Although the Rakiura Track is a 29 km tramping track, suitable for anyone with moderate fitness, it is a total of 36 km for the entire circuit, including road walking. It takes three days and provides a good introduction to the scenery of Stewart Island. It is suitable for tramping all year round.
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Location: Where is the Rakiura Track?
Access to Stewart Island/Rakiura is by regular air flights from Invercargill or a ferry service from Bluff.
Halfmoon Bay, the island's only settlement, is serviced with a general store, Department of Conservation visitor centre, and a variety of accommodation including hotel, motel, lodge, and backpacker accommodation.
Sea kayaks and water taxis are available for hire on Stewart Island and can be used for access to Rakiura Track huts.
From Port William and North Arm, tracks continue on to form the North West Circuit, requiring 10-12 days to complete. Conditions on these tracks can be rougher than those encountered on the Rakiura Track. Hut tickets should be purchased before leaving Halfmoon Bay. For further information refer to North West Circuit Track brochure.
When is the best time to hike the Rakiura Track?
The best time of the year to hike on Stewart Island is during the summer season, from late October to April, when the days are long and temperatures are pleasant. Since Steward Island sits near sea level at 47 degrees south, the weather can be unpredictable and it's always recommend to bring plenty of layers.
Fitness: How fit do you need to be to hike the Rakiura Track?
Rakiura Track is the shortest hike of all New Zealand's Great Walks, it is only 32 kilometers long loop, and is farily easy compared to the other Great Walks.
You will still need to be able to carry all of your own gear over uneven terrain, and it's worth keeping in mind that weather can make this hike feel much more difficult. When it rains, the trail gets muddy easily making the short hike feel longer. Even so, any fit person can hike Rakiura track with a bit of training and preparation!
Photo by Ange West
Accommodation and facilities on the Rakiura Track
Port William and North Arm huts have sleeping spaces for 30 trampers. These are claimed on a first come, first served basis. There is a limit of two consecutive nights in any hut.
Huts are supplied with mattresses, wood burning stoves for heating, running water and toilet facilities. Trampers should carry a portable stove. Users are expected to leave the huts clean and tidy.
Camping is permitted only at the designated campsites at Maori Beach, Port William and Sawdust Bay. They are serviced with shelters, water supply and toilets.
Please use toilets at huts and shelters. If this is not possible bury toilet waste well away from watercourses. Remember drinking water at huts and shelters comes from rivers and lakes.
Track etiquette and how to prepare
Have a safe and enjoyable trip
- Make sure you are properly equipped and well prepared. The weather on Stewart Island is changeable and can be cold and wet, even in summer.
- Everyone needs to carry a sleeping bag, portable cooking stove, cooking utensils, sufficient high energy food (with some extra for emergencies), a waterproof raincoat and overtrousers, and warm (wool or fleece) clothing. A portable stove will also be needed. Boots are recommended.
- Please check at the visitor centre for information on weather and track conditions.
- Fill in your itinerary in hut books as you go.
- Boil, filter or chemically treat water if you doubt its purity.
- Keep to the track. It you become lost stop, find shelter, stay calm, and try to assist searchers.
Please remember when trekking in New Zealand
- All plants, birds and animals in the park are protected
- Please carry your rubbish out of the park
- No dogs or domestic pets are allowed
- Hunting is by permit only. Permits can be obtained from the Department of Conservation
- Fire is a major threat. Fires should only be lit in designated fireplaces. Please make sure fires are extinguished properly before you leave, and use portable stoves for cooking.
- Smoking is not permitted in the huts and shelters.
- Wasps and sandflies can be a problem. Carry insect repellent and antihistamines in case of allergy
- Possums are a pest and damage native trees. Do not encourage them by leaving food outside overnight
How to book the Rakiura Track
The Rakiura Track is one of New Zealand's Great Walks. Trampers are required to purchase a date-stamped Great Walks hut or campsite pass before their journey. Conservation staff may be on the track and will impose a surcharge on trampers using accommodation facilities without a Great Walks pass. The pass must be displayed on packs at all times.
Passes are available at the Department of Conservation Visitor Centre in Halfmoon Bay and the Invercargill DOC office, State Insurance Building, Don Street.
