Rakiura National Park / North West Circuit
- Hut nights: 7
- Solo hut nights: 6
- People in huts: 4
- Overall people: 6
- Kiwi: 1
Stewart Island - the third island of New Zealand. It had been tantalisingly close for the three years that I spent in Invercargill, and I couldn't move to northern lands not having set foot on it. My preconceptions of it were based on what others had said: it was other worldly, primordial, unique and very very muddy. I also carried a mainlanders prejudices: the locals were no-nonsense hardy insular folk, if they choose to live in a small remote community they were bound to be odd-ball, eccentric, psychotic, or all of the above. I may not have been going to a land of myth shrouded in mist inhabited by hairy goblins who lurked in the shadows, but there was an element of that in my mind.
I caught the 9.30 ferry from Bluff, an hours crossing of Foveaux Strait, towards an island obscured by low cloud and in a light rain. It was looking mythic as we entered the harbour, wet bush clad hills rose from the grey water, the town of weathered buildings looked deserted and forlorn in the steady drizzle. Once landed at Half Moon Bay/Oban jetty I made my way to the DOC information centre to register my intentions and hire a Personal Locator Beacon. A friendly local womanned the desk in the modern and information rich centre. Tourism has come to rival fishing as the mainstay of the island's economy and this was enhanced when it became a national park - in the words of the DOC website:
Rakiura National Park on Stewart Island is the 14th of New Zealand's national parks, and was officially gazetted on February 28, 2002 and opened on March 9, 2002. The park covers about 157,000ha and makes up about 85 percent of the island. It encompasses a network of former nature reserves, scenic reserves, and State Forest areas. Although the island lies only 30 kilometres south west of Bluff, between latitudes 46 and 47 degrees south, it could well be in another part of the world.
It also says there are 25km of road and 245km of walking tracks. I'd be doing about 125km. Apparently there was a guy on the track a couple of days ahead of me, but no one starting off today, it was still winter after all. Current annual track traffic for the North West Circuit is about 800 souls, the track navigates around the north end of the island and is a recommended ten day hike for experienced walkers with a high level of fitness. It was by far the longest and ambitious tramp of my life and my pack weighed heavy on my shoulder as I hiked out of the township towards the Rakiura National Park Boundary. But if I wasn't ready now, well I never would be.