Despite doing our best to catch up with our travel-log, we’re almost three weeks in arrears! Ah well. We’re getting there slowly.
The three-day Rakiura Track was our second of New Zealand’s Ten Great Walks. We decided to take four days and spend two nights in the first hut. In March 2011, almost ten years to the day, we walked around Lake Waikaremoana while our Gisborne house was rented out as a holiday home. It was an incredible feat. One I have vivid recollections of for several reasons. Mostly positive. However, I clearly recall the precarious climb up Panikeri Bluff. And during the steep descent, my knees were so painful I cried almost the whole way. But apart from that …
Getting Kitted Up
Following on from Wednesday’s post where we looked bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, you may find our ‘Kit List’ below informative:
- Two sets of walking clothes, consisting of a vest top, long-sleeved top (Merino, NOT cotton), shorts, thermal leggings, socks, pants (Sandra, not Barry – I know, TMI!)
- Warm clothes for the evenings – which doubled as sleepwear
- Comfortable walking boots
- Sleeping bags
- Pillowcases and travel-type pillows (I know, soft, aren’t we? But our ageing necks need care)
- A warm hat a gloves
- Sun hat and sunglasses
- Jandals for evenings/night toilet visits
- A well-stocked first-aid kit, including a survival blanket
- A whistle and compass
- Paper and pencil
- Torch and spare batteries – with red translucent paper for kiwi spotting
- Matches, lighter and candle
- Gas and portable stove
- A dishcloth and washing up liquid
- Toilet paper
- A blister kit – hikers wool
- High energy snack food
- Dehydrated meals for two for three nights
- Lunch for two for three days (we took crackers, cheese slices, Salami, and cup-a-soups)
- Breakfast for three mornings
- Tea and coffee (and sugar for Barry)
- Rubbish bags
Quite extensive, don’t you think? I also took the walking sticks I’ve had for years – they’re meant to take off a great deal of pressure from the knees, which is crucial for me. I was extremely glad of them on the undulating track. Our backpacks were 40-litre capacity, and the above contents just squeezed into these. You’d think the bags would become lighter day-by-day. However, as there’s nowhere to dispose of rubbish, you have to bag it up and carry it with you.
Walking in England, staying in Youth Hostels seems a total luxury compared to walking in New Zealand. The DOC hut facilities are generally very basic. However, it’s great fun, good exercise, invigorating to be breathing such fresh air, and there are lots of things to see along the way. Currently, most of the people you meet are kiwis. Talking of kiwis – did we see any in the wild? Read on to find out.
The Rakiura Track First (Long) Day
The first section of the Rakiura Track is a mere 8.1 kilometres. That sounded fairly easy to me. The actual start of the walk though was 5 km from Oban. We knew there were plentiful opportunities to engage a taxi to get there, at $25 a journey. I wanted to see the places along the way, including Horsehoe Bay. Even 13 km sounded perfectly fine to me. What I didn’t account for was the tarmac roads, and the ups and downs.
The sun shone brightly, and we soon took off some clothing! A number of walkers zoomed past us at what seemed great speed. I was determined that the walk was a journey, NOT a destination. The beaches we walked on before the track start were delightful.
Scarily we noticed subtle autumnal changes along the way. I guess here in the South Island, 1st March really IS autumn?
The Anchor Chain
By the time we even got to the actual start of the walk at Lee Bay we were feeling rather weary. Marking the start is a large chain, commissioned to commemorate the forming of the Rakiura National Park. It was designed to symbolise the anchor chain of the demigod Māui who legend tells fished up Te Wai Pounamu (the South Island) and anchored it with Rakiura (Stewart Island). There’s a matching chain link sculpture on the mainland at Bluff. We saw that when we returned there so you’ll get to see the other end in a future post.
I loved reading the quotes on the walk near the chain, and a short way in the informative board about things to see on the walk. A tour guide was there chatting to his passengers and gave me some kiwi spotting advice. He suggested the track near Maori Bay was a great place, people had informed him.
About half an hour later, a tall young woman passed by and we got chatting. She’d just walked The North West Circuit (in reverse) – which takes 12 days. Alone. Oh my goodness. She still looked fresh as a daisy to us! She was, of course, looking forward to some ‘real’ food, a hot shower and a change of clothes. We saw her again – at the end of our walk. That was hilarious. But I shan’t spoil that story in this post.
There are two places on the track where, at low tide, you can walk along the beach. Wise trampers would check the tide times before doing this walk. Guess what? Yep. You guessed right. The tide was high when we reached Little River and the creek end of Maori Beach.
