The track with the best that tramping in the Rakiura National Park has to offer — the views from Adams Hill, if you get to contemplate them with benign weather and everything around Doughboy Bay, the view from Freds Camp — as well as the worst, the real, bottomless bogs.
There’s Doughboy Hill with that immense view over to the untracked Tin Range, knowing you are standing on the edge of civilisation, one of the great New Zealand tramping experiences, or watching, hearing, feeling the massive ocean swell smashing the granite outcrops at the Doughboy Bay heads.
Yeah, the bog obstacle course is real but you take it in your stride, it’s not what predominates the memories of this little-used track.
where | Southern Circuit – Rakiura National Park, Stewart Island
No major preference with the direction, probably an anti-clockwise circuit from Freshwater Landing, over to the coast to Masons Bay continuing on to Doughboy Bay, and then getting back to Freshwater Landing via the Rakeahua valley. If you take a water taxi Freds Camp is the obvious drop off point with a pickup from Freshwater Landing, or vice versa. That avoids the major bog crossings in the Freshwater River valley.
In the longer days in summer it is possible to jump some huts but this becomes more difficult when the days shorten during winter.
distance | Southern Circuit – Rakiura National Park, Stewart Island
72 km – from/to Freshwater Landing, ie, water taxi assisted
118 km – from/to Oban, ie, for the purists
time | Southern Circuit – Rakiura National Park, Stewart Island
4 – 6 days – from/to Freshwater Landing
8 – 10 days – from/to Oban
when | Southern Circuit – Rakiura National Park, Stewart Island
Yes, the walk around the coast is at low level, obviously, the sea moderates the temperatures to a large degree so, believe it or not, it doesn’t really matter that much when you go despite being at 47º S. The rainfall is relatively consistent throughout the year, with perhaps surprisingly, July, August and September being the less wet months. But despite it raining on average every second day the total yearly rainfall in Oban, 930 mm, is less than that of Auckland or Wellington, so it rains often, but not for too long.
Daylight can be an issue: you get a whole lot in summer, no chance of Vitamin D deficiency then, it can be light enough to wander around at 10 pm, on 21 December sunrise is 5 50 am, sunset is 9 40 pm, a day length of almost 16 hours.
In winter on the shortest day, 21 June, the sun rises at 8 30 am and sets at 5 05 pm, a day length of only about 8.5 hours. That means you need an early start on the big days cranking the seven hours from Mason Bay Hut to Doughboy Hut, or the next day another seven hours from Doughboy Hut to Rakeahua Hut.
Moral of the story, you can basically go at any time of the year, just take your chances.
maps and GPS | Southern Circuit – Rakiura National Park, Stewart Island
It’s sensible to have a paper map in case GPS batteries die.
Newtopo, newtopo.co.nz produces the most useful map of the North-west and Southern circuits at a scale of 1:65,000 which is available for $20 from major DoC offices and some outdoor stores, Macpac keep them, or consult this list of retail outlets.
Land Information New Zealand, LINZ, Topo50 maps, both digital and paper: CH08 Codfish Island (Whenuahou), CH09 Mount Anglem/Hananui, CJ08 Doughboy Bay, CJ09 Mount Allen, and maybe the little bit of Oban which is found on CJ10 Port Adventure.
Download free digital versions from LINZ Mapchooser or buy the real thing, ie, on old fashioned paper, at DOC offices, outdoor shops and bookshops where maps sold. There’s a nationwide list at LINZ Map Retailers.
Need a custom map for your GPS device, download a more compact .klm format file from topomap.co.nz for free, although if you download a few maps consider a small donation, there’s considerable work gone into getting that info onto the internet and we should support these useful resources.
route description | Southern Circuit – Rakiura National Park, Stewart Island
Anti-clockwise is, maybe, the way to go. The track then involves the easier stretch of track to Mason Bay and builds to bigger days. And at least then you are up on Adams Hill before your first real encounter with mud.
huts | Southern Circuit – Rakiura National Park, Stewart Island
Here’s the huts you will encounter in Rakiura National Park.
Camping really is only for the hardy due to the often soaked substrate and the extra bulk and weight of a tent on a 118km wander is unnecessary when there will often be no one else in the huts. If you want some adventure why not stay in the cave at Doughboy Bay beach instead.
Tramping times | Southern Circuit – Rakiura National Park, Stewart Island
Here’s the DoC stated tramping times between huts, as shown on their website, usually actual walking times, ie, not taking into account any long breaks. DoC bases its estimation on times for an “average” tramper which means that it’s possible to slash times for more popular sections. With more remote sections the stated time is close to the actual time required.
Unfortunately this time information tends to emphasise a pointless aspect of tramping, The Destination, and, some trampers feel they need to test themselves, rush, to prove something to someone. Aren’t you there to experience your environment, notice things, watch the bellbirds flitting around? There’s no actual requirement to occupy the full 10 hours a day racing through the landscape.
