail is cleared and well marked. The way is muddy at times, but again this is expected.
We tramp through the forest for a couple of hours, when suddenly we come to a beach. It's beautiful. We had blue skies above us, and the ocean views look great in the sunshine. Often, a short distance off the winding coastline, one can see tiny green or rocky islands peaking out from just under the blue water. We break for lunch on the beach.
Soon, we're back on the trail and back into the forest. I begin to feel several aches and pains from yesterday returning. I'm anxious to get the final three hours over with, and get off my feet for a bit (not to mention ditch my very heavy backpack for few hours). We push on.
Christmas Village Hut is, like the first, located close to the shore. There isn't much of a beach at this location, only rocks. We will share tonight's hut with a young couple from Auckland. They are nice people, and offer to share with us some freshly catch fish as a snack. Not normally a fish guy, but this was rather tasty.
We're now two days into an eleven day tramp. This one is a big one. My body is sore, and two of my little toes are bruised and jammed pretty good. Luckily, it only hurts when I walk (damn!). Still, today was great. We were fortunate indeed, and didn't have to tramp in the rain. Right now, I could do with some rest and some sleep. Tomorrow will be another six hour tramp.

Jan. 30, 2011 - Yankee River Hut
We begin today around 8:00. We lazed around a bit, as per usual, and then got up and moving. By 10:40 we were set out for a six hour tramp. We left the comfort of our hut near the rocky shore, and headed back into the forest.
Mud makes the track slick, and root and limb are ever present and perpetually damp. This first half of our tamp seems to fly by. Though still nursing sore feet, I find that painkillers work wonders, and are a good invention. Thankfully, my feet aren't in as much pain as yesterday. I think that I just needed a couple days to get back into the walking.
Soon we reach the day's halfway point, Lucky Beach. We break here at the beach head for lunch. I use the term beach loosely here, for the shore was covered in rocks of various shapes and sizes. At any rate, we find the sea breeze too cool to linger long, and so we set off on the second half of our walk.
This takes us back into the forest. The way is steep, but at this point steep is no longer a big obstacle for me. Our pace is good. Perhaps helping us along is the threat of rain. Just as we reached the Yankee River, it begins to lightly sprinkle. We follow the river a short way to the hut.
It's a very welcome sight. Mere moments after we arrive, it begins to rain. What starts as a slow steady drizzle, soon becomes a punishing deluge. We watch in awe as the river's water level rises to raging status, and are thankful to be in a warm dry hut.
Dinner is had. A fire is made. Now, I'm tired and ready for some sleep. Tomorrow is a short day (in theory). Think I'll do some reading before bed, and then pass out.

Jan. 31, 2011 - Long Harry Hut
Morning arrives finding me quite refreshed. I was able to sleep very comfortably the night before, and I'm ready for the day. A short day! We are in no hurry, and set out a bit after 10:00. Today should be about a four hour tramp or so.
Again, we're in the forest. The previous night's (and this morning's) rains have made the mud fresh and plentiful. Today's tramp began with a fairly steep uphill grade. This soon levels off for a bit, before descending to Smokey Beach.
This beach is very cool... from what I was able to see. A sandy beach, the way is lined by small rolling sand dunes. These open out onto the water. The ocean is surging, and the waves were large and thundering. The wind was blowing so hard that sand became a painful projectile. This prevented us from lingering on the beach, as I've grown somewhat accustomed to having a face and didn't wish to have it sandblasted off my skull.
We push on quickly to reach the cover of trees. There we break briefly for lunch. The wind dies down just enough for the sandflies to find us. The breeze is a bit cold and we haven't much farther to travel, so we press on quickly.
We head down towards the hut. When we suddenly pop out of the forest, we can see it. It's on the far side of a large gorge. We must go down to sea level to go around it, and back the other side. This views here are awesome. The blue ocean crashes against the shore and large rocks and small islands are again visible just off the coast. The way down is somewhat steep, but being so near the hut gives me strength.
This hut is awesome. The views that surround us are amazing. Again, soon after reaching the safety of our hut, it begins raining heavily. This happens off and on for the rest of the night.

Feb. 1, 2011 - East Ruggedy Hut
Despite the awesomeness of last night's hut, I found sleep to be somewhat fleeting. This may have had something to do with the howling winds, which seemed to scream past all night. In any case, we're up and going by 9:15 (a new record!). Today figures to be an average day of about six hours of tramping.
The initial leg is a bit of a climb, up to a ridge that we'll undulate along for a while. Up on the ridge the forest is much thinner. There are several good views of the beautiful shore below. Soon we head down to the very rocky shore line. We scramble along the larger rocks for a brief stint, then head back up to another ridge. There we break for lunch.
Soon we're pushing on with the final leg of today's journey. We follow the ridge down to sea level. On the way there is a lookout area, that offers a brilliant view of East Ruggedy Beach and the Ruggedy Islands, tiny jagged land masses, just off the coast. To reach the hut, you follow some rolling sand dunes a short ways inland to some light bush. By 2:50 I've reached it. Only took me five hours; not too shabby.
Now we've just finished dinner, and are sitting around relaxing; listening to the gentle rain (which we've again avoided hiking in), and chatting with a couple, Mel and Morgan from the South Island here on holiday. Today was a great tramp. Tomorrow figures to be one of the longer ones, but so be it. I'm ready for these now.

