If you are looking for one of the quietest Great Walks in pristine wilderness then Stewart Island's Rakiura Track should be high on your list. The trail at the very South of New Zealand is an easy track that can be walked by anyone of average fitness.
It's a two - three day 32km circuit (if walking in two days we could call this a moderate hike). It's one of the best chances you can have anywhere in the country of seeing New Zealand's national icon: the kiwi.
To make the logistics easy for you we've compiled a guide based on our experience on the track. You can also read about our experience on the track as well.
Booking the Rakiura Track
Unlike many of the Fiordland tracks, the Rakiura Track doesn't book out immediately, so you don't need to put the on-sale date in your calendar. However it is a Great Walk, so you will need to book well in advance if you want to set off on specific dates, especially if you plan to hike during peak season such as the Christmas Holidays or the New Year.
The huts are one of the cheapest of all the Great Walks, costing only $24 NZD per person per night which is under half the price of tracks like the Milford, Kepler or Routeburn.
It's imperative that you do book before hiking the trail as:
1) it ensures your safety and
2) it helps fund the protection of this National Park. It was very frustrating to see several (we'll call non-New Zealanders") who decided that they shouldn't pay, thinking they could either pitch up a tent where they liked or get into a hut for free.
Rakiura Track Elevation
On a map, the Rakiura looks really flat, with the highest climb being less than 300m. However, what this doesn't show you is that there are quite a few of these little ascents and descents along the way and they begin to add up, especially if you choose to hike the track in two days.
We don't think this should put people off as we believe most people of average fitness can hike this track, but the trail did have a total elevation of 1,300m.
Most of this elevation (980m) is on day one and two and should therefore be a consideration for anyone wanting to make the Rakiura a one day (yes it happens!) or two day track.
Rakiura Track Difficulty
Of all the Great Walks, The Rakiura Track is relatively easy if hiked across three days. None of the days are too long (we'd estimate each day would be a maximum of 4-5 hours of hiking) and there's no horrific steep climbs.
Just bear in mind that the track isn't flat and the climbs are enough to get your heart rate up, especially when you carry a heavy pack with sleeping bags and food in it.
If you were looking to do a multi-day hike and weren't sure about tackling a mountain or extremely long trail, then the Rakiura is a good one to go for. It's neither too long or too steep if done over three days.
The trails are also well defined and require no prior hiking experience, making the Rakiura a great first multi day hiking adventure.
Rakiura Track in One Day
At 34km long (by our Apple Watch, the official distance is recorded as 32km) the Rakiura Track could feasibly be done as a day walk. A very long day walk.
We'd heard about runners doing the track and we also heard of some people doing the track in one day as they couldn't book a hut or campsite, but we wouldn't recommend doing this unless it was literally the only way. You'd have to start at sunrise and it's unlikely you'd finish before sunset.
Hiking the Rakiura Track in a day would mean you rush through the main sights, missing the beautiful beaches, stunning forest and taking in the environment. Plus you'll be absolutely exhausted afterwards unless you are super fit. If you are interested more in challenging yourself than exploring the national park itself then it could be a great option for you.
Rakiura Track in Two Days
We hiked the Rakiura in two days and whilst we found it tiring, it is very doable. The main difficulty you will face is that you will likely hike nearly 1,000m in a day and over 20km in distance! You'll also have to skip a hut (both are in really nice locations) which is a shame.
However, the flip side is that you skip one of the really short days (the day from Lee Bay to Port William is about three hours long otherwise).
Huts on the Rakiura Track
The huts on the Rakiura Track are very good, but are different to the ones in Fiordland. They don't always have Hut Wardens in them - when we hiked Port William didn't but North Arm did. The toilets are pit toilets (toilet paper provided) and pretty decent, so don't worry if you are imagining back country horrors!
There are no gas burners in these huts, you must bring a stove. We stress this because having come from three back to back Great Walks in Fiordland national park we hadn't realised this and didn't bring one!
Port William Hut
Port William is a great ending to a beautiful first day of exploring deserted beaches and stunning forest. It's situated right by the water and is the perfect place to unwind after a day on the trail.
It's set up with two dorms having twelve people in each and has a picnic bench out the front by the water to enjoy your lunch! It did seem to attract the sandflies though....
North Arm Hut
North Arm Hut is set up in a very similar way to Port William. It's situated just by the water over looking a beautiful bay and has an outdoor veranda to take in the view.
It also has two dorm rooms, each hosting twelve people. Both are great places to spot kiwi after dusk.
Rakiura Track Transport
For the Rakiura, firstly you need to get to Stewart Island! The most cost-effective option is to hop on the one hour ferry journey from Bluff, but you can also fly to the island.
The great thing about this walk is that it is a circuit and both ends of the track are very close to the town centre. This eliminates the worry about shuttles and car relocations.