Which entailed more ups and downs than we would’ve had if we’d checked the tide times and planned our walk better! It serves us right for lack of preparation in that department! We could easily have started earlier in the day. We totally misjudged how long it would take us, nor that the low tide track would have been shorter.
The scenery along this section was breathtaking – or was that the weight of our packs?! Both, I suspect. One could almost imagine being on a Caribbean Island at some spots.
Something we both heartily agree on is the walking is about the JOURNEY, not the DESTINATION. It often felt like other people wanted to set a record. “We did it in three hours!“. Well, good on you. So do tell us, what did you actually see, take notice of, or capture an image of along the way in your haste to get to point B? We saw so many wonderful things.
We’re all different, of course—each to their own.
Sawmilling History Near The End
Maori Beach is where in 1913, the island’s last Timber Mill was developed. There’s a fascinating historic site behind Maori Beach Campsite. It’s challenging to imagine people living in this remote area so long ago. It’s possible to walk from Lee Bay to Maori Beach, pitch a tent and camp overnight, then return. You’d have to book a spot at the campsite (you can do that online through the DOC website). It’s a spectacular walk.
When we (eventually) arrived at a sign saying ‘another 1.9km to go‘ sign, I was more than aware I should’ve listened to the wise old man beside me. Actually, he was mostly in front! More about that on day four. Even Barry, by this time, exclaimed, “Leave me here to die!“
But we did it.
Port William Hut Oasis
The sight of Port William Hut, perched snuggly above the bay, was like a mirage – an oasis we’d been longing to see. The suggested time for this section in the DOC guide was 3-4 hours. Barry and Sandra’s walk time from Oban to Port William Hut? Around 7 hours. How hilarious. Never mind. We knew we had two nights here, so we weren’t in the least bothered.
We missed the 6 pm hut briefing by Kate, the resident DOC warden for ten days on and four days off. It wasn’t a problem, we bumped into her and she gave us an overview – as did the others already settled at the hut. Many of whom had enjoyed a mid-afternoon swim, and been chilling for some time before we stumbled in. Ah well. We marvelled at so many sights along the way. For us, it was worth meandering more slowly. I’m with Carl Honoré – ‘In Praise of Slow’ whenever possible thank you.
Potirepo History and Present Day
Māori established a hunting site at Port William/Potirepo, which they reached by outrigger canoe. Our two-night base was the site of the early Māori settlement of Pa Whakataka. During the 1880s, its sheltered harbour was used by sealers and later as a whaling base. Damn those people, though; they hunted and killed fur seals and whales almost to extinction.
Gold prospecting wasn’t successful here, but an oyster bed was discovered. We arrived on the first day of the annual oyster season – three boats moored in the bay seemed to be celebrating this fact! Hopefully, they’ve learned their lesson from history, and too many oysters aren’t taken.
“A quota system was introduced in 1963, the twelve oyster boats then engaged in the industry being set a limit of 170,000 sacks per season (each sack containing, on average, 800 oysters). The quota was progressively reduced until in 1970 with 23 boats operating, it was 115,000 or 5000 per boat (in eating terms that equates to two dozen oysters for every man, woman and child in the country).“https://www.bluff.co.nz/oystering
We met a few people along the track who’d taken a water taxi to Port William, then walked back to Oban. Another excursion we’d highly recommend. This section was to become our favourite section of the walk.
Unsurprisingly the only choices left for us were the top bunks. For some unfathomable reason, these are so high it’s almost impossible to squeeze into a sleeping bag without banging your head. And the thought of having to venture down the wooden stairs at silly-o-clock at night for a pee wasn’t too appealing. Fortunately, I was obviously so dehydrated, despite drinking plenty of water, that I didn’t have to.
We settled in, discovered where everything necessary was located (like the ‘dunny’!), and cooked our tea. Well, we boiled our collapsible kettle and rehydrated our food. It’s amazing how tasty it can be when you’re starving hungry! Barry brought a canister of gin – and a sachet of ‘Raro’, a type of orange squash. So we had a gin and raro with our evening ‘meal’.
DOC seem to prefer minimalistic huts, so there are no lights at all once the sun goes down. Hence the need for candles. There are wood stoves, though, and this one was lit – with a drying rack adjacent. We had our camping light and candles, but most people had either gone to bed by dusk or were outside getting ready to go kiwi-spotting. We were knackered.
Kate had suggested around 11 pm on the front lawn as a good time for seeing Tokoeka. But we were so tired and, knowing we had another night, went to bed by 10.15 pm. Damn! We missed what turned out to be the best chance we’d get of kiwi spotting 🙁 We did see some white-tailed deer on the lawn beforehand. Such beautiful creatures, it’s hard for me to comprehend that they’re seen as a pest. But they are an introduced species and ruining much of the native bush. Hunters are not allowed to shoot them near the walks or DOC camps, thank goodness!
