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.

(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.

(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.

(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!

PoTW – Balclutha Bridge

Lanark Street, Balclutha
Our first stop here was entirely by accident, needing somewhere to pass some time before we could drive the last half hour to our accommodation in the Catlins. And it was a fantastic accident. The playground is generously sized, with a good range of play equipment. It is easy access for cars, with good parking, and has multiple mature trees for summer shade. In Autumn, I can imagine it would be a haven for leaf throwing, as the trees are all deciduous. It’s only downfall is that toilets are quite a way off, either in the showgrounds, or at the i-site. For older kids, its not far, but it was a long way on little legs.

As an added bonus, New World is two minutes walk, so if you need the makings of a picnic, you can top up there!

PoTW – Newtown Park, Wellington

Newtown Park (by the Zoo), Manchester Street
A small playground, tucked in between the zoo, the athletics track and the carpark, this one still packs a good punch. It captures great sunshine, particularly in the later afternoon, while also offering large trees for shade. It only has a couple of pieces of play equipment, but if you’ve had a battle getting your kids out of the zoo, it’s worth the stop to reset everyones moods before you have to commute across the city to get home. Not a destination playground, but definitely worth a stop.

PoTW – Queen Elizabeth Park, Masterton

Dixon Street / Memorial Drive, Masterton
I grew up visiting this park, as my grandfather lived a block off the back corner of the wider park, so my brother and I often took our bikes past the cemetery, around the cricket oval and over to the play area. The only things that remain of that playground are a couple of old tractors for clambering on, and the train on the island over the bridge.
That’s not a bad thing – the new(ish) wooden play space is great for exploring by kids of all ages, there’s even a pre-schooler section. The flying fox out the back has good speed, and a great flick at the end if you’re heavy enough.
Toilets are a little bit of a walk down the main road (and there are only 2 cubicles), and parking can be tight if there is something on at the pool or events centre across the road. But its a great option to drive down the accessway into the park, grab a spot in the shade and walk through the park, stopping for a picnic maybe.

The wider park is great for exploring. Across the old swing bridge are some deer in a large paddock, and to the west of there is a BMX track.

PoTW – Haruatai Park, Otaki

Mill Road, Otaki
Nestled just below the Otaki swimming pool is this hidden gem of a play area. A good sized grass area to run around on, a range of play equipment options, some good shade on a warm day, and public toilets right next to the playground.
A great place to stop and stretch the legs.
We highly recommend the neighbouring swimming pool too – the outdoor splash pad is free to access and has a BBQ space, or you can pay for entry to the pools, which include a good sized kids pool and clean changing rooms.

PoTW – Waitangi Park, Wellington

Oriental Parade, Wellington
This is a strange wee play area. On the one hand, the sand play area is very much aimed at the very small kids, while the larger free-play structures are very much aimed at older kids. There’s not really anything here for those aged about 4-10. But there are toilets and a cafe that serves ice cream, along with a massive grass area to run around on adjoining the park, a basketball court, and is near to the skate bowl, so it’s also got a lot going for it.
A popular stop-off point when visiting the Sunday produce market just up Cable Street, or after Te Papa.

PoTW – Westburn Reserve, Christchurch

Westburn Terrace, Christchurch
We spent a week in Christchurch the other summer. Then-Mr4 would have happily given up nearly everything else we did in return for just spending his time here, even if most of the time he didn’t want to be on his bike.
Thankfully, in addition to an AWESOME bike circuit that is off and away from main roads with easy parking and a toilet, there is a great wee playground with some good shade. The playgrounds best feature is its super fast merry go round, although its traditional style and fairly tall slide is also a great treat.
The bike circuit has intersections, imitation level crossings, pedestrian crossings, and interesting corners. Its big enough for Mum or Dad to ride along too. Highly recommended, one of the best small-scale public bike parks we’ve come across.

PoTW – Tongariro South Domain, Taupo

Access off Story Place
Scattered through a generous sized grass area is this gem of a playground. There are several parking areas within close walk and the fancy paid superloo behind the trees (carry cash if you visit with small kids).
A range of play equipment beckons – from modern net swings, to older-fashioned climbing frames, there are also a reasonable number of picnic tables scattered around the play equipment. Grab a mate and play chess on the giant chess set near the bus stop. Sheltered by a range of mature trees, even in summer this can be a lovely cool area for kids to explore.

