Trip Reports » Rakiura/Stewart Island

Rakiura/Stewart Island

Stewart Island in December 2010 with extended family

“The other group who were booked on this boat trip cancelled when they saw the weather forecast” said Colin as he piloted us through big swells on the South East coast of Stewart Island. “But the weathers pretty good, Ive seen kayakers out here in worse”. A few minutes later we crossed the entrance to a large bay and were broadsided by whitecaps and spindrift. Not my sort of kayaking for sure.

Colin is the owner and skipper of Aurora, a 20 metre long catamaran. A crayfisherman, he knew the coast exceptionally well and we hugged it closely to stay out of the tide and gain a couple of knots. That kept us out of the wind, but not the big SW swells that had several passengers queasy or worse.; In recent years crayfishing has been enjoying that rare combination of high prices (due to live exports to China) and abundant catches (for reasons that are not so clear). A few years ago the catches were so poor that the industry agreed to a voluntary 20% cut in quota. Now crays are migrating round the coast in record numbers and they are catching a bonus 20%. So good are the numbers that many complete their catch in as little as two months. With prices at up to $80 a kilo and a good quota of 10 tons, it doesn't take long to pay for the boat.

We arrived at South Pegasus hut just on high tide and with no beach left and the hut hidden in the dense bush that grew down to the sea, it all looked a little daunting, but very pretty with the rata in full bloom. We soon had our numerous boxes and bags ferried across from Aurora and carried the short distance up to the hut. The hut is one of a number of hunters huts that dot Rakiura. Paid for by a hunters' trust, administered by DoC and in this case built by Stewart Island Lions Club, the hunters huts are a standard 8 bunk design and can be booked for 10 days at a time. Priority goes to hunting parties, so we had found a friend with a firearms licence and called ourselves a hunting party, but our interests were more around kayaking, fishing and exploring.

First priority was a brew and in looking for the stoves came the first blow: we had heaps of fuel and the pumps for the cookers, but the burners themselves were in a pink box accidentally left behind in Bluff. The hut had a very small pot belly stove, but it was less than ideal for cooking and would be a monumental challenge to prepare our planned Christmas feast. It was time to ignore the “no open fires” note on the door, declare an emergency and use one of the outside fireplaces. We soon had a tarp erected over a small cooking fire that became the social centre of the trip. While our bay and campsite were very sheltered, a northerly gale was blowing hard through the tree tops and raising spray, willy walls and impressive white caps that swept from just off the beach directly to the port entrance. Kayaking lacked much appeal.

Christmas eve dawned sunny and the wind had backed a bit the west, but it was still gale force. Using the kayaks to sneak around the nearest points we snuck into little bays to gather a few scallops in chest deep water at low tide. My 3mm longjohn wetsuit seemed somewhat inadequate in these 47º South waters, but once I was thawed out the effort seemed to make the scallops sweeter. Later we walked up towards the striking granite peaks of Gog and Magog. On the way out we burned in the wind and sun, but on the way back we froze in lashing rain that swept through with little warning.

Fresh scones were planned for lunch, but the baking powder and the trampers oven were in the pink box. However we had yeast and the hut had two frying pans. So by putting a pan on top of shells on the pot belly and covering it with the second pan and tin foil we improvised a stove and cooked a couple of fraccacia loaves that were quickly demolished.

Christmas day was another high wind day, so we improvised an anchor for the kayaks from a coal sack and a rock, added some crushed mussels for burly and went fishing 10 metres off a nearby point. We were quickly rewarded with cod, trumpeter and wrass which we supplemented with scallops and rock oysters. Dredge oysters were present amongst the scallops but were out of season. These used to be so common in the bays of Rakiura that boats would settle on the sand flats at low tide and shovel the holds full within two or three tides before sailing to Dunedin. Over fishing destroyed the fishery, which only revived with the discovery of the offshore dredge beds which are now carefully managed with the well known short season. Our sumptuous fish lunch was followed with cinnamon buns and a good walk was required to make room for the traditional steak and christmas pud dinner that followed. Unfortunately half the Christmas booze was also in the pink box.

Only on our last day (the 27th) did the wind disappear and we quickly made the most of it with kayak trips in both directions in the port. In the glassy smooth conditions we quickly caught a cod and trumpeter feast while others explored Ship Builders Bay. Our four days here had been too short and we will need to return again soon. Next time with a good wetsuit.

Aurora dropped four of us near Belltopper Falls at the start of the old surveyors track to the tin mine while the remaining 3 headed back to Oban.

