After spending some time travelling around the Catlins and Dunedin, John and I felt it time to do a little backcountry tramping, which was really the big reason we came to NZ in the first place. Stewart Island (Rakiura) is south of the south island. It is the third largest island of NZ. It’s about an hour ferry ride across the Foveaux Strait to get there.
We stayed the night before at the Homestead in the town of Bluff. Of course, when I say we stayed the night, I mean that we slept in the parking lot in the van. We just paid to use the shower. It actually worked out really well because the owner let us leave the van there for the next 12 days, which saves us the parking fees. The ferry over there cost a wallet-blistering 70 bucks a person each way. For 70 bucks you get free coffee and tea, as well as approximately one half hour of feeling like you are going to puke and trying to stare at the horizon on a catamaran that is pitching up and down in about a 40 degree range. One of the people we met was from Toronto, and the other was a woman who lives on the South Island. She was a really cool lady who runs motorcycle tours in Bhutan, Nepal, India and Africa. We’ll hopefully go visit her when we head up through the South Island. I managed to talk to her and maintain a semblance of eye contact while Kelly started off strong but ended up sipping water and turning green. Cool trick Kelly! On the bright side, we watched seals jump and albatross fly around us.
You have to go to the Department of Conservation to file a notice of intentions before you start the track, which we did. The lady there was a total pain in the ass.. a lot of “you know it is really muddy, right?” and “If you get here and its not going well you should turn back” and was not impressed when we told her we didn’t need to pay because we were just going to camp. There are these awesome huts here that you have to pay to use (10 bucks a person per night) but if you camp outside the huts you don’t need to pay. To camp outside the huts on the “Great Walks” it costs 5 bucks a person. The great walks are the ones you have heard of and are popular with the tourists… Milford, Kepler, Tongarino, and the likes.
Anyway, we paid 20 bucks because we had to camp outside of two great walk huts. We opted not to buy a map, we didn’t think it would help too much. In hind sight, this could have been a mistake as we ended up just sort of winging the 125 km walk, but we did have a brochure with a small map on it, and it was pretty well marked. Besides, its an island… how lost can you get! We kept a journal about what we ate and how the trail was. I’ll use parts of the journal in this blog and include some of the cooler pictures we took. This part of the post might be a little long, so if you get bored, just check out the pictures!
Day 1 – Halfmoon Bay to Port William Hut – 12 km ~4hrs
The trail starts right from the town of Oban in Halfmoon Bay and the first couple km are walking along the roads to the gates of the national park. Once we got to the gates the trail left the road and went along beaches, through dense forest and across rivers.
We kept talking about all the neat plants and came up with the alliteration “the vagrants voiced their views on the very varied vegetation”.The first day is part of the Rakiura Track, which is a great walk, so parts of the trail are on boardwalk and a gravel path. It was beautiful, but we were looking forward to getting to the backcountry parts. We got to one of the beaches and it was just covered with these perfect mini conk shells. We’ve never seen so many in one place. We thought there would be tons of them on the trip so we didn’t bother grabbing any… woops. We will find some more later. I couldn’t get over how neat the sand was. Rivers would flow out from the forest and cut through the sand out to the ocean. As a result the sand had very distinct shapes and patterns.
The campsite we got too was on a beach and had a shelter with a water tank full of rain water. We set up the tent, cooked up our steak stir fry and played some crib. I beat John, I had a 16 pt. hand followed by a 26pter! While we were playing we were pretty sure we heard a Kiwi…thus starting Johns quest to find one…
Day 2 – Port William campsite to Bungaree Hut
Today we woke up around 8 after having a mid night, or more accurately a 2:15am, crisis. It was John’s heightened hunter gatherer instincts at work, he heard rustling. We had left our bags under the shelter with our food in them, and when we got out to investigate we found rat poop all over the shelter around our bags. We quickly hung them up and went back to sleep. John didn't really sleep, as he was too busy being a hunter gatherer and protecting his food and woman.
We had some oatmeal this morning, as we will every morning of the trip. The trail immediately deteriorated from the nice gavel path of the great walk. The mud was widespread. We enjoyed the trail much more today, we had to climb through the mud, around tree roots, trunks and branches. The track was also pretty worn in some places going uphill, creating some pretty large steps. It was beautiful, a total jungle walk.
While we were on the tail we saw some kiwi tracks! I was also totally into all the neat ferns. It is just amazing how they grow.
We stopped for lunch only to realize that we were 20 mins out from Bungaree hut. The trail came down from the forest and onto a beautiful sandy beach with turquoise, aquamarine water, and really neat rocky outcrops.
