Everything You Need to Know Before Hiking Rakiura Track
Stewart Island is not often visited by holidaymakers on a strict itinerary, which is a shame, as it is possible to find here one of New Zealand's Great Walks, Rakiura Track. Read our hiking guide including everything you need to know before starting this trek, tips on how to make a reservation, where to stay, what to pack, and how difficult the hike is.
We know that many travelers often focus mainly on visiting New Zealand's North Island and South Island, but believe it or not, even more south from South Island lies the third-largest island which for sure deserves your attention as well.
We are talking about Stewart Island, famous not only for its raw beauty, bird sanctuaries, kiwi birds and deep inlets but mainly for Rakiura Track, one of ten New Zealand's Great Walks, nationally recognized best hikes in the country. It was also the reason why we headed to Stewart Island and why we wanted to enjoy one of the least crowded hikes, Rakiura Track.
Rakiura Track combines walking in the forest, through old Maori settlements, around old timber mines, sandy beaches, and in the evening, you can listen to birds calling out loudly. Overall, exploring Stewart Island is an ultimate experience during which you can find some of the most untouched areas New Zealand has to offer - this is an attribute many travelers seek and can appreciate.
Despite this fact, Stewart Island is a bit more remote than other popular destinations in the country, and we are more than happy we could have experienced the unique Rakiura Track - it was yet again different trek than any other hikes we'd done in New Zealand, and we could admire the diversity in its best the country is proud of.
As we know that many visitors usually put aside traveling to Stewart Island for later, or holidaymakers are not sure if it is worth to hike Rakiura Track as it will take two or rather three days from their precious time, we've decided to put together the Rakiura Track hiking guide to show the beauty of this often overlooked destination.
In this guide, we will share with you information on how to reserve huts or camping sites, where to stay, how to plan an itinerary, what to pack, how difficult the hike is, and how to get to Stewart Island.
Hope you will find this post useful when creating your New Zealand itinerary.
RAKIURA TRACK LENGTH & DIFFICULTY
Rakiura Track is the shortest hike of all New Zealand's Great Walks, it is only 32 kilometers long loop, so it is absolutely doable in three days as it is advised by the Department of Conservation.
You will be walking through the forest and around beaches, and although there are some climbs every day, you will still be maximally less than 200 meters high, so when comparing this trek with others in the country, we found Rakiura Track fairly easy.
The only thing which can make the hike more challenging is the weather.
When it rains, the trail gets muddy pretty easily. Except for mud, one more thing made the hike harder for us, and it was sandflies, so make sure you have clothes with long sleeves or a very effective bug spray.
The trek is very well-signposted, so it is impossible to get lost.
For hardcore hikers, there is an option to extend Rakiura Track, and hike either 9-11 days long North West Circuit or 6 days long Southern Circuit.
HOW MANY DAYS YOU NEED TO FINISH RAKIURA TRACK
As we mentioned above, it should take you three days to finish Rakiura Track.
We followed the guidelines and decided to spend two nights and three days on the trail.
Although it is possible to finish the hike in two days in case you are short on time, you would have to arrive on Stewart Island early in the morning or spend a night in Oban, and then set off early in the morning the next day.
As we did not want to pay one night extra for accommodation in Oban, we arrived by boat during the forenoon and had enough time to get to the first campground the same day without rushing.
In case you want to take it slowly, you will find three campsites along the trail, so technically it you can spend up to four days on Rakiura Track.
RAKIURA TRACK TRAILHEAD & WHICH DIRECTION SHOULD YOU WALK
Rakiura Track can be walked either way, and it only depends on your mood and hut (or campground) availability, where you decide to start.
We walked counterclockwise and found this direction pleasant, but there is not much difference if you prefer to hike the other direction.
You will find the hike's trailhead either 5 kilometers from Rakiura National Park Visitor Centre in case you start at Lee Bay (counterclockwise direction) or 2 kilometers from Oban when starting on the Fern Gully Carpark.
Although you can arrange a shuttle to or from either end of the hike, we decided to walk, not only to save money, but the trek to the trailhead led on an almost flat path without traffic, so it took us an hour and thirty minutes extra to cover this distance.
WHERE TO STAY ALONG RAKIURA TRACK
There are two huts and three campsites you can choose from where to stay overnight.
Rakiura Track was altogether with Abel Tasman Coast Track the only Great Walk where we were camping, otherwise, we were usually staying in the huts. Basically, it is only up to you whether you want to carry a tent and sleeping mats with you, staying in a hut is for sure a bit more comfortable.
Sleeping in the tent or in huts is cheaper along Rakiura Track, the rates are not that high as for example on Milford Track, so even budget travelers can afford to stay inside.
The campsites along the way are Maori Beach, Port William Camp and North Arm Camp. Huts along Rakiura Track are Port William Hut and North Arm Hut.
