Trip 10. Part A. Northwest circuit, Stewart Island

18-26 May, 2017. (Posted 11 July.)

It’s not often that you get a whole new island to explore! We didn’t know much about Stewart Island until recently – not much more than it was very wet, the tracks were very muddy, almost nobody lived there, and the kiwi came out during the day. At 47 degrees south, there is nothing to the east until you get to Chile, nothing to the west until Argentina, and nothing to the south until Antarctica.

Our good friend Andrew was joining us for a couple of weeks. We were looking for a suitably long walk with huts to avoid endless nights in tents. We arrived on the island expecting to do both Northwest and Southern circuits in 9 days. Some late information about the Southern Circuit – especially the prospect of waist deep mud – persuaded us to limit our ambitions. The NW circuit – advertised as 9-11 days with huts every night – seemed to fit our requirements perfectly. That said, 68-year-old Joan (see Milford Track blog) reckoned that we only needed 6 days.

The first day of the NW circuit shares follows the Rakiura Great Walk. High track quality makes for easy travel..

And the weather was mild. Here’s Sue and Andrew at Maori Beach.

Take a few steps off the Great Walk though, and suddenly you’re into mud. 

Can’t complain about the beautiful forest though!

On our second day the weather turned cold, very cold. There was frequent snow and hail, falling to sea level. The hail collected in the tops of ferns, and hung around for days in the cold temperatures.

Hail is visible on the dunes at Murrays Beach.

It’s a spectacular spot.

With snow on the hills…

This line of hail is due to wave action!

We had a different hut each night. They were generally very good. A pity the same can’t be said for prior occupants. Some had left the hut nice and tidy, with an adequate supply of pre-cut firewood. Others had left rubbish behind, and no useful firewood. An amazingly large proportion of trampers seem to believe that (a) subsequent parties will appreciate their empty gas cylinders; (b) wood fires automatically empty themselves of ash and partly burned rubbish; and (c) aluminum foil burns.
Most huts had wood heaters with small fire boxes, so firewood needed to be cut to short lengths. DOC supplies panel saws, but most are blunt. Some of them were so blunt that we were tempted to try sawing with the other edge, to see if friction would cut better! On arrival at each hut, we spent 30-45 minutes collecting wood and cutting it up, to ensure there was enough for our own needs, and for the next occupants’. Here we are sawing firewood at Christmas Village Hut.
Blue is the theme colour for the day! Andrew and Dave, about to depart Yankee River hut.

Andrew is undaunted by yet more mud.

We often found ourselves following kiwi tracks. Later that day we spent five minutes watching a kiwi foraging in broad daylight, only a metre or two from us. Unfortunately all cameras were packed away!

The NW circuit track is not always muddy. Maybe only 5% is really muddy. Some sections were just sublime.

Near the coast the teatree showed signs of wind blasting.

At Long Harry Hut a gifted DIY-er had converted the DOC sign into a saw horse.
There were lots of possums at Long Harry Hut. At one point Dave went outside and saw four pairs of eyes looking back at him. One possum had made itself at home under the hut. We also saw one kiwi and heard lots of others here.

The coastline becomes increasingly rugged as you near the northwest tip of Stewart Island.

Blog continued in Part B.