We'd suggest getting the local taxi to the start of the track (at the time of writing it cost $30 for the car, so can be as little as $7.50 each for four people). Lee Bay is a good 6km away from the centre of Oban and there's really no point in walking along concrete roads through a village for 6km before the track has even started! Locals may tell you otherwise but unless you really want to get the extra kilometres in or save some money there really is no point walking, you won't feel a sense of achievement for checking out the local housing estates.
Similarly the end of the track is 2-3km from Oban. As we finished early, we chose to walk the rest, but you could otherwise get a taxi back to town (at the time of writing it cost $15 or $3.75 per person if you had a group of four). This walk was easy and really didn't take long at all so if you still have the legs we'd recommend it.
Rakiura Track Weather
The Rakiura Track is one of the few Great Walks that can be hiked at any time of year. It has a temperate climate, but it can get pretty wet and quite cold. The best time of year to hike is during the summer season as you have more hours of daylight to hike in and you'll be warmer. We were so warm in fact that we had to remove layers and undo our sleeping bags!
What to pack for the Rakiura Track
If hiking in summer we would have been very comfortable in a t shirt and shorts but you might want leggings and a longer sleeve top if you aren't so lucky. It is best to wear merino wool and definitely no cotton as if it rains merino will dry far more quickly and won't leech your body warmth like cotton.
In cooler weather base layer thermals are a must, especially for the evening. It is imperative to have a rain jacket and you might want waterproof trousers too.
You should also bring a spare set of clothes that are for use in the huts only to ensure you always have dry clothes to change into. Having wet clothes on the trail isn't too bad as you warm up, but wearing wet clothes in the hut will make you very cold.
As we were only staying for one night on the track, we decided to bring some fresh veg, pasta, pesto and cheese to have a decent meal. If you want to save on weight, then the freeze dried meals are a decent option, but we often find they aren't very filling or tasty.
We also brought porridge for breakfast, some muesli bars, bread rolls and fruit for our lunches. Snacks like chocolate and trail mix also go down well. Don't forget tea bags or coffee sachets too.
The key for packing your food is weight. We tend to prefer to have a big breakfast and dinner, with only a little grazing food for lunch.
- Gas stove - this is essential on the Rakiura unless you are happy with cold meals in the evening.
- Pack liners and pack covers - These are a must as if it rains, everything gets wet even if you have a pack cover, using a liner too ensures your stuff will be kept dry. We also brought a dry bag to ensure the camera didn't get wet.
- Small first aid kit - if you want to keep it simple you can buy the kit from the DOC when you pick up your track tickets like we did.
- Blister prevention gear - Bring along plasters, blister packs and walkers wool (the latter can be bought from a DOC Visitor Centre and is our favourite prevention).
- Flip flops - Something that comes in very handy as you can't wear your boots in the huts.
- A warm sleeping bag - You can always unzip to get cooler but if you try to go to bed freezing it will be a miserable night sleep, so it pays to bring a sleeping bag that can cope with cold termperatures.
- Battery packs - These were helpful in ensuring our phones and Apple Watch were charged every day (although the watch struggled with just how much hiking there was)
- Kitchen set (pot, matches, cutlery, plates and mugs) - The essentials for cooking. You can get really light sets from an outdoor shop.
- Zip lock bag for rubbish - As you need to carry everything out with you (including food scraps), a rubbish bag will stop all your gear of smelling of food.
- Wet Wipes - As there's no showers, wet wipes are the best solution.
- Suncream & Insect Repellant - The Rakiura is blessed with many beautiful beaches so sun cream is a must. Insect repellant will also stop the pesky sandflies which we didn't experience on the track but did find around both huts. A high deet content works best and cover up as much as possible especially in the evening, as they do seem to attack relentlessly and find any area of exposed skin.
- Headphones & Music or Earplugs - These are our only solution for dorms. After this much hiking, it's likely you'll be a victim of vicious snoring.
- Torch - There's no electricity at any of the huts, so you'll need a torch after sunset and in the morning.
- Soap - Not essential but this is not provided, though you could easily use a bit of washing up liquid as we did.
What you don't need:
- Water purification tablets - The water on the Rakiura is clean and good to drink without purifying.
- Toilet paper - All huts and toilets on the track provide this.
Day Walks on the Rakiura Track
You can take a water taxi from town to the Port William so this would make the Lee Bay to Port William section of the track an 8.1km easy day walk. It would probably be easiest to take the transfer to Port William hut and then walk back to Lee Bay or Oban (6km further than Lee Bay) at your leisure.
You could also use the water taxi service to Port William and then complete a long day walk all the way to the Fern Gully car park at the end of the track. This would be a challenging but doable 23km.
Another option is to walk from Fern Gully car park to North Arm hut and back which would be around 22km, but this is not the prettiest section of track. The prettiest sections of track are most certainly between Lee Bay and Port William.
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Have you done any of the Great Walks? Would you do the Rakiura Track? Let us know in the comments below.