Rakiura blog | August/September 2013

Days have been spent in Invercargill, stocking up with supplies, wandering the streets, mucking around, doing a couple of days on the final edit of an ebook, and, I’m surprised to find, eventually coinciding with a rare daytime crossing of Foveaux Strait.

The grandeur of many of the buildings in town hints at more prosperous times past, maybe the end of the 19th century judging by the age, vacant upper floors for all but a few, wonder what occupied people up there, I guess the advent of computers and centralisation led to their redundancy, now mostly a major earthquake risk, lower levels similarly dark, glass frontages poster plastered often enough beyond the shrunken centre shopping district, working shops are now consolidated along a few streets these days—the three letter street names, Tay, Dee and Esk, brevity a virtue for these reticent southern types—no foot traffic beyond.

I spend time in the Tuatara Cafe, sipping a daily quite delicious flat white, watching the passers-by when I look up from my screen: a few grey haired ponytails and that’s the blokes; dark-haired plaits on gals; indecipherable tats on serious-faced guy’s necks; a couple of heavy blue inscriptions take over half a face, then I realise it’s probably the same guy; someone else cadges a filter for his roll-your-own from a crew of smokers banished out the front, not an issue today, it’s surprisingly mild for the middle of one of the cooler months, no actual sunshine recorded, other than a ridiculously spectacular rose-coloured sunrise earlier.

In one of those freak circumstances that occasionally work themselves out I catch up with an old school friend, and the conversation flows, catching up on the intervening decades in a huge rush. Phil’s just been down on Rakiura himself, if we’d bumped into each other in the remote parts, ie, if I hadn’t been so dilatory, sluggardly, that would have been serendipitous.

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Stewart Island Big Circuit | ebook

This blog has been converted to a 15,000 word ebook, Stewart Island Big Circuit. There are prunings and additions to the original blog text to make it read more, umm, book-like. You can download it at Amazon.

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Day 1 | Port William Hut: almost feels like home

GJ Coop on Stewart Island

For once it was all stashed compactly in the pack from the outset, usually takes a couple of days to shake the luggage down but the reality is I need 98% of that 90 litres of pack capacity to stow it all, no room for air.

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Day 2 | Bungaree Hut: sun out on the surf in Big Bungaree Bay Beach

track to Port William, Stewart Island

It’s days like this which remind you of that old saying: You don’t have a body, you are a body.

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Day 3 | Christmas Village Hut: but no village action here

Variable oyster catcher Haematopus unicolor

Actually, for the second night there’s no one else around.

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Day 4 | Christmas Village Hut: climbing a hill for a change

Halfmoon Bay from Mt Anglem / Hananui, Stewart Island

There isn’t anything you can’t see from the top of Mt Anglem/Hananui.

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Day 5 | Yankee River Hut: back on my lonesome

rimu tree Stewart Island

Watching the sun set over the sea last night and there was movement along the beach that looked distinctly un-penguin-like.

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Day 6 | Long Harry Hut: back here once again

Smokey Bay from above, Stewart Island

… you get out of the tea tree and have a major sand dune encounter, hard to clamber up that kind of steepness in loose sand, then down to the beach, she’s a full-on sand blasting operation, I’m marching directly into the blast. My pack cover blows straight off but is retrieved, those grains, pellets, lashing my face. I’m sure I’ll find them everywhere in the next few days, he says, scratching out his ears.

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Day 7 | Long Harry Hut: the answer is blowing in the breeze

kiwi at Long Harry Hut

If you want to spot a kiwi in the wild Long Harry is as good a spot on Earth as any.

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Day 8 | East Ruggedy Hut: and a rugged old day

Ruggedy Range and islands, Rakiura National Park, Stewart Island

I continued packing up as the first wave of rain came through but you can’t just sit around in NZ waiting for better conditions. In any case, if you are prepared, ie, long-sleeved woollen singlet, vest done up and raincoat over, overtrou on, and a heavyweight beanie, it often doesn’t seem so bad out in the weather.

