Rakiura - Island of Glowing Skies! The Greatest, muddy walk. Isolation Deluxe

Rakiura -Island of Glowing Skies - The Greatest, muddy walk. Isolation Deluxe

Welcome to Rakiura, welcome to the third, often forgotten main Island of Aotearoa, welcome to Nature Isolation.


“The face of the earth is changing so that soon there will be little of primitive nature left. In the Old World, it is practically gone forever. Here, then, is Stewart Island’s primitive advantage, and one hard to overestimate. It is an actual piece of primeval world.” (Leonard Cookeyne 1909)


“Stewart Island anchors more than Maui’s canoe. It anchors in it’s rocks, rivers, and rugged shores, and in it’s garnishment of plants and animals, the hope of generations unborn that places like this will always exist.” (Neville Peat, 1992)


There live around 400 people permanently on Stewart Island, almost all of them in Oban - The rest is wild Nature! One trail goes around the North part of the Island to visit and explore the beauty of this pristine nature just by a small glimpse. Most visitors stick to the 32 km Rakiura Great Walk to hopefully see some Kiwi’s (yes, the birds!). The North West Circuit (125 km) and Southern Circuit (71,5 km) tracks (combined 181 km) are rated as remote and difficult, serious multi-day hikes (https://www.doc.govt.nz/Documents/parks-and-recreation/tracks-and-walks/southland/rakiura-northwest-southerncircuitbrochure.pdf)

Already the way to go to Stewart Island is an adventure. You can only go there by ferry (85 NZ$) from Bluff or by flight (130 NZ$) from Invercargill.
I took the ferry from Bluff and we have had 35 knots of wind. In travel books you can read “legends” about tourists puking while locals are still standing and talking with a beer. It’s true and was the best ferry crossing ever. Walls of waves and valley’s better than a rollercoaster three people puking while one old guy had fun and was laughing about them. On my way back I went by a lightweight plane and just sat next to the pilot, which was great too - flying with at least a small purpose to go somewhere and not just for sightseeing, even so the sightseeing was amazing. Another saying is, that the people in NZ are more friendly as further south and more remote you go. I went to the Stewart Island Backpackers to ask if I can store some of my stuff and if I need to book when I’m back. We talked a bit and I told him that I want to start the trail today - it was around one. Aaron, the hostel host/manager just told me to hop in the car and gave me a ride to the trailhead. Not because he had to go there but because it was a 10 min drive for him and saved me 1.5 hours - Thanks Aaron!

Before, I have been to the DOC centre for information. The North West Circuit normally takes between 9-11 days for 125 km, just because it’s muddy and the weather is really quite unpredictable and the trail is remote. A PLB (Personal Location Beacon) is highly recommended and can easily be rent at the DOC centre for 40 NZ$  week or 70 NZ$ for two weeks, which is 5NZ$ per day but could save your life (https://www.locatorbeacons.co.nz/hireoutlets). The hut pass is 35 NZ$ to use all the huts, except Great Walk huts. So, if you hike for 10 days it’s less than 5 NZ$ for accommodation and the huts are just great! Thanks DOC


Fast tramping/trail running experience!

Everyone is doing trails differently and everyone has his own adventures on trails. My first plan was it to do the whole circuit of 181 km (North West and Southern Circuit to set a winter FKT (Fastest known time) - haven’t heard of any FKT for both trails, if anyone knows more? I think, apart from the TA, it is NZ's longest hut trail. 

However, I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone. I’ve done some longer trails and worked as a Outdoor-, Climbing and Rafting guide. I like suffering and see adventures as a creative process to learn and not as a danger, so I might think differently than not outdoorsy people. I also believe that everyone should know his comfort zone and his limits and we sometimes have to push these limits out of the comfort zone to learn and grow.


I went with a 20 l backpack mostly packed with my sleeping bag, First Aid, base layer, clothes, rain jacket, PLB, oatmeal and bars, and a powerbank. What I missed: A headlamp! I lost my first headlamp just before and my other headlamp just broke before in Bluff, looking back. I would still get a new headlamp even so my phone light was good. Best thing was my thick merino socks, I changed in directly when I arrived at the hut and directly felt cozy - thanks to the NZ Merino sheep sponsor. Also, I was really happy to have Maps me and NZ Topo offline maps on my phone. The trail is well marked but even then I went off the trail a few times in the dark or was happy to check if I’m right.


On the trail:

Trail thoughts while on the trail:

In my opinion, it’s arrogant as a human to plan a hike trail completely and to be fair sometimes I get annoyed by DOC when they exactly want to know when I will stay at which hut. I feel pressure, I don’t want to feel when I’m going to feel freedom in the outdoors. I’m happy to say when, where and probably how long I go. To take a PLB and having a hut pass but the rest of the decision will always make the trail, the weather and nature and I and we as humans can just react and adapt as best as possible.