Tongariro Domain is a huge expanse of recreational space. In the North Domain there are often travelling fairs and circus tents during the summer, and at the lake end of South Domain, alongside Ferry Road, is a Lions train that runs on weekends and during school holidays. This “train” is a bit different from others in that its a monorail. Your $2 ticket will get you three circuits.

PoTW – Khandallah Park

Woodmancote Road, Khandallah
This is a well-shaded playground that is great for exploring on warm summer days. It recently had a new slide installed and its flying fox upgraded. If you’re really warm, there’s even a sun-heated outdoor pool between the carpark at the playground. It’s also an access point for the walking tracks on the flanks of Mt Kaukau, if that’s what you are keen on – you can walk just a short distance, or you can launch from here onto the Wuu2K route (a 62km mostly trail route to the South Coast then back to Mt Vic)

Reasonably close to public transport, if you can manage it, I’d recommend not taking your car here on a sunny weekend day, as the access road is narrow and the carpark at the end fills up fast. The really good news though is there are toilets at the carpark, and a café at the park entrance. So even when its busy, its still good.

PotW – Waterfront, Picton

London Quay, Picton
For some reason, most people never stop in Picton – they drive off the ferry and head south, or purposely arrive with barely time to check in for their ferry on departure.
The ones who do this with kids are totally missing out.
For our last big South Island holiday, we purposely planned for our last night to be in Picton, so we could waste time at leisure in this gorgeous wee spot. Sadly, it bucketed down with rain, so we were forced indoors for the morning instead.
Between the huge pirate ship to clamber over, the water play area and the beach access, there is also the gorgeous (and cheap!) miniature train, mini golf (not as cheap, but totally cute), along with other opportunities to explore. Parking immediately between the playground and the Interislander terminal is generous and has a 4hr time limit.
There are toilets near the Memorial Arch that leads to the main road, and its not a long walk up the main road to find multiple eateries, and a reasonable sized supermarket.

Patuna Chasm – Local Adventure

Bookings Required

You’ll need to book early for this adventure, as it only allows 20 people at a time to book in for the trip across private farmland and into the amazing chasm. Tickets are relatively inexpensive – $30 adult / $15 child – for the 2019/2020 summer season. Kids under 6 are not able to participate.

What to Pack

You’ll need water, snacks / lunch, something warm to wear in the chasm if its not a hot day. Leave a change of clothes in the car, because you WILL get wet. Take a camera. Pack everything that you don’t want getting wet into waterproof gear bags. Make sure you wear reasonably sturdy shoes – the walk in involves a chunk of up and down and is exposed, the river is full of tiny bits of gravel and slippery algae. Sunhat, sunglasses and sunscreen are essential for sunny days.

The Trip

You’ll meet in the farmers back yard. There’s a good amount of parking off and in the middle of the loop for everyone. Be a few minutes early to allow time to use the toilet in the corner of the parking paddock (it flushes, and there is a hose tap on the fence for hand washing after), and to ensure you have all your gear you need before you leave.

Health and Safety briefing was a bit haphazard for us – here, read this and then sign a waiver – and the briefing was even more so, a muddled run through of what we could expect from the walk as we drove across the farms in the 4wd. Apparently there is usually a trailer that they tow people out on, but it was broken, so they were using the bed of a truck and a 7-seater 4wd to do the transport instead.

Once you’re at the gate, you start with a walk. A small climb and solid drop down to the stream, where you can see the optional exit point. Then you climb up a heap more and sidle around the edge of the chasm for a while. Taking two pre-teens and stopping for some lunch along the way, it took us maybe an hour to get to the actual entrance to the chasm.

When you’re in there, drop off the bulk of your bag and take a wander upstream to the waterfall area. It’s a great introduction to walking in the river. Collect your bag on the way back down past this spot. You can take your time from here on out – we were near the very back of our time slot group, and we still got back to the carpark with more than half an hour to spare.

There’s some interesting bits of walking through the chasm – over a rock and down a ladder, through overhangs, a short thigh-deep section under a water splash (not big enough to call it a waterfall). When you get to the area where you can see the track again, there’s an option to use a rope to climb a rock to get on to the track, or you can go into the next puddle and find an easier walk onto the track.

From here, the option is to walk back along the track or to continue down the river. You will be chest deep (on a normal height adult) if you go down the river, so make sure your bag is suitably packed if you want to go that way. Pick up is back at the drop off point and then its back to the car and home!

Getting There

You’ll need your own transport for this one. The Chasm is about 20 minutes drive out of Martinborough along some gravel roads. Stunning country and on a good day you get some lovely views.