I’d forgotten about adding this to the tramping blog, so yay for being able to make posts in retrospect. Anyway, on the 19th of March I’d just come back from finishing another of DOC’s Great Walks: the three day Rakiura Track on Stewart Island.
I’ve never been to SI before this – all in all I’ve never been so far south before. The only place more south at this point is Antarctica. So I took the ferry over from Bluff into Oban, and got a shuttle to the start of the track proper. Now you can walk the hour or two to the track start, but it’s all over roads and I’m just not that big a fan of road walking, so I passed all the far-less-lazy people and got to the start of the track in good time. It’s marked with one end of a big sculptured chain – the other end is across the Foveaux Strait in Bluff (I saw it when I walked the Bluff to Invercargill stretch of Te Araroa).
The first day, from Lee Bay to Port William Hut, was an easy coastal walk through bush. Only 8km, so not strenuous at all. The big draw of walking on SI is the bird life – everyone tramping here hopes to see a kiwi, and at both of the huts people creep out at night to try and spot them. Unfortunately, I didn’t see one the entire trip, although to be fair that was largely due to weather. I doubt rain really bothers kiwi of the avian variety, but I’m not about to huddle outside in the cold damp for extended periods of time when I can be in the nice dry hut eating my way through brie and crackers. It’s not that I didn’t give it a go, I did, but I’ve seen kiwi before if not in the wild and so there was a limit to my enthusiasm.
The first day was enjoyable, but the second was not so good. Slightly more strenuous in that the 13km track to North Arm Hut leaves the coastline to cut over the hill, but it was the weather that was truly challenging. Rain and more rain, a solid drenching pour. Now I and my pack had waterproof coverings so that was fine, but I took glasses instead of contacts on this tramp and I could not see a thing. I had to stop every minute, sometimes literally, to wipe them off. It wouldn’t have been so bad on the flatter coastal parts of the track, but on steep slippery surfaces you really need to be able to see, so it was slow going. I grumbled and swore – a lot. Highlight of the day was seeing the old sawmill machinery left to rust in the bush. I enjoy old machinery, so it’s fun to be able to poke about it and have a good look.
The last day was the best, I think. The weather had improved and the track was visible again, so I walked back into Oban – which is really such a pretty little town, I was quite struck with it – and had lunch at the pub before taking the ferry back to the mainland.
Overall impressions of the track were mixed. It and the huts were constructed well, as always – I am never less than impressed with the work that DOC does, always high quality – and Stewart Island is indeed a lovely location. Rakiura Track is surely well worth doing. I do wonder, though, why it’s a Great Walk. Granted, I haven’t done them all but the ones I have done tend towards the absolutely spectacular: the alpine section of Kepler, the fjords of Milford, the deeply lovely Abel Tasman and the volcanic landscape of the Tongariro Plateau (alright, I haven’t done the Northern Traverse yet but I have done the Crossing and it’s the same environment). Compared to these, Rakiura is positively subdued. I wonder if the GW appellation is simply to get people to visit the National Park on Stewart Island? Well, more power to ’em, but Kepler remains the high point of my GW experiences thus far.