After spending a week touring the South Island with our friends Brent and Kristina, we made our way towards Bluff to catch the ferry to Stewart Island to tackle our 8th Great Walk. A 39km 3-day walk, the Rakiura Track follows the coastline along beautiful beaches before crossing into the nature reserve filled with much of New Zealand’s unique bird life.
|Lee Bay – Raikura Track|
Most people don’t make it all the way to Stewart Island, but determined to see this country tip-to-tip, we took advantage of the opportunity to experience this beautiful island. The ferry across the Foveaux Strait that day was a rough one to say the least! The 2-3m swells rocked the small ferry from side to side, but the captain reassured everyone the boat was more than capable as it had been specifically designed to tackle the rough waters of this straight. With the 3rd largest Great White population in the world, I hoped he was right as I had NO desire to go for a swim that day!
An hour later we pulled up to the dock of the tiny town of Oban. A permanent population of less than 400 people, this cute little seaside village was filled with charm. With just a small 4-square (grocery store), a few restaurants and a local inn, the people here truly enjoy the simplicity of island life.
|Seaside town of Oban|
After dropping some of our extra gear off at the local DOC office, we headed through town towards the entrance of Raikura National Park. Along the way we passed beachside homes and secluded bays filled with fishing boats and marine life.
|Jordan starting off the Raikura Track|
At the beginning of the track a large chain link structure descends into the sand at Lee Bay, symbolising the anchor chain of the demigod, Māui, which legend says fished up Te Wai Pounamu (the South Island) and anchored it with Rakiura (Stewart Island). A matching chain link is also located at Stirling Point outside Bluff completing the link between the islands.
|Raikura Chain Link|
Making our way along the coast, the weather just couldn’t make its mind up – Sun, Rain, Sun, Wind, Rain, Sun, HAIL!! That pattern went on for a couple hours as we made our way towards the hut.
|Raikura Track towards Moari Beach|
With luck on our side, it was still low tide so we were able to save some time with a few tidal crossings along beautiful secluded white sand beaches. Since most people took the early morning ferry, we assumed most were already settled into the hut as we had the track completely to ourselves!
|Sweeping Maori Beach|
After crossing a beachside swing bridge, we climbed up the forested ridge before reaching Port Williams Hut nestled along Magnetic Beach. Grabbing the last two beds, we cooked up some supper just after sunset and got ready for an adventure in search of the illusive Kiwi bird!
Stewart Island is known as one of the best places to see a Kiwi bird in the wild, so we set off in the dark in hopes of spotting one in it’s natural habitat. Not far from the hut we heard a sound in the bush, so ‘quietly’ raced to see what we could find. As we flashed our lights through the trees we locked eyes with a beautiful little owl perked on a tree. Just as Jordan was about to snap a photo, the Morepork flew off into the night but we could still hear his call in the distance…”Mooore pork! Mooore pork!” – Can you guess how it got it’s name?
|Morepork Owl (Source)|
The Hut Warden recommended we head down to the beach as Kiwis are known to snack on the kelp seaweed washed up along the shore. Despite making a few passes up and down the beach, and up the path through the bush, our search for the Kiwi bird came up empty handed.
|Kiwi searching along Magnetic Beach|
Up early to get on the track, just as we left the Port Williams Hut we were rewarded with a beautiful morning rainbow just as the sun was coming up. What a great way to start the day!
|Rainbow morning on Raikura Track|
As we headed in-land through the beautiful regenerating podocarp forest, we stumbled upon the remnants of a logging community once prevalent in the area. The massive log haulers sit perched under a protective shelter to preserve the memories of a settlement now lost.
|Admiring the historic log haulers|
The forest was filled with the so many birds you could hear their birdsong everywhere along the track. It was tough not to stop as soon as you heard one close in hopes of catching a glimpse of who was producing the beautiful melody.
|Regenerating Podocarp Forest along Raikura Track|
We did manage to spot a number of birdlife including the large native pigeons (or Kereru), little yellow Bellbirds, fast moving Saddlebacks and typical Robins and Blackbirds. My favorite by far though was the Tui. At first glance it looks to be a simple black bird, but in the sun it’s feathers shimmer with browns, greens and blues. It’s signature fluffy white chest feather flutters as it’s sings it’s diverse birdsong. I found myself memorised listening to it’s unique melody.
|Kereru, Bellbird, Robin, Tui, Saddleback and Blackbird (Top left to bottom right)|
Nearing the end of our day, we descended towards the North Arm Hut situated on a small inlet beach. With plenty of sunlight left we went exploring to find more birds in the forest. We even spotted a wild deer lurking around the Hut – not something you usually see as they are typically farmed in New Zealand and wild ones are heavily hunted to protect the native species.
|North Arm Hut|
After some dinner, we headed out at dusk for our second attempt at spotting a Kiwi bird. Heading back up the track, we quietly hid in the bush listening intently for the sound of the Kiwi’s cry. We made our way towards the beach to check the seaweed but again came up short. The only thing we found ended up being a possum which is exactly what you DON’T want around if you’re looking for Kiwis!
I know living in New Zealand you’re supposed to inherently hate these little creatures for the destruction they’ve caused on native birds (especially Kiwis) since the Europeans introduced them, but after watching this little guy it was hard to feel that hatred. He reminded me of a raccoon which in Canada is mostly seen as a pest yet has found it’s way into some people’s hearts (even becoming household pets). I can understand’s New Zealanders quest to protect their native specifies, it’s just too bad they were introduced in the first place as they are just trying to survive themselves.
|Sunrise at North Arm Hut|
Sunrise at North Arm Hut was a mixture of pinks and purples as the sun rose over the mountains. Another great way to start the day, we took off down the track for our last day’s walk.
Back on the coastline, much of the track led to never ending beaches allowing for more tidal crossings throughout the day. Despite the Raikura Track lacking the mountainous peaks most of the other Great Walks provide, similar to Abel Tasman, it made up for it with it’s stunning beaches along the way.
|Enjoying the view at Sawdust Bay|
The only downside to the Raikura Track was the amount of mud we had to muck through on the last two days. Despite the warnings on the DOC brochure, it did get a bit tiresome having to concentrate so hard on your footing in attempts to avoid some very wet, muddy feet.
|Less excited about the muddy track|
Before long though we were nearing the end, making our last few kilometers along an old logging road. Making great time we had lots of time before the ferry arrived to grab a bite to eat at the local South Sea Hotel. As soon as we saw Bluff Oysters ON THE HALF SHELL (first place we found in New Zealand) we treated ourselves to a half dozen and said a “cheers” to another Great Walk!
|Celebrating another Great Walk with Bluff Oysters|