 The track starts opposite the remains of an old fish freezer factory that operated util the 1950s. It must have been a pretty isolated place for the shores are steep rock sides and just getting out of the inflatable onto the bank was a challenge. DoC warns that the track across the Tin Range is unmaintained and unmarked, but the track up to the tops was in excellent condition and until we met the old tram line, free of any windfalls. In the past DoC has attempted to clear the tram line route from Diprose Bay but extensive windfalls have made the lower part unusable, so now only the top part of it is used. The tram line's locomotive power was two ponies, so the gradient is pretty gentle.

The Tin Range holds New Zealand's second biggest deposit of tin and was discovered when the early gold prospectors had the heavy black sands that are common in the streams assayed. But the mine was never commercially viable and the 1912-17 sale of stakes in it were probably comparable to shares in Blue Chip Investments.

As we had started late in the day and the tops were again starting to clag in we camped just above the bush line not far from the mine. After the heavy rain of the previous few days all the little creeks were flowing and there was no shortage of water. Traversing the Tin range we enjoyed a full range of weather and track conditions. The route from the old mine to the start of the traditional route was a slow bash through dense leatherwood (something that could have been avoided by following the tram line a bit further). The light southerly at our backs suddenly produced heavy rain, squalls and thick cloud and it seemed we would be in for an all-compass trip, then a few minutes later a light westerly blew gaps in the cloud and we could look down on the dramatic granite tors of the kakapo area. Wild and challenging country it is no wonder that the Kakapo stayed undiscovered until the 1977. On our left was the inviting beach of Doughboy Bay. Hazel was later to describe Doughboy hut, with its magnificent views as the best hut she has visited. At times we could follow a vague trail with occasional cairns, but we lost these going over Mt Allen (apparently the cairned route goes around the side). The westerly had reached gale force by the time we were following the well poled and cairned route off Table Hill so the thick alpine scrub provided welcome relief from the wind. However the trail was heavily overgrown and approaching the legendary levels of Stewart Island mud so it was with some relief that we arrived at Rakiahua Hut after an eleven and a half hour day.

Frances arrived soon afterwards with 3 kayaks and another week's food. It had been a rough trip in on a very choppy Patterson Inlet in a small water taxi with a kayak in her lap. Hazel and Manoel departed the next morning to walk the South West circuit while Frances, Alina and I spent a couple of hours working out how to get the food and tramping gear into the kayaks. Hazel described the track between Rakiahua and doughboy as muddier than anything she had ever attempted with Manoel up to mid-thigh in the bigger bogs as he explored the route. However they were rewarded with kiwi and white tail deer sightings.

Meanwhile we kayaked around Patterson Inlet and walked over to Mason Bay for a night. Paddling conditions varied from glassy calm rivers to strong breezes and it was a very pleasant week. Only once were we forced to wait out a gale and we were so well looked after by local boaties sheltering in the same bay that the day became a highlight. We had a delightfully sheltered camping spot at Millars Beach with a fireplace next to the tent and a big picnic shelter nearby. While it was blowing a gale over our heads, the sun was shining and on the beach it was warm enough to skinny dip. Four boats were rafted up together near shore and their occupants, all locals from Bluff were anxious that we were enjoying the Island. Was there anything we needed from Oban as they had to go there?. “Some fresh fruit would be nice”. They looked at us a bit strangely but quickly agreed to get $10 of fruit. Later we asked for a little detergent and they returned with not only the detergent, but also a complimentary bottle of wine. Later in the evening we were invited aboard for happy hour and it was well after midnight before we got ashore, our lives enriched with many stories of fishing and quota and our throats well lubricated.

Our kayaking finished with a rewarding trip to Ulva Island. This predator free island is a real jewel and we were delighted to see kaka and kakareki and enjoy the interpretive walks through the podacarps.

Back in Oban for a last afternoon we seemed to know most people in the town. The boaties from Mission Bay were in the pub and it was only with great will power that we escaped after repaying the previous nights hospitality. Many of the trampers we had met on the Island were in town and it was a challenge to walk anywhere without stopping to yarn about our respective trips. We will be back again soon, for a longer stay in Port Pegasus or maybe Port Adventure, or maybe to “run” the Northern Circuit. There is just so much to do in this friendly isle.

We are returning to Rakiura in 2012/13. Email or fill out the simple enquiry form on this page if you would like to join us. We will not forget the pink box.

The Auroa.  A boat this size is needed for the open ocean journey to Port Pegasus


South Pegasus Hut


The Aurora route is in Blue, the walk over Tin Range in red.

Stewart Island Map with lines.JPG

 The Sea Lion guarding our beach at South Pegasus usually left us alone, but it paid to know where she was.


Tin Range - There may be a route the whole way, but it is sometimes challenging to find


Freshwater Stream.  Sheltered paddling but shared with high speed water taxis.  Take a marine radio.


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