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Day 9 | Big Hellfire Hut: you can hear that surf crashing

Benson Peak from Hellfire Pass, Stewart Island

I stop, it doesn’t take much for me to indulge in the hill climb procrastination, and listen for ten minutes as the unseen bird goes through quite the repertoire, all manner of tuneful contortions, musicians should take note for inspiration.

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Day 10 | Mason Bay Hut: not a cloud all day

Waituna and Mason Bay, Rakiura National Park, Stewart Island

… as a full time glasses wearer, taken off for sleep, except when dog tired, my weeping eyes add to the general step placement issue, in this landscape where steep slopes, continual tree roots and those occasional deep, slimy mud pools are the way of life …

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Day 11 | Doughboy Bay Hut: the best, and for a short while worst, of a day

Mason Bay, Rakiura National Park, Stewart Island

At the top, there’s a huge payoff for the effort expended, views all the way back to Codfish Island/Whenua Hou, strange to look back to those distant hills near Big Hellfire Hut. It was like only 30 hours ago I was sitting up there contemplating this point in hazy indistinctness, then around to the Ernest Islands that protect the southern section of Mason Bay, over to the trackless Tin Range to the south, and over to the western slopes of Mt Rakeahua.

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Day 12 | Doughboy Bay Hut again: time for another break

seal at Doughboy Bay, Southern Circuit, Stewart Island

So, basically the perfect regenerative day here in Paradise.

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Day 13 | Rakeahua Hut: down in the swamps

Doughboy Bay from Doughboy Hill, Southern Circuit, Stewart Island

My skip-through-the-bog method has one notable failure. I’m stuck knee-deep in the dank slime. Care needs to be taken to extract the limbs without full dislocation of my knee. There’s fair suction in the swamp but I remain with good fortune the remainder of the day.

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Day 14 | Rakeahua Hut again: climb every mountain

Mt Rakeahua, Southern Circuit, Stewart Island

At the 500 m mark the shrubs shrink to knee height, it’s pretty fragile up here, alpine conditions really at almost 47º S, the weather is less fair now and although I can make out the sea to the west and long slivers of inlet to the east it is clear that any views to the north ain’t gunna be had. The wind whistles in, and I’ve donned my second beanie and gloves.

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Day 15 | Freds Camp Hut: looking over the water, nice

south west arm of Patterson Inlet, Stewart Island

I suspect the first third of the track, the low-lying section through the manuka, would be boggy no matter what the weather conditions down here, some additional fluid doesn’t do much to the mix, but unlike the North West Circuit down here it’s tempting to avoid all this swampy area, bog, by taking the water taxi into Rakeahua, ie, few do the walk to Freds Camp and I probably even fewer scoot round to Freshwaters.

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Day 16 | Freshwater Landing Hut: that's some pile of rat droppings

Patterson Inlet from Rocky Mountain, Stewart Island

There are white pole markers to remind me where the track veers conceptually but I suspect the straight-through, follow-the-markers route with wide gaps, ie, often 5 m+ of brown vegetationlessness, is a bottomless abyss where I just do not wish to venture.

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Day 17 | North Arm Hut: yup, lonesome for the 13th night

Stewart Island bush track, Southern Circuit

I get the impression that those venturing the other direction get a similar feeling about this sector, but here it’s a bigger climb, again considerable root work, slippery slopes, and a whole hill of boggy stuff despite that slope.

Welcome to Rakiura.

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Day 18 | Back to Port William Hut: on the Rakiura Track

Rakiura Track, Stewart Island

Back then times were hard, life austere. We’ve traded that simplicity for an atrocious complexity. Life a blur, smeared at breakneck pace if you let it.

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Day 19 | Tuatara, Invercargill again: and all these people around

On the ferry, Foveaux Strait

A standard issue Stewart Island/Rakiura day early on: simultaneously bright sunshine and heavy rain.