A Great Walk on Stewart Island

2 02 2010

The Catlins are very rugged with plenty of untouched wilderness. All along the coast trees and undergrowth grow plastered flat against the hills thanks to the continuous buffeting of the wind. We took a couple of days travelling along the coast, visiting several impressive waterfalls and cold but picturesque beaches before reaching Bluff and the southern tip of the South Island.

Bluff is the gateway to New Zealand’s third main isle, Stewart Island. This is largely now a National park with the one small town of Oban, home to around 400 permanent residents. This was to be the location of our first attempt at one of New Zealand’s 8 ‘Great Walks’. The Rakiura Track is a circular route through the coastal bush, 36km in length, and is normally completed in 3 days. We were pretty confident we could make the step up from long day walks to this relatively short multi-day tramp and set about packing our backpacks with stoves, waterproofs, 3 days worth of food and sleeping bags. Next came the ferry crossing across the Foveaux Strait, notorious for being one of the roughest stretches of water around. Thankfully the water was pretty calm so we arrived in Oban still full of our hearty breakfast!

In roughly 12 months of ‘backpacking’ in the last couple of years we’ve somehow managed to avoid carrying our fully laden backpacks more than a couple of miles. So the first hour or so of the trek was a bit of a shock to the system and revealed that 12km a day carrying our 65 litre bags was not going to be as easy as we imagined! We plodded onwards though, spurred on by the thought that the less rest we had, the sooner we would reach the hut, shelter from the pestilent sandflies and have a nice cup of tea! 4 hours later we were first arrivals at the beachside hut and settled down for some well earned rest.

On the path approaching the hut I’d spotted a white tailed deer before it bounded off into the undergrowth. A few hours later we spotted that white tail again as it emerged from the bush in front of our hut. This time however it wasn’t bounding, but was being carried as a deer rucksack on the shoulders of a father with his two young boys, and was no longer sporting a head. Before we could think about getting some free venison for dinner, they were off, paddling out of the bay in their rowing boat leaving us with our spaghetti and carrots!

Day 2 started off slowly, allegedly a 6 hour trek due to the elevation change over the hills. Our shoulders and legs didn’t take long to start throbbing as we began ascending several miles of steps! We reached the peak in good time for some expansive views over the island and sea beyond but plowed on eager to settle down for a proper rest once again. Several other trampers had caught us up a few hours later so we spent the evening chatting with them, from life in New Zealand to possum killing techniques!

We woke to rain on our last day but fortunately it didn’t last long. Our legs were like wood for the first half hour but we soon got into our stride and even forgot about the weight of the backpacks after a while. Early afternoon we arrived back in Oban, successfully completing our first multi-day hike! We had a few hours to kill before our return ferry so rewarded ourselves with hot chocolates and cakes, and later a big portion of succulent blue cod and chips!

Back on the mainland we’ve headed into Fiordland for a couple of days rest! As one of the wettest places on earth we’ve been surprised by the baking hot sun! Currently in Te Anau we’re planning a brief return to Milford Sound, via what is probably the most spectacular road in the world! Following that we’ll be spending some time in Queenstown where we may have recovered enough to do some more walks!

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