Trail loving thoughts when I’m too long alone on the trail:

“The TRAIL is my playground, my classroom, my meditation, my love, my judge, my friend, my everything at the moment.
The TRAIL is my teacher and I’m just a student to listen and learn. I can try to learn and to  be prepared for the lesson, doing my homework, but in the end the TRAIL is teaching the lesson and I can just try my best and try to learn!” 


The TRAIL can be something else like a RIVER, a MOUNTAIN, the SEA, something where we humans accept that we’re small and vulnerable and can just learn to not be arrogant and can influence and plan everything. I like this feeling!


What I learned on the TRAIL: The first day was easy and actually I think I became a bit arrogant anyways already planning and calculating that I could do it in 4 days maybe even doing the Rakiura Great Walk loop too, to fulfill the 200 km. In the dawn I ended up in a warm hunters cabin who invited me to stay and eat with them. Like most of the hikers I went anti-clockwise and I don’t really care about hut names and always forget them anyways. The second day I started early around 6 am in the dark and the day itself was beautiful but the weather on Stewart Island can change rapidly and I went into a heavy storm just when it started to dawn. Within 2 km and less than 30 min it was dark, freezing cold and I was wet. I lost the trail just 500 meters before the hut close to a cliff and it took me almost 30 min in the dark and mapping on my phone to find it again and to make it finally to the hut. 


The next morning I slept in and was just about to leave when a helicopter just landed directly in front of “my” hut. It was probably my most panic moment during the whole track and I checked my PLB two times to be sure that I haven’t done an emergency call but when 6 DOC ranger/volunteers jumped out and smiled at me the panic was gone. I got lucky to see a one in a year hut check. The three hunters came in by boat transfer, the ranger came by helicopter. Other than those, I met one other hiker and one other runner. Post COVID Isolation in nature deluxe.

From East Ruggedy Hut I left on my third day to Mason Bay hut and the Mason Beach run is wonderful. Just running along a beach for endless kilometers, totally by yourself. Wildlife wise, I unfortunately saw a few possums and even a wild cat and deers - all introduced species even on this island 30 km away in the ocean. The Kiwi population with 20,000 Roa,  Stewart Island Kiwi species, is still stable (the last stable population) and 30% of all visitors see a Kiwi and I saw two and heard some more. The problem is that they’re all mature and the chicks are not protected against possums by the adult ones. 


I arrived at Mason Bay hut around 3 pm and met Lisa and Dean, two of the DOC rangers volunteers who told me that the would take a boat out from the Freshwater hut the day after the next day, so I decided to risk it to do the Southern circuit with the option of plan B to catch a boat ride out. 


But one more time, I learned that the trail is making the rules. I went into the night it was muddy and got really cold and even I felt good an hour ago. I felt very tired and exhausted, from one to another moment and the mud was knee deep. I lost the trail a couple of times and progress was really slow and I checked the map every 5 minutes and stumbled and at some point I had to admit to myself that it was safer to emergency bivouac in a cold swamp, almost at the highest point with humid, cold temperatures around 0 degree. One of this horrible, sleepless but unforgettable and character building nights. 


The next day, I decided to not risk it and do the whole trail and turned around and to play it safe!
I’m proud of this decision just because as a runner you can be very selfish but I learned another time a lesson from the trail. 

The trail from Manson hut to Freshwater hut is flat and easy and a lot of people just get a charter flight to Manson hut or a water taxi to Freshwater hut and hike out to not hike the whole trail but a little bit - A good option. 

I stayed with Lisa and Dan and Colm at the Freshwater hut and hiked the last part, my shoes got destroyed due to all the mud and also it makes almost no difference, barefoot. The part from Freshwater to the North Arm hut over the hill is a good mix of mud, technical trail and forests and lakes. Back on the Rakiura Great Walk trail, you know the difference between a maintained and an adventurous trail!


After 6 days on the trail Oban was very welcoming and I enjoyed the warm hostel bed and a Hot chocolate in the morning.

I can highly recommend this hike, nature wise, facility wise and character developing wise. 

Stewart Island and the community there is very humbling and worth a visit and the weather during winter is way warmer/mild than the rest of Otago and Fiordland and actually more stable than in summer!

I did my trip almost during the shortest days and the Island of “Glowing Skies” still showed a lot of light to my eyes and is probably one of the last wilderness to visit in this world, so if you’re in New Zealand at the moment you’re lucky to have the opportunity. Enjoy the beauty, keep it in mind how the world could be and leave no trace! How our world could be when we would respect nature - A paradise!


If you have questions or tips please let me know. Just want to encourage you for a beautiful hike out of the beaten track :)  

Thanks for reading and for feedback :)


Time: 10-17th June, 2020

Total distance: 160 km

Total moving time: 60 hours

Total time: 125 hours


Strava stats: Rakiura

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