Great Walking: The Rakiura Track

The Bog Slog

“Mesh, Gravel, Log, Root, Gravel, AHHHHHHHH! Shoot. Mud.”

So went our two days walking the Rakiura Track. We learnt quickly that looking for the appearance of gravel, or any form of mesh was the best way to get through the large bogs, if you could find such treats.

Because we’re crazy, we took Mr6 with us on this tramping adventure – two big days at 13km each (we skipped the most scenic first day from Oban to Port William to save his legs for the inescapable long days by grabbing a water taxi). Turns out, he was a pro. Must have learned some lessons from his big walk on the Abel Tasman track in April.

We all struggled at times. One member of our party abandoned the walk after getting to Port William and deciding that 8km day was enough to nearly kill him. Most of the rest of us wound up nearly in tears at some point or another, often driven by the simple fact that on Day 2 in particular, there are no landmarks. Walking for 7 hours and having no real clue how far along the track you are can do strange things to your mind. Everyone added extra thermals at our lunch stop on Day 3 (at the turn off to Kaipipi) because the wind was brutally cold and keeping moving was no longer keeping us warm.

The rain meant we saw no kiwi (gutting), but we saw Tomtits, Fantails, a Kaka, a white-tail deer, several rats (both alive and dead), and spent two days walking in the most lush forest you’ll find anywhere, staying in warm, near empty huts, seeing almost no other trampers.

The Track

The Rakiura is a Great Walk, in that the huts require bookings and in the summer there will be a warden in residence. Sometimes this may mean it gets quite full at the huts. BUT, these huts have no solar-powered LED lighting, and no cooking facilities (one of the reasons they are so much cheaper than some of the other Great Walks), so you need your own gas and candles.

DAY ONE
(Oban – Port William)

The easiest of the three days, the track meanders along the coast, dropping on to a couple of beaches. This day does include a couple of doozy sets of stairs though. Don’t let the overall low elevations of this track trick you.

This day is also the most scenic, because of the bays and beaches. Check the tide times and heights before you go, as you may be able to avoid some of the stairs by taking the beach.

DAY TWO
(Port William to North Arm)

We started day two pondering whether we should have gone the other way, and saved the water taxi out for the last day, but there’s a couple of seriously big sets of stairs early on in this day that would be seriously hard work on legs tired from bog hopping all day, so we ended up deciding that this was indeed the better way around, despite everyone we met going the other way.

Back tracking a small distance, you turn off the track back to Oban and suddenly plunge into the interior of nowhere, or so it seems. You’ll follow some old log-haul lines (which get pretty steep), find a lot of mud, and about 70% of the way to North Arm find yourself at a trio of bridges that advise you not to cross if the water is above the decking. This is only mentioned briefly in one of the two DoC brochures on the track, and not in the “need to know” section of the website – they also don’t tell you where on the track these are. If we had arrived at the bridges 5 hours in to our day and discovered we couldn’t cross, we would have had a pretty miserable time of things.

Just when you thought your day was going to last forever, you suddenly arrive at a track junction and its 5 minutes (and 47 steps) down to the hut, which has a massive sheltered deck for getting your wet and muddy clothing off.

DAY THREE
(North Arm to Oban)

The track back to the junction is a great warm up, whichever way you are heading from North Arm. Up the hill to the toilets, then 47 steps non-stop to the top.

From here you sidle, with a series of ups and downs that range from small, to 35-or-so meters climb and descent. The old campsite at Sawdust Bay now has just a toilet, but is a welcome stop regardless. Gallons sawmill is a super short detour to a signpost, and has the most intriguing rickety staircase down into the river outflow nearby.

Suddenly (or not so suddenly when you’re persuading a tired, sore and cold 6yo along) you get to a track junction. “Sheltered” Kaipipi Bay is a 5-ish minute detour. The wind we had this day meant there was no shelter to be had. From here, its a long, fairly gentle if unrelenting, climb up the hill, until you reach the end of the track. The Fern Gully car park is actually 1km along what is marked as the Fern Gully track, so the last 3km of your day is on sealed road with no weather shelter.

Getting There

Flights in to Invercargill from anywhere are prohibitively expensive, so we all flew in to Queenstown and picked up a rental car, which then sat in Bluff for three days.

The drive from Queenstown to Invercargill is a little over 2 hours long, and very scenic. We squeezed 4 adults and a 6yo in a carseat, with a LOT of bags, into a Hyundai Tuscon from Go Rentals. We love their prices and service so use them every time we need a car in Queenstown.

To work in with flights and reduce stress around shopping etc, we stayed overnight at the Top 10 Invercargill, in a 2-bedroom apartment. This room was spacious and comfortably furnished. In true southern hospitality style, they stored small bags for us, and even put aside our abandoned cold groceries for our return.

To and From Oban, you have a couple of options – fly or ferry. We opted for ferry with Stewart Island Experience (part of Real Journeys), as they were far cheaper, and as a bonus, kids travel free in school holidays. Thankfully, when I realised a week out that I had booked our outbound trip for the wrong day, they also shifted it at no cost. Be warned, weather can make getting to and from the island really challenging. Our sailing back was super rough and several people were VERY ill. The day before, flights had been cancelled and people had been forced to stay an extra night on the island.

Final Thoughts

We wont go back and do the whole loop again. This is very much a “ticked it off the list” tramp. However, we’d be really keen to go back and do the first day, since we missed it this time, and would perhaps water taxi in to Port William, stay for a couple of days and then walk out.

Its not a tramp for the faint-hearted or if you don’t like mud. Do it outside the peak season for a quiet experience. You will need a good amount of fitness. Enjoy!

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