We walked the beach to the hut and then explored a little. It was low tide so we were able to go out to this island type thing which had a tunnel all the way through it. It was stunning. Unfortunately my camera decided to stop working so we took pictures with John’s. These pictures will come later, when we get back to Canada and can find the cord that connects it to the computer. We got back to the hut and John performed some open heart surgery on my camera with his pen knife, in preparation for med school, so hopefully it will start to turn on when I tell it too. Beat John again at crib…I feel a trend starting.
Day 3 – Bungaree Hut to Christmas Village Hut – 11.5 km ~5.5 hrs.
Last night I had a bad dream, and I must have been moving around a lot and making noise because all of a sudden John said “Kelly don’t worry, everything is going to be okay” so I said “what are you talking about?” to which he responded “you’re having a brain thing” in his sleepiest of voices.
We got up again around 8:30ish and had some oatmeal and coffee. We slept in the hut which was much better than our tent. if a tree falls in the woods, and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound? We decided that if nobody was around to catch us, what is the harm in sleeping in the hut? We ended up sleeping in pretty much every hut , just because nobody was around. It was super sunny outside, a perfectly clear day.
The trail was pretty hilly today, up and down and up and down. It was also pretty steep in places. We eventually came out of the forest onto another gorgeous beach, called Murray Beach.It had the perfect sand colour, contrasted with deep deep blues and greens of the ocean. We walked the length of the beach signing Great Big Sea and joking about sharks. Great whites come down from Australia and are fairly common around Stewart Island, scary!
At the end of the beach we took a swing bridge over a river and continued the undulating walk through virgin forest. It was really neat to walk along the forest floor which was essentially all alive. We saw some Parakeets and heard a lot of beautiful bird sounds. It was a long walk, and when we finally saw the sign saying “Christmas Village Hut 5 mins” I was completely overjoyed.
Excerpt from the journal of Kelly:
The hut is gorgeous, all wood and it looks out onto Christmas Village Beach which is rocky and full of pebbles. John is resting right now on my lap under a sleeping bag. He got a bit of a chill. It wasn’t cold today, but we sweat a lot! All in all it was an exhausting but beautiful day, we couldn’t have asked for better weather. Beat John again at crib.
Day 4 – Christmas Village Hut to Yankee River Hut
This morning we woke up to a strange sound, it sounded like someone throwing rocks at our window. It turns out that it was actually a little bird flying into it, silly bird! It never hurt itself so it was pretty funny. We must have been tired from yesterday because today we walked the first 3 hours in silence. This was really nice because it gave us a chance to hear all the birds and it really didn’t feel that long. We came to Lucky Beach, witch was full of large boulders and had lunch behind one of them to get shelter from the wind. After the beach, the trail was quite steep and muddy. It was a little longer than we thought, but super neat because we saw an owl! The only kind of owl they have in New Zealand. He was sitting in a nearby tree just watching us.
The trail continued up and down until we reached Yankee River. We again beat the predicted time of 6 hours, but it was still a long day. The river was beautiful as the sun went down, and we decided to visit the beach to look for penguins. We were in luck and saw two!
John beat me at crib today, damn I guess it was bound to happen.
Tonight during one of our mid night pees, John spotted a Kiwi! It was just walking around outside the hut!
Day 5 – Yankee River Hut to Long Harry Hut – 4 hrs
After our wildlife spotting of last night, we were a little too excited to sleep properly, so coffee this morning was essential! The trail started off steeply today, but to our surprise we saw another Kiwi. He was bigger than the one we saw the night before.
The past two days were a lot of ups and downs, which we decided were hard on our knees. Even though today was much steeper than the days before, it was nice to only be going up. Once we reached the top the forest changed to these big beech trees. Then on the way down the trail came out to Smokey Beach with giant sand dunes.
They were wild, and very tough to climb. There were bones everywhere, neat but a little creepy. Once we made it to the beach it was a long walk to the other end and another swing bridge.
The rest of the trail was another straight up and straight down. Exhausting, but there was a great view of Long Harry from the top. It sits above a rocky outcrop over the water. It was a seriously nice hut, and looked like it hadn’t been used a lot. Dinner is rice and beans with peas and cheese. yum!
With all the water we drink it is understandable that we can’t make it through the night without peeing. Tonight was no different, and during John’s 4:30am pee he saw another 3 kiwi! John seriously has a knack for finding kiwi.
Oh yeah, I beat John at crib again.