Rakiura Track – Stewart Islands Great Walk

Questions about weather on Stewart Island are a little bit different to most places. It’s not so much a question of “what will the weather do?” so much as “Will there be a break in the rain today?” or if by rare chance it’s not actually raining yet, “When do you think the rain will come!”

But don’t let that put you off. Yes it does rain a lot – but actually overall it has no more days of rain than Auckland – just that there is usually some amount of light rain each day. I was unlucky in that it had been unseasonably wet before and while I was walking the Rakiura Track – but with the right gear it is still a wonderful experience.

But do make sure you have good waterproofs (jacket and trousers – my Paramo outers were fantastic protection on this walk), good enough walking boots or even wellies!! (I saw a few other trampers wearing these and given the mud on Day 3 they actually were quite a sensible choice!), gaiters and a waterproof outer rucksack cover. I’d also say that walking poles would be very useful for balance with a heavy sack and for probing mud depths in places!

The track itself is fairly easy going – other than unusually muddy conditions due to exceptional rainfall this “summer” – it’s mostly boardwalk covered, and the DOC time estimates are very conservative. In fact when I booked my Great Walks Hut Pass, they actually asked me if I was doing it in two days rather than the normally quoted 3 days – many folks miss out Port William Hut and go straight through to North Arm Hut.

The road walk across to Lee Bay is more interesting than you would expect – one unusual item to look out for is a very old “public phone” on a tree beside the road! The track itself is unlike most long distance treks I’ve done previously, being low-level rainforest (max altitude 300m – no risk of altitude sickness here!) rather than high alpine mountain ridges, but is well worth while despite that. It is possible to see the elusive kiwi on the track here – especially if travelling solo. Other birds frequently seen (and heard!) are the tui, bellbird, wood pigeon, tomtit. A possum is also often found near North Arm Hut – hopefully doing his bit to keep the rodent population (often mentioned in the hut book, though none seen on my visit!) down to a minimum!

The long walk out from Sawdust Cove through Kaipipi to Oban can get a bit tedious – especially if it has been raining all three days! (The muddiest part of the track is Sawdust Cove Campsite to Whalers Bay and the final 7km from Kaipipi Bay is the least interesting of all the track). The ideal solution would be to pre-arrange for a water taxi to meet you at Sawdust Cove (being the end of the National Park itself) but this is rarely possible as the inlet is very shallow here. Doc advises that North Arm or Kaipipi Bay would be rather more likely places that a water taxi could get into.

For more info on the track the doc website has a useful description.