Trip 10. [Part B] Northwest circuit, Stewart Island

18-26 May 2017. (Posted 12 July)

Near the NW tip of Stewart Island the track climbs in and out of beaches, often through wind-pruned, wiry coastal scrub.

Love the track signage! 

The spots where the track gains and leaves beaches are marked by all sorts of marine detritus. Not including Andrew of course, who is wondering whether he should pull out his Very Serious (and Very Heavy) Binoculars to view the mollymawks on what is a very rough sea. He’s wearing Icebreaker today, in case you are wondering. Shorts by Adidas. The hat is his son’s. Stylish and such easy care!

Some brightly colored forest fungi. We haven’t seen these on the “mainland”.

East Ruggedy Beach on the west coast is a spectacular place.

The dune systems on the west coast extend well inland. Some reach 200m altitude! Drifting sands make for a changing landscape, sometimes revealing long-buried rock formations.

The beaches continue. It’s a savage environment. The beach is littered with dead shearwaters. Apparently this is quite normal for this time of year as the young birds have a hard time of it. There is a large colony of them down the coast. We also saw dead mollymawks and a dead kiwi. Not an environment to take lightly.

The team at Big Hellfire Hut. We were kept awake that night by the sound of kiwi cruising around it. (Photo credit: Craig, the possum trapper, we shared the hut with him that night)

Stewart Island has a large internal drainage basin, covering perhaps half the island’s area. Here the basin is filled with morning fog.

A chance to clean off the mud at West Ruggedy Beach.

West Ruggedy Beach, with Codfish Island in the background. Most of the world’s kakapo live on this island. The island is now full – a sign of a successful recovery Programme – so DOC needs more predator-free locations to reintroduce kakapo to.

One last ridge to climb over before the flat terrain of Mason Bay and Freshwater Inlet. We found some of the muddiest terrain of the whole trip on this ridge. That was the thing about the mud: though we think that only about 5% of the total track length is muddy, the mud occurs in long stretches. But it’s never more than calf-deep.

Mason Bay was gorgeous. The same can’t be said for the large quantities of plastic rubbish washed up on the beach. Much was fishing-industry related, with the names of the boats and companies involved proudly emblazoned on their discards. We have many photos if you’re really interested. There was a clean up of the western Stewart Island beaches in 2013, which collected 20 tonnes of rubbish. It cost tens of thousands of dollars to carry out, some of which was donated by the local fishing industry. News reports at the time stated that the industry was appalled at the amount of rubbish coming off their boats and that they intended to implement measures to reduce their impact. By the looks of it the measures haven’t been implemented yet.

This is apparently the world’s southernmost shearing shed, remaining from a not-entirely successful farming operation at Mason Bay.

The shearer’s tallies are still visible inside.

The track back to Freshwater Inlet crosses a large swamp. Fortunately there is a raised boardwalk!

The short daylight hours in late May meant that we only managed to walk one hut per day. At this speed we ran out of time to complete the whole circuit. So we caught a water taxi from Freshwater Hut back to Oban – Stewart Island’s only settlement. The next day was the best weather of the whole trip.

And this Bullers Mollymawk clearly agreed.

So would we recommend the trip?
That part between Yankee River and Freshwater River (going anti clockwise) is superb. The walk from Port William to Yankee is tedious. The forest is beautiful but where the track cuts through creek lines it is a muddy trench and there are very many creek lines! It took us 3 days for this section and it was dispiriting.

Would we recommend walking it off season?
Absolutely. There are no sandflies and few people around. However if you want a warm hut you have to be resourceful. Taking firefighters and a small saw (only to cut dead wood) would be a good idea, as well as decent candles, not those stupid tea candles that burn out so quickly. I don’t know how many spent ones we carried out. And take some cleaning cloths as well as some of the huts are filthy. There are some good camping areas if you don’t mind a long night in a tent.
As for the mud? It’s ok. Really.