Day Two Skinny Dipping Delight
As expected, everyone rose early, had their breakfast, and set off for the next hut by about 9 am. We rose a short while before they departed. A number of them regaled us with tales of kiwis they’d seen around 11 pm! One woman said she felt like she’d been in a TV documentary; it was so surreal. They even saw a kiwi chasing off a possum. Brilliant.
Damn, damn, damn. Such a missed opportunity. However, on the bright side, their departure left us with an aura of heavenly peace and solitude. We ate a leisurely breakfast – quick oats and boiled water with banana and honey for me, some quick spicy chicken noodles for Barry!
We chatted to Kate about nearby opportunities, and she suggested we walk towards Bungaree Hut, one kilometre to another beach, which we did. We had a meander on Port William Beach and Wharf first. She’d warned us about the mud – this part of the track isn’t as well maintained as the three-day one. Along the walk, I spotted some more ‘Easter Orchids’. Gorgeous.
The surrounding strong supplejack vines were brilliant for holding onto when negotiating diversions. Diversions … Hmmm. That takes me back to day four. But you’ll have to wait for that scary tale.
Oh, my goodness. It was like being on a deserted island. We saw no other people. We walked along the beach, over the rocks, looked for paua shells, then had lunch—cheese, salami and biscuits. We’d have soup too if we’d remembered the gas and stove! We only packed one bag with minimal supplies and left the rest on our claimed bunks.
It was such glorious day I wanted to go into the sea. I hadn’t taken a swimming costume the walk – it was just more weight to carry and every item counts. So I did what I haven’t done for many years – I went skinny dipping. Barry captured the moment of course – hopefully from sufficient distance! He scrambled over the rocks and went to an adjacent bay. I decided if I attempted that I’d fall and scrape my legs or worse. He told me it was rather precarious, so I was thankful I’d been cautious.
Determined Kiwi Spotting
That night, Tuesday 2nd March, I was determined to see a kiwi in the wild finally. Inflated by the knowledge people had seen quite a number close up the previous night, on the front and side lawns, I declared boldly I’d stay up all night if necessary.
What did we see? More white-tailed deer. And we lost count of the number of bloody possums lurking in the darkness. But elusive kiwis? Not a chance. Barry was freezing, and we’d both been ravaged by plagues of sandflies again. We decided midnight was the end of that quest. It was quite damp by then, so staying outside alone wasn’t appealing. I succumbed and we retired. This time to a prime position of two lower bunks we’d secured once the others had left in the morning.
When Barry went to wash his hands at the outside washbasin before bed, he looked up, and a possum was staring down at him from the shelf! It was probably just as shocked as Barry.
Anyone reading who’s not aware, possums are pests here in New Zealand. They strip native trees relentlessly and are the cause of so much more destruction. Conversely, I believe in Australia they’re protected? Well, we wish they’d kept protecting them there and not brought those nasty creatures here!
“The common brushtail possum, Trichosurus vulpecula, was first introduced to New Zealand from Australia in 1837 to establish a fur trade. This release was unsuccessful and a second release 20 years later at the same Southland location was required for them to establish.”https://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/pests-and-threats/animal-pests/possums/
I felt happy to get up in the early hours for a wee, as I didn’t have to climb down a ladder.
I looked at my phone and took it with me. Just in case. It was 4.40 am. Kate had said around 5 am was another possible time to see kiwis. It was drizzling and cold. Due to the COVID level of level 2, people had been told they could sleep in the kitchen or on the veranda. I didn’t want to wake the couple on the veranda, so I took a short stroll around with my red torch. Nothing. Zilch. Oh! except for a white-tailed deer!
With a resident population of just over 400 people, and 15,000 kiwi, that makes 37 kiwis to every person. If you’re going to see a kiwi anywhere, this Island is the place.
The next morning, a fellow tramper who we got to know called Graham, said he’d seen kiwi on the path to the toilet at around 3.30 am. The people sleeping on the veranda had heard a rustling at about 5 am, got up and saw a kiwi. Oh for goodness sake! Was I destined to never see one I thought?
It’s said that the best time to see a kiwi on Stewart Island is when you’re not looking. I needed to try that tactic.
The Rakiura Track Through Barry’s Lens
Barry’s images are amazing as usual. Click on the first one to start the slideshow – I think there’s one of me about to go skinny-dipping! My dad would’ve been so proud. He and mum, in their later years, were naturists: