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36kms - 3 days
A world of its own
Stewart Island is a place to find peace and solitude, surrounded by a habitat that has changed little for thousands of years. During the day, your feet will find the rhythm of the trail; at night you’ll be lulled to sleep by the "morepork" call of ruru and the occasional screech of a kiwi; and when you wake, the extraordinarily fresh air will have done its good work - you’ll feel miraculously revived. This journey at the bottom of the earth is an exercise in self-renewal.
Snapshot of the track
The Rakiura Track is a 36 kilometre circuit. It follows the open coast, climbs over a high forested ridge and traverses the sheltered shores of Paterson Inlet. Parts of it cross Maori land and access is courtesy of the owners. For most people, the track takes three days to complete.
Much of the track is board-walked, allowing you to avoid Stewart Island's notoriously deep mud. There are two accommodation huts and three campsites on the track. You can walk the track in either direction and in any season; don’t be put off by winter - it’s remarkably mild and often has settled weather.
Beach, coast and forest
Beautiful wilderness beaches are a special feature of this track. Maori Beach was once the site of a Maori village and a sawmill. It has reverted to wilderness, although there are still interesting relics to discover. Fossicking for shells can be fun along this beach - look for ostrich foot shells, knobbed whelks, southern volute, Cook’s turban shell and pink barnacles.
The forest that you’ll see while walking the middle section of Rakiura Track is mostly rimu and kamahi, but you’ll also notice tree ferns, ground ferns and delicate perching orchids. The birdsong is enchanting - a symphony of bellbirds and tui, with the occasional kaka squawk for good measure.
The southern section of the track walks you past Paterson Inlet, the island's largest harbour. Extending 16 kilometres from the open sea and containing 20 islands, the inlet has incredibly clear water. This is because Stewart Island’s vegetation is completely intact; very little sediment runs into the sea. Paterson Inlet is a shallow ria - an ancient river valley that has been submerged.
A journey through bird land
Stewart Island has a tiny human population and a huge bird population. While people number less than 400, the island’s rich, pure podocarp forest is a sanctuary for native birds. There are more than 100 bird species living on the island, including very rare native birds such as kokako, saddlebacks, robins and yellowheads.
The Stewart Island brown kiwi, also known as the southern tokoeka, is one of six identified species of kiwi. Kiwi are flightless and largely nocturnal. However, tokoeka are active during the day as well as the night. It is estimated there are 20,000 kiwi on Stewart Island. You can’t count on seeing a kiwi, because they avoid human company, however local operators run tours to Ocean Beach, where the birds like to eat sandhoppers.
In the seabird department, Stewart Island is richly blessed. Albatrosses, mollymawks, prions, petrels, shags, gulls, skuas, terns, gannets and blue penguins are common sights. Sooty shearwaters are resident in large numbers during their breeding season. You could also see some of the larger penguins - rockhopper, Fiordland crested, yellow-eyed and Snares crested.
The tidal flats of Paterson Inlet host a variety of wading birds including the New Zealand dotterel, oyster catchers, herons and godwits.
Other things to do
While hiking and bird watching are the main events, Stewart Island is also a popular destination for diving, sea kayaking and fishing. The town of Halfmoon Bay is well-equipped to keep travellers happy and the locals are famously friendly. As you’d expect, Stewart Island cuisine has a seafood focus - freshly caught blue cod is always on the menu.
For hundreds of years before the arrival of European settlers, Stewart Island was a land of plenty for Maori settlers. As well as seafood, the island yielded a very special delicacy - titi (muttonbird), which is still enjoyed today.
The island’s original name, Te Punga O Te Waka a Maui, can be translated as ‘the anchor stone of Maui's canoe’. Maori mythology tells us that Stewart Island was the anchor for Maui's canoe (which was the South Island) while Maui caught and raised his great fish (the North Island).
Maori also called the island Rakiura, which means ‘The Land of Glowing Skies’, possibly in reference to the glorious sunrises and sunsets or perhaps the night-time glow of the Aurora Australis (the Southern Lights).
The last 150 years
In the 19th Century, Maori were joined by assorted European explorers, sealers, missionaries, miners and settlers. Then came sawmillers, boatbuilders and fishermen. The last major influx of people was in the 1920s, when a group of Norwegian whalers arrived on the island. Many chose to stay permanently, adding to Rakiura’s fascinating mix of nationalities. Some of the houses built by the early Norwegian whalers are still lived in today - their distinctive alpine architecture makes them easily recognisable.
Initially there were settlements around the edges of Paterson Inlet, at the heads of Halfmoon and Horsehoe Bays, and at Port William and Port Pegasus. Today the population is centred on the town of Halfmoon Bay (also known as Oban), and the focus of local industry has turned from exploitation to conservation.
Booking a walk with a tour provider
There are a number of specialist tour operators who can aide you in bringing your walking experience to life. Whether you are looking for a guided tour or accommodation along the track browse through our business listings to find the walkin experience that is right for you.
Booking a walk independently
If you want to walk a Great Walk independently you will need a Great Walks Pass The fees for this varies between each Great Walk, but all prices are very reasonable as they are heavily subsidised in order to foster participation by many people.
For some Great Walks you may need to make a booking, for others simply purchase a Great Walks hut or campsite pass before your trip
- For the Milford, Kepler, Routeburn, Heaphy and Abel Tasman the online system allows you to check availability and pay for your booking. Book online
- Department of Conservation (DOC) Visitor Centres national wide can make hut or campsite bookings on your behalf. A booking fee applies.
- Call on +64-3-249 8514, fax +64-3-249 8515, email email@example.com