Annual hut passes or hut tickets are not valid for the Rakiura Track huts and campsites.
The Rakiura Track can be comfortably tramped in three days.
The circuit follows the open coast, climbs over a 300 metre high forested ridge, and traverses the sheltered shores of Paterson Inlet. It passes sites of historical interest and introduces many of the common sea and forest birds of the island. Parts of it cross Maori land and access is courtesy of the owners.
The track is suitable for walking in either direction.
Halfmoon Bay to Port William Hut, 12 km, 4 hr - 5 hr
From the DOC Visitor Centre turn right towards the waterfront and follow the road over a series of hills to Horseshoe Bay, then on to Lee Bay.
From the entrance sign at Lee Bay the track follows above the coast to Little River and Maori Beach. This was a well worn route when Maori Beach supported two sawmills and a school around 1920. A rusting steam boiler lies just off the track at the southern end of the bay, a relic of these times. A campsite, toilet and shelter are sited at the beach.
At the northern end of Maori Beach a tidal stream is spanned by a swingbridge. The track then climbs a small hill and meets the track to North Arm. Continue straight on to reach the Port William hut and campsite. At low tide trampers can follow the beach.
Port William Hut to North Arm Hut, 12 km, 6 hr
This section of track starts on the hill between Maori Beach and Port William. Trampers usually stay the night at Port William hut and then backtrack the 45 minutes to the turn-off.
The climb to the summit ridge passes through an interesting sequence of vegetation: previously-milled and virgin podocarp forest to rata and inaka dominated subalpine scrub. A lookout tower on the summit ridge provides great views of Paterson Inlet and beyond to the Tin Range. The track descends to the North Arm hut sited on the shore of the inlet.
North Arm Hut to Halfmoon Bay, 12 km, 4 hr - 5 hr
This section of track provides trampers access to the shores of Paterson Inlet.
A campsite, shelter and toilet is sited at Sawdust Bay, a sawmill site between 1914 and 1918. The track continues through rimu and kamahi dominated forest emerging at the sheltered bays of Kidney Fern Arm and Kaipipi Bay. At Kaipipi Bay two sawmills employed more than 100 people in the 1860s.
The track between Kaipipi and Halfmoon Bay follows the former Kaipipi Road, in its heyday the most used and best maintained on the island.
Gear list: What you need to pack
For your own safety it is essential to carry the equipment listed below, no matter how warm it is on the day of departure.
- You will need at least one set of clothes to walk in, and another dry set to change into at night. It is not possible to dry clothes overnight in the huts.
- Boots: need to be comfortable and well broken in.
- Socks: (wool/polypropylene) 2 pairs
- Shorts: (cotton/ nylon)
- Shirt: (wool/polypropylene)
- Longjohns or trousers: (wool/polypropylene)
- Jersey or Jacket: wool/polypropylene)
- Undershirts/ T-shirt: (wool/polypropylene)
- Raincoat: (waterproof, windproof with hood)
- Extra socks, underwear, shirt or lightweight jersey.
- Warning - synthetic clothing is flammable.
- It is essential that this clothing is carried as your safety and the safety of others could depend on it.
- NB: cotton clothing such as jeans, T-shirts, sweatshirts are NOT suitable.
- Pack: with large waterproof liner
- Sleeping Bag
- Matches/ Lighter: in waterproof container
- Torch: spare batteries
- Eating utensils: Knife, fork, spoon, plate, and cup
- Cooking utensils: pot/pan/billy, pot scrubber
- Toilet gear: soap, toothpaste, toilet paper, small towel (remember do not wash in lakes or streams)
- First Aid Kit: insect repellent, sunscreen, blister kits, pain relief, and assorted bandages
- Survival Kit: Survival blanket, whistle, paper, pencil and spare days food.
- Drink bottle: you need to drink regularly during day
- Optional extras: sunglasses, camera, and lightweight shoes for in hut, earplugs for communal bunkrooms
- Campers need to carry gas cookers, tents and bedrolls. Campers are not permitted to use the hut facilities.
- Outside the booked walking season walkers will also need to carry gas cookers and mountain radios.