Normally, Great Walk huts are serviced which means there is a ranger, gas, flushing toilet and toilet paper provided, but it is not a case of huts along Rakiura Track, and although the ranger might be sometimes present, you need to carry gas and toilet paper all year round.
HOW TO MAKE RESERVATION FOR RAKIURA TRACK
Rakiura Track is one of the least popular hikes in the country because of its position on Stewart Island, and especially when we compare it with other Great Walks, it is much cheaper. Therefore, it is not necessary to book your spot many months in advance such as when plan on hiking Kepler Track, but you should not leave it last minute either.
Despite the lower demand, you still have to reserve either hut or campground in advance, but the price almost does not differ, and seasons also do not vary that much.
The main hiking season on Stewart Island is from October 1 to April 30, and during this time the hut per person costs NZD 24. Out of season, between May 1 and September 30 one night in a hut costs NZD 22. You can check the availability and make a reservation via this link.
Campsites cost all year round NZD 6 per person per night and can be booked on the same link as huts.
BUDGET & WEATHER & SAFETY TIPS
If you are traveling on a budget, and want to experience at least one New Zealand's Great Walk, Rakiura Track is your best bet.
Although the ferry from South Island to Stewart Island is costly, the trek itself is pretty cheap, and you do not even have to wait for the offseason to enjoy cheaper rates, as the price of accommodation along the trail is almost the same all year round. The cheapest way how to do Rakiura Track is camping - this is what we did, and because the elevation gain was very mild, carrying the equipment was not that hard.
Weather in New Zealand is very changeable, and the same applies to Stewart Island.
It is nor unknown to experience four seasons in only one day, so it is worth it to be well prepared. Summer is usually pleasant, but not insanely hot, winter is normally mild, with pleasant temperatures around 10°C, while during spring and summer you can expect unstable weather with rains and occasional fog. The busiest season is between December and February, when you should expect Stewart Island to be quite busy, and it pays off during this period to make your reservations ahead.
When it comes to safety, it is always better to check-in in Visitors Center before and after your hike, to make sure somebody knows about your plans.
RAKIURA TRACK ITINERARY
We decided to hike the classic Rakiura Track, in two nights and three days, we hiked counterclockwise and did not use any shuttle to get to trailhead or from the end of the hike.
Here we will describe the full itinerary, so you will know what to expect.
As we were camping, we slept on Maori Beach, if you had booked huts only, your first day will be a bit longer as you must get to Port William Hut
Day 1: Oban - Maori Beach
We arrived in Oban from Bluff before noon, so we walked directly from the port to visitor's center where we signed in and started Rakiura Track.
As we hadn't booked any shuttle, we walked the first five kilometers to the beginning of the trail along the path above the sea and had amazing views of several bays with beaches, and we also crossed photogenic Dead Man's Beach.
Then we finally reached the official beginning of Rakiura Track and made our way first to Lee Bay, and then we reached Little River, a river flowing in the sea.
Later we walked uphill in the forest to Peters Point, from where we had beautiful views of the cost and it did not take long until we reached Maori Beach, our destination for the day. Maori Beach once was a busy settlement with school along with houses for workers of a sawmill company.
As we arrived quite early and the weather was nice, we decided to sunbath, but soon we found out it was a mistake as there were so many sandflies, that we had to dress again very quick.
Day 2: Maori Beach - Port William - North Arm Campsite
The next day we got up early to see the sunrise, and then we walked across the sweeping beach and via the swing bridge to the forest.
We decided to take a short detour to Port William, so we climbed up the forested ridge, then we descended back to Magnetic Beach, and we reached the Port William Hut, where we had lunch, and then returned to the main loop.
From this point, the trail walks for the rest of the day in the beautiful, podocarp forest.
Several notable stops along the way are explaining the history of the area, we could see an old log hauler which was left in the forest when the works stopped here, and we also walked around several small cascades, until we reached our campsite.
The night was absolutely quiet in the forest, except for loud birds calling which was at times a bit scary.
Day 3: North Arm Campsite - Oban
The beginning of the last day starts as it ended, in the forest.
The trail led us around kamahi and rimu trees to a place with great views across the inlet.
We also walked around historic mill sites which again reminded us the timber harvesting times, and then we descended to Sawdust Bay.
From this point, it was not far to the end of the trek, the Fern Gully Carpark, from where we had to walk another two kilometers to Oban.
FOOD AND DRINKS ON RAKIURA TRACK
It is not possible to buy food and drinks on the track, so do your shopping before the hike - it is much better to do shopping in Invercargill or Bluff because groceries are a bit more expensive on Stewart Island.
If you do not have any experience with multi-day hikes, no worries.