Halfmoon bay to North Arm Hut
Time: 4-5 hours
Distance: 12 km
North Arm to Freshwater Hut
Time: 6 – 7 hours
Distance: 11 km
Freshwater Hut to Freds Camp Hut
Time: 5 hours
Distance: 10 km
Freds Camp Hut to Rakeahua Hut
Time: 5 hours
Distance: 12 km
Side trip – Mt. Rakeahua
Time: 5 hours return
Distance: 4.5 km each way
Rakeahua Hut to Doughboy Bay Hut
Time: 7 – 8 hours
Distance: 16 km
Doughboy Bay Hut to Mason Bay Hut
Time: 6 – 7 hours
Distance: 18 km
Mason Bay Hut to Freshwater Hut
Time: 3 hours
Distance: 15.5 km
Side trip – Rocky Mountain Track
Time: 3 hours return
Distance: 5 km
Freshwater Hut to North Arm Hut
Time: 6 – 7 hours
Distance: 11 km
North Arm Hut to Halfmoon Bay
Time: 4 hours
Distance: 12 km
getting there | Southern Circuit – Rakiura National Park, Stewart Island
Here’s a suggestion: take the ferry across to build up the suspense and then fly back when you can identify where you have been from the air. And you then won’t have to worry about the 15 kg baggage limit.
Flying: Three flights a day, at slightly varying times depending on the season, 365 days a year, from Invercargill airport to the strip on Stewart Island/Rakiura. The flight takes 20 minutes and can give a good overview of the island. There’s a minibus to take passengers to/from the Oban Post Office which is included in the fare. Fares: adult return $220, one way $130, with a variety of others depending on passenger’s age. Baggage limit: 15 kg, now that’s a problem when you are heading to the island because you really need to travel with all your kilos of food. Phone Stewart Island Flights on 03 218 9129.
Ferry: The express catamaran ferry is now owned by Real Journeys which has connecting buses to Invercargill, Queenstown and Te Anau. The trip takes about one hour from Bluff to Oban. There’s daily ferries, with more than one on many days but it’s a mighty complicated schedule and fare structure, Adult: $85 (one-way) $148 (return, Child: $43 (one-way) $74 (return). There’s also a connecting bus from Invercargill with each ferry for an additional $26 each way.
That gets you to Oban. From there you can either walk around to Rakeahua Hut, and walk back if you have time or grab one of the water taxis to Freshwater Landing, Freds Camp Hut or all the way to Rakeahua Hut, that’s quite tidal. Rakiura Charters & Water Taxis will take you to Freshwater for $65 an adult, $100 minimum, Freds Camp for $50 a person, $100 minimum, or Rakeahua Landing, 5 minutes from the hut, for $65 per person, $130 minimum. Freshwater and Rakeahua are tidal so times are limited. Similar prices for Aihe Eco Charters & Water Taxi at aihe.co.nz/water-taxi-stewart-island.html
supplies | Southern Circuit – Rakiura National Park, Stewart Island
Invercargill, population 53,000, has the usual major supermarkets, Countdown, New World, Pak’nsave for getting the main supplies. Shellite or Fuelite for your stove can be obtained at outdoor and hardware stores if you haven’t been allowed to fly with it.
The small store, Ship to Shore Four Square supermarket, at Oban, population around 400, has a reasonable, if expensive, supply of food and basic camping needs, matches, candles, Fuelite, etc, and operates normal business hours, seven days a week.
warnings | Southern Circuit – Rakiura National Park, Stewart Island
There is no ATM/money machine in Bluff, or on Stewart Island/Rakiura, remember you are venturing to the edge of the Earth. Businesses will take cards, of course.
Heavy rain and strong winds can occur at any time of the year, which can have two effects. The track can be muddy in places and while the mud is legendary it is often is not as bad as you might think, pack those gaiters and waterproof overtrousers.
The track can flood in places, more like a rising tide and having to wade through a shallow lake than a raging torrent. Getting from Mason Bay to Freshwater can involve periods of wading through cool waters, trying not to fall off the duckboards you can’t quite make out in the gloomy water.
The Southern Circuit is particularly prone to flooding: the area around Rakeahua Hut holds water for some days after heavy rain, ie, flood, as is the flat area between Freds Camp and Freshwater. The boggy area just north of Rakeahua hut, maybe taking an hour and a half to get through and the Freshwater River valley, nearer to the Freshwater Landing hut, is, well, boggy, deep, bottomless, stinky, slimy boggy, although generally possible to get around although not without getting the feet wet.
The most trying area of bog might well be the initial drop from Adams Hill towards Doughboy Bay, the first third of the descent is the trifecta of the stinky bog, steep slope and slippery tree roots. There’s some more on the top of Doughboy Hill but that is more easy to negotiate.
other websites | Southern Circuit – Rakiura National Park, Stewart Island
There’s a few websites about tramping around Stewart Island/Rakiura.
DOC has a pdf brochure with useful information including
DOC also have a blurb about the Southern Circuit.
a big image slideshow | Southern Circuit – Rakiura National Park, Stewart Island
Images of the Rakiura huts can be found in the Rakiura Hut section.
An additional 20 images can be found on the blog pages, one image a day.
Here’s a 43 image slideshow from the Southern Circuit giving an indication of the general track conditions and sights along the way, if you need any further convincing.
Click on the thumbnail image below to get the slideshow started, then you can click on the left or right sides of the bigger images to go forward or back.