Feb. 2, 2011 - Big Hellfire Hut
Happy birthday mom! (See, I remembered.)
We managed to get up and going fairly quickly again this morning. If we're not careful, this could be habit forming. We said bye to Mel and Morgan, and set off on a seven hour tramp.
We made pretty great time for the first half of the day's walk. Mainly, we were hiking through the forest, but we would break through, here and there, along higher ridge lines. The views were quite excellent. After a short lunch break we, we make for the hut.
The last leg of today's journey is uphill. Really, it wasn't overly steep, however, the mud was considerable. Probably the thickest, and deepest section of mud we've tramped through thus far. Although the mud slows me a bit, soon I reach my destination: Big Hellfire Hut.
We arrive to find a family of three, and another tramper already there. Soon, another couple from the opposite direction arrive. When Mel and Morgan reach the hut, it's officially a packed house of eleven people. Despite this, it was very nice. Everyone was relaxed and calm. In fact, by 8:30 most were getting ready for bed, and the hut grew quiet. Today was a long day, and tomorrow is another seven hour tramp. Finally we'll get to Mason Bay and a rest day shall follow.

Feb. 3, 2011 - Mason Bay Hut
This morning the hut is active quite early, as some people attempt to get an early jump on the day. I'd say that the intentions were good, but no one really leaves that quickly in the end (with the lone exception of Marianna, a German tramper). We manage to set out by 9:00.
The day starts with a bit of a climb. The mud is again quite thick and deep. We travel up to another ridge line. Here there are great views to one side of the blue ocean, and on the other side one can see far inland. The land is green, and filled with rolling forested hills stretching out to the horizon.
We head down to a small beach. At the end of it we break for lunch. Then it's time for the day's last big uphill section. It's muddy and very steep. At one point I fall pretty hard, and strain my left leg at the knee pretty good. But, other then some pain, I'm able to push through it and keep tramping at a fast pace. The climb is steady and before long we're headed down to the home stretch: Mason Bay!
Mason Bay is huge. When we get down to the sandy shore, we meet up with Mel and Morgan and Marianna. They are waiting for the high tide to go down a bit before continuing. We wait there with them. A little over an hour later the tide's gone back out enough, so we all press on to the hut together. The final few km to the hut are made on the beach of Mason Bay. It makes for quick and easy walking. It's a nice way to end a long day.
Tonight's hut is a 20 person hut, and figures to be at near capacity. I'm glad we got here when we did. It's a nice hut in a small cleared area in the light bush, about one km off the beach. What I like best about this hut is that we get to spend a rest day here! After a week straight of tramping, I'm ready for one.

Feb. 4, 2011 - Rest Day
In which nothing useful is accomplished and glorious relaxation ensues. We trade email addresses with Mel and Morgan, and will possibly meet up with them later for a tramp. They live in Arthur's Pass, and we will be going through there eventually.

Feb. 5, 2011 - Freshwater Hut
Today was a nice short long walk. We would finally be cutting inland, across the island, so our very scenic ocean views were at an end. Today we had to tramp about 15 km. However, despite the distance, the track at this point levels out, into a nice nearly flat grade. This lets us walk very fast, and the tramp will only take about three hours. We sleep in and take our time in getting going. Once we do we're hiking with our new German friend, Marianna. She is bound for the same hut as us.
Not long into the tramp, Chad calls a halt. It seems that his lower back is in some pretty bad pain. He says that he'll be good to reach the next hut, but we decide that we'll end our tramp there. A water taxi is available at Freshwater Hut. Marianna is taking that taxi out with a Danish tramper that she met earlier that morning. This will cut the final two days off our tramp, but that's fine by us. We've heard that those days are the least interesting of the entire track and offer few noteworthy views. After walking 100 km, or about 65 miles or so, we all feel pretty good about this tramp.
So we march on to the hut. Walking inland is different. Without the ocean views, it's quite easy to forget that you're on an island. The track goes through rolling green hills. Here the bush is smaller then the earlier coastal forests, consisting mainly of thick scrub, fern, and smaller trees. There is a small section of muddy swamp (called the Chocolate Swamp) to pass over. The entire track here is boardwalked and very easy.
When we reach the hut, we wait around for a bit and soon we're headed out on the water taxi. The small boat bares us down the river, and out to an inlet. From there we walk ten minutes, over a hill, and we're back in Oban where we started. Time for a very much needed shower!
We check into a backpackers for the night. After an awesome shower, all of us venture out for some fish and chips (tasty!). A little later we go to the only bar in town for a drink or two. Marianna joins us, and the Danish fellow, Lars, we'd met earlier on the water taxi comes as well. The experience is enriched by the... colorfulness of some of the more inebriated locals. Apparently viewing rugby, in conjunction with alcohol, effects the brain in ways that render reasonable levels of conversation impossible, leaving the only option open for communication yelling at the top of one's lungs. Tomorrow, we'll catch the ferry back to civilization.
I loved this tramp. It was long, and challenging. We walked about 65 miles, and only 10% was easy beach walking. The rest were all hard earned miles, over engaging terrain. Not terribly difficult, despite some mud and some spills here and there. This track has been one I've wanted to do for years now, ever since I first heard of it. It's great to be able to cross it off my list.

Additional photos below
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7th February 2011

tramp on stewart island
The pictures of stewart island at various points are wonderful. Glad the tramp went so well for all. Keep the pictures and blog rolling Nick . We are loving every minute reading and viewing your blog.
13th February 2011

The top of One's Lungs
65 miles of walking will cause even the coolest of cucumbers to need a shower. Was the water black as it swirled down the drain? I love the pictures, and your appraisal of the scene at the only bar in town during a rugby match. Hope you could get your points of conversation across to the inebriated locals. I've noticed before that you tend to get straight to the point when you shout loudly, so I'm sure the human contact of the bar was not only welcome, but engaging as well. Tramp ON

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