The final couple of days of a week spent walking 100km around the North West Circuit, an epic mud and beach filled track on Stewart Island / Rakiura.
I started my sixth day on the track at Christmas Village Hut, which I was lucky to have to myself. Waking in an empty hut is a pleasure, not having to worry about waking others, and the sunrise was brief but atmospheric.
After six days with a heavy pack my body was starting to suffer so it was a relief that today was one of the easiest days, relatively speaking. It still involved a lot of tree roots, a fair amount of mud, and undulating terrain, but there were long stretches of boardwalk, easy walking along Murray Beach, and slightly less mud.
There were some lovely reflections on the Murray River.
After which was the epic Murray Beach, which had reflective streams at the back of the beach, and the mystery ship I’d seen at Christmas Village Hut was still out there.
The final stretch through bush included towering tree ferns and rimu trees.
Bungaree Hut is near identical to Yankee River Hut, other than being on a lovely beach rather than by an attractive river. I had the place to myself for a couple of hours before a female fire fighter from Dunedin joined me for the evening.
When the sun came out I went for a quick walk along Big Bungaree Beach, and half way along found some mobile phone signal so I could check what was happening with the COVID situation in Auckland (which thankfully hadn’t spread) and learnt about the two strong earthquakes at the top of the North Island that morning, which led to evacuations due to tsunami risk which thankfully didn’t eventuate. I was about as far away from them as you can get in New Zealand, south of the South Island.
I was settling in for a quiet night when a boat appeared in the bay about 7pm, shortly followed by a pair of guys walking up to the hut. They were the advance party for a group of eight guys who were unloading supplies for a ten day stay at the hut. Among other things they brought chairs, guns, fishing gear, lighting, a generator, many bags of coal, and endless cans of beer.
It’s a great annual event for them (they’ve been coming here for twenty years) but I was glad that I was leaving the next day. I didn’t get much sleep that night as they were up late unpacking all their gear, and then having a few beers to follow.
I was up early and left at dawn, with wonderful light on Big Bungaree Beach, which I could just about make my way around at high tide.
The track was similar to the previous day, relatively easy by North West Circuit standards, with tree roots, boardwalk, and of course a fair amount of mud.
In a little over three hours I reached Port William Wharf, a scenic spot on a sunny day.
The nearby Port William Hut was off limits to visitors during the day, though familiar to me from my stay there six years before. DOC were dealing with an outbreak of bed bugs along the Rakiura Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. It was more serious at North Arm Hut but at both huts they were asking trampers to leave reasonably early so they could fumigate and clean before letting the next set of people stay. They’d been doing this for 4-5 days already and hadn’t solved the issue, and there had been reports of bed bugs back in Oban, carried by people off the track. Thankfully this is a very rare occurrence in New Zealand huts.
My final couple of hours were spent walking along the Rakiura Track to Lee Bay. The contrast with the North West Circuit was apparent immediately with no tree roots or mud to contend with, just a well graded path weaving through atmospheric bush. It was still hillier than I would have liked by this stage though, with my hips and chest particularly tender from my pack straps.
There were some lovely coastal sections brought to life on another mostly sunny day. In seven days on the track I’d been lightly rained on twice, super fortunate on an island where it rains 275 days a year.
The start / end of the Rakiura Track at Lee Bay is marked by a chain link sculpture which matches one in Bluff, the other side of the Foveaux Strait. From here I caught a $30 taxi the 4km back to Halfmoon Bay. I’d learnt the hard way back in 2014 walking the Rakiura Track that this final section along road is a soul and foot destroying (in hiking boots) experience, one I didn’t want to repeat!