- Is not available for purchase on the track.
- Food should be lightweight, fast cooking and high in energy value e.g.
- Breakfast: cereal, firm bread, honey or other spreads
- Lunch: cracker biscuits, cheese, salami, margarine, jam/jelly, powdered fruit drink, fruit
- Dinner: instant soup, pasta/rice, dried vegetables/fruit, cheese or dehydrated (freeze dry) meals.
- You will also need: snacks, biscuits, muesli bars, tea/coffee, powdered drink, emergency food in case of any delays on the track.
Fishing on the track! Photo by Ange West
You will need to drink regularly while walking, even on cooler days, to avoid dehydration. You need to carry some water, as you may not be able to find any enroute. Giardia may be present in some areas. Regular testing is not carried out. If you wish to treat the water you can boil water for 5 minutes, use a filter, or chemically treat it. Drinking water at the huts and shelters comes from the rivers and lakes.
A bit of extra background about the Rakiua Track
History of the Rakiura
The track takes its name from one of the Maori names for Stewart Island. Rakiura means land of the glowing skies, perhaps because of the spectacular sunsets seen there. In Maori legend the island is referred to as Te Punga O Te Waka A Maui: the anchor stone of Maui's canoe, used while he fished up a great flat fish, now called the North Island. It was also known to Waitaha Maori as Moutere Nui (big island).
Hunting camps or kaika were established at many coastal sites, including Port William/Potirepo and Freshwater River, and were reached by outrigger canoe.
The island takes its current name from William Stewart, an officer of the sealing vessel the Pegasus, who compiled the first detailed chart of the southern coast.
Despite brief attempts at settlement at Port Pegasus/Pikihatiti, much of the island's history has focused around the Rakiura Track area.
Port William was the site of the early Maori settlement of Pa Whakataka. Its sheltered harbour was utilised in the early sealing days of 1809-1811 and as a whaling base in the 1850s. In 1867 gold was found on the beach but prospecting proved unsuccessful. It served as a base for fishing after a deep-water oyster bed was found off the coast in 1868. In 1872 the government subsidized the settlement of the area by Shetland Islanders, who were encouraged to utilise the timber and develop the fisheries. The settlement was a failure, however, and the bay's gum trees are the only remnant.
The sheltered waters of Paterson Inlet/Whaka a Te Wera were utilized early in the 19th century by whaling boats, but large scale industry only began in 1861 with the opening of the first sawmills at Kaipipi.
Around the turn of the century Ulva Island became the hub of the community through its post office.
In the 1920s and 1930s chaser boats were serviced at the Norwegian Whaling Company's repair base in Prices Inlet in preparation for the Antarctic summer.
Today all of the island's 390 permanent residents live in the few bays around Halfmoon Bay. Fishing, marine farming and tourism are the main industries of Stewart Island.
Flora and Fauna: What to look for on the Rakiura Track
Stewart Island is remarkable for its complete cover of natural vegetation - from the sea to cloudy, windswept summits. The highest mountain of the island, Mt. Anglem/Hananui, reaches 980m and is visible from the section of track along the open coast.
The Rakiura Track, however, does not involve travel above the bushline. It traverses mainly rimu and kamahi forest with a rich diversity of treeferns, ground ferns and perching orchids. Rata becomes more common at higher altitudes.
Kiwi footsteps in the sand! Photo by Ange West
Paterson Inlet is the island's largest harbour, extending 16 kilometres from the open sea and containing 20 islands. Because of the unbroken vegetation the inlet's waters are remarkably sediment-free.
Stewart Island's birdlife is unusually prolific. Around the coast watch for muttonbirds (sooty shearwaters), shags, Buller's mollymawks, cape pigeons and little blue penguins.
In the forest bellbirds, tui, fantails, parakeets, shining cuckoos and wood pigeons can be observed. Trampers could also see and hear grey warblers, kaka and tomtits.
The tidal flats of Paterson Inlet host a variety of wading birds including the New Zealand dotterel, oyster catchers, herons and godwits.
The forest has been modified through the browsing of whitetail deer, red deer and possums. Cats and three varieties of rats have taken their toll on some native bird species.