The foundation of success is to pack as light as possible. To give you an idea, we usually had muesli or oats with banana and apple for breakfast, muesli with cheese for lunch, couscous with tuna fish or corn beef and carrot for dinner, plus a chocolate bar and nuts for energy during the hike.
We know it does not sound somehow fancy, but it worked and it did not happen to us often that we would have been hungry.
In case you do not want to think about the food too much, but you want to have normal meal (as normal as it is possible on a multi-day hike) try dried food - we discovered it later when hiking in Canada, and although this item is a bit more expensive, it is light, tasty, and ready to eat in ten or fifteen minutes.
HOW TO GET TO STEWART ISLAND
Getting to Stewart Island is not hard, but you will have to again increase your New Zealand budget, as getting there is not that cheap, or at least it was not for us when traveling on a budget.
There are two options on how to get from South Island to Stewart Island. You can either travel by ferry, or by plane.
Ferry | Depending on the season, the ferry between Bluff on South Island and Oban Village on Stewart Island run three to five times daily (it is more frequent in summer between December and March). Always check travel times ahead, it is also necessary to reserve your ticket in advance either via the official website , we remember to book the ticket in information center in Dunedin, but you can often find cheaper deals on this site . The regular ferry ticket costs NZD 85 one way and it takes one hour. When traveling by car, it is easy to get to Bluff and park your car there, but even when backpacking, you do not need to skip this destination as shuttle buses run between Bluff and Invercargill, Queenstown or Te Anau.
Plane | In case you want to get to Oban Village in only 20 minutes, plus you want to enjoy spectacular views, there is an option to fly from Invercargill Airport, which serves Oban with several flights daily. The flight usually costs NZD 130 one way, which is not that bad. You can reserve your flight here .
WHERE TO STAY IN OBAN
We started Rakiura Track right after we arrived from Bluff to Oban (we did not stay in Oban at all the first day as we were traveling from Invercargill), but we slept one night in Oban after we finished the hike not only we would not catch the ferry that day, but we also wanted to visit Ulva Island nearby.
As we were camping along Rakiura Track, we found a hostel where we could sleep in a tent on a garden.
In case you want to stay in a hotel, book your accommodation well ahead as there are not that many options available.
Budget | Stewart Island Backpackers - Located in the heart of Halfmoon Bay, clean rooms, well-equipped communal kitchen, and a garden are the reasons why this hostel is the best budget-friendly accommodation on the island.
Mid-range | Bay Motel - This hotel offers amazing views of the Tasman Sea, well-maintained rooms, and you can use the kitchenette, all of that for a very reasonable price.
Luxury | Anchorstone - Spacious cabins nestled in the woods are a perfect place to stay for everyone looking for an eco-friendly hotel.
WHAT TO PACK FOR HIKING RAKIURA TRACK
Rakiura Track is two to three-day loop, so you must be ready to carry all clothes and camping equipment on your back - that's why it is necessary to pack only essential things and not to overpack.
We've written an in-depth post on What to Pack for Traveling in New Zealand, but here we share several items you should not leave your house without when planning your trip to Stewart Island.
Water Bottle | As you will be hiking for more than one day, pack a water bottle which can be refilled from streams or water tanks near huts. It is not necessary to carry several liters on your back, not mentioning it is not eco-friendly.
Bug Repellent | Believe us, dealing with annoying sandflies is the worst thing we experienced on Rakiura Track. Make sure you will pack a solid bug repellent.
Rain Poncho | Stewart Island is known for changeable weather, having proper rain gear is a must.
For staying in huts, you should not forget:
When you decide on camping, on top of the essentials mentioned above, you should remember to pack:
THINGS TO DO ON STEWART ISLAND
Historically, fishing has been the most important source of economy, but lately, tourism has taken over, but not in the negative sense.
Stewart Island is not a destination which offers plenty of things to do apart from the Great Walk, but it is more known for its ecology and exceptional flora and fauna.
We decided to stay one more day on Stewart Island after we finished Rakiura Track, and we headed to Ulva Island, a small island famous for its forest, and also the fact that it is one of a few New Zealand's predator-free sanctuaries, therefore there is a high chance to spot kiwi bird in his natural habitat.
Ulva Island is only short, 10 minutes ride away from Stewart Island, you do not need to book the water taxi in advance, it is enough to show up in Golden Bay at 9 AM, 12 PM, 2 PM or 4 PM (always check the up to date schedule though), return ticket costs NZD 20.
We walked around Ulva Island on own (there are several trails) and even were able to see kiwi bird during daylight, but in case you want to know more about the island and its ecosystem, do not hesitate to book a guided tour.
Other attractions on Stewart Island are Bay Tours when a bus will take you around bays surrounding Oban Village and to some of the traditional communities, or simply head to the beach or explore the Maori heritage.
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