Stewart Island & Rakiura National Park

Trip Start Nov 10, 2013
Trip End Apr 02, 2014

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Thursday, December 19, 2013

Wow!  A lot has happened since I've had long enough access to the internet (and the time) to actually sit down and write about our adventures since we left Nelson Lakes National Park.

In the days following our hike to Angelus Lake/Hut, we began to make our way south towards Christchurch (where we said our final goodbyes to Shaun), and in the process absolutely shredded the rear passenger-side tyre (notice the purposeful NZ spelling of the word) on a gravel road.  This just had to happen, because - as anyone who has ever taken a roadtrip knows - you cannot really call it a roadtrip without blowing a tire and having to limp around on the donught for a while.  Of course, the resulting limp into town, and wild goose chase to find a tire-shop in the Earthquake-damaged city of Christchurch proved to be more challenging than expected.  Eventually we were back on the road and made the long drive to the bottom of the south island.  

Once at the town of Bluff, we left "little wing" behind and stepped aboard the passenger only Stewart Island Experience Ferry.  From there it was a short, mellow shuttle across the normally very rough, 40-meter-deep Foveaux Strait, to the only real settlement on Stewart Island: the township of Oban.

This quaint, cozy town with a population of about 420 would serve as a jumping off point for our 3 day trek in Rakiura National Park.  But before heading out into the backcountry, I took a little time to wander around Oban's numerous walking paths to admire the incredible bird population found around the town.  I also took the time to check out the town's only real pub, at the South Sea Hotel.  This place is just as popular amongst travelers as it is the locals, and the two groups mix and mingle seamlessly on any given night (keeping in mind the challenge travelers face when trying to decipher a drunk Kiwi's quick, colorful manner of speaking).

We began the Rakiura Track... you guessed it!  In the rain.  It was a mellow undulating 5km walk along the roadside to get to the trailhead at Lee Bay.  Luckily, by the time we stepped foot on the actual track, the clouds had begun to break and the weather became quite conducive to tramping.  The next 8 km followed the coastline through rainforests, along beaches, and past old abandoned equipment belonging to the sawmill of early island settlers (pre 1930).

By the time we arrived at Port William campground, the weather had cleared nicely and we set up camp in a beautiful spot just up from the beach which offered great scenic views and plenty of sandflies.  

That night I could hear Kiwi (the actual birds - NOT the people of New Zealand) calling in the darkness and scratching/rustling around our tents as they presumably looked for food.

The next morning we woke early enough to see the sun come up above the horizon about 6am (this being 47 degrees south latitude).  Our plan was to leave camp set up, travel light, and hike approximately 45 kilometers before dark to climb Mount Anglem - the highest point on Stewart Island.  However, after about 20 minutes, we were forced to re-evaluate our plan, realizing that given the wet, muddy, slippery, rutted, tree-root-filled trails we would be unable to travel as quickly as anticipated.  As such, we ended up hiking 12 km to the very pretty - and very empty - Bungaree Hut.  

However, before that...

About 1 hour into our hike we came around a blind corner on a hilltop and I saw something brown dart across the trail.  A moment later, it reappeared and zig-zagged back and forth across the track... It was a Rakiura Tuoeka / Kiwi.  Yes!!!  Success!!  Victory!  I actually saw a kiwi live!  In its natural environment.  It was between 12" and 18"  at the highest point on it's humped back (probably a female, according to a park service employee I talked to later).  The brown body feathers were flecked with black spots and it walked / loped around on its two legs, as it weaved and bobbed while poking and prodding amonst vegetation on the ground (presumably looking for insects).  While I tried to get a photo, I just wasn't quick enough to snap a picture in the brief 20-second encouter.  Nonetheless, I know what I saw... a creature which very few New Zealanders even get to see in their lifetimes.  You must remember that Kiwi are nocturnal creatures, which makes it all the more difficult to spot one of their small number.  Luckily for me, the Kiwi found on Stewart Island have developed a habbit of remaining active for a couple hours in the early morning after sunrise and before sunset in the evening.

At Bungaree Hut we just hung out, and took time to enjoy the scenery, walk along the beach, explore some nearby low-tide caves, search for creatures in the various tidal pools, examine numerous empty (and some occupied) shells on the beach, and try to ignore the sandflies.  The hike back to camp was otherwise unremarkable, except for the fact that the warm day and hot sun had helped to firm up some of the muddy bogs that covered the track.  Once back at camp we took it easy and just enjoyed the rest of the day!

After such a beautiful second day on the track, it was slightly surprising (though we really should have expected it) to awake on the third morning to a recent downpour.  As luck would have it, the ominous clouds began to lift just as we broke camp.  Having spent two nights at Port William campground, this final day on the track was to be a long one...

We covered the first 13 km in just over 3 hours.  During this time we hiked up and down a number of significant ridges; we past more rusted, corroded, old log hauler machines from the Island's past; I saw a couple of small deer fleeing us into the thick vegetation; and we traveled through a forest that Mike described as "the Swamps of Dagobah and the forests of Endor moon combined" (any Star Wars nerds out there will get the reference).  After a short stop for lunch at North Arm Hut, the trail conditions improved greatly, and the nice, well-maintained gravel track followed the shore of Paterson Inlet and its windy, choppy waters.  Eventually the enjoyable trail conditions ended and the muddy slog resumed, until we had traveled the nearly-15 km back to the road on the outskirts of Oban.

We checked ourselves into the South Sea Hotel for a well-deserved night, prior to boarding the ferry back to the "mainland" the following morning.

From there, it was a long, uneventful drive back north to Christchurch where we met Ed and Wanda at the airport!
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