Stewart Island: North West Circuit

The Stewart Island North West Circuit track had intrigued me for a while. A few years ago I did some field work at Mason Bay and as a hut on the circuit I saw a few people on the track. So, when I was thinking about what I would like to do when I got back to NZ, this one popped into my head.  A ten day trip wasn’t something I had done before but surely I was capable, right? The DOC (Department of Conservation) description of the track seemed pretty good. The distances from hut to hut looked reasonable. I expected some mud and some tough sections but I thought it would be a great adventure. So after getting back to Dunedin, meal planning for ten days (that took some effort!) and packing, we (me and Chris) set off. This is how we went:

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The start of the track. Looking clean, fresh and ready to go

Day 1:

The day got off to a great start. We were up bright and early and at the ferry ready to go. Boarding the the ferry I came across a familiar face, which was a total surprise. That face was a lovely lady named Tanya that I had attended university with. Tanya kindly offered to drive us to the start of the track, which when we saw how far we had to walk on the road, we so very much appreciated. So after arriving at the start of the track and heaving our heavy packs on our backs, we got started. The first part of the track was Great Walk. It was great, the path was easy with a few stairs here and there. We stopped on a lovely beach for some lunch and a few hours later we had arrived at Port William hut. This hut was not our destination however. We had chosen to skip the Great Walk hut and head straight to Bungaree  hut. As soon as we stepped off the Great Walk track and onto the North West Circuit I got an idea of what we were in for, it turned into one very long day. Lots of up and downs later we finally reached the hut. ‘Omg what have I done’ were the sort of thoughts that were running through my head. Lucky for us, we got some fresh blue cod from some hunters for dinner and after a hot meal I was ready to curl up in bed.

Lesson: Sitting in a box for five months doesn’t make you fit!

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Day 2:

Day two can’t be as tough as day one, surely. Wrong, so wrong. Another day of many, many up’s and down’s: in gully, out of gully, back in gully, out of gully. Packs were so heavy and my hips were complaining about the weight. Lucky the beaches were pretty and the company was good. Thanks Chris for finding us Paua for dinner, so yummy!

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Lesson: One days hiking still doesn’t make you fit. Eat more food.

Day 3: Time to eat some food! 

After a couple of tough days we decided to take a rest day and enjoy the hut and MOST importantly eat some food!!! This day we spent out on the rocks trying to catch some fish! Although we only caught Wrasse, it was a lovely day and a much needed break. Unfortunately, we did let the tide come in a little too much and had to take a rather interesting detour up the banks and bush bash back. Bonus was that we saw kakareki!  More paua for dinner too yum yum.

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Chris catching us fish

Day 4: Up, up and away. Yankee here we come. 

With a days rest, the spirit was a little renewed and the pack definitely felt lighter. It was time to go to Yankee River. A much better day than the first two. Things were looking up. Although there was still some challenging parts to the day, it was pretty good. More paua for dinner! Thanks for going for a swim Chris.

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Lunch spot! Drying damp clothes and enjoying the beach.
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Another lovely beach

Lesson: The only way is forwards, there is no way I am turning back.

Day 5: 

An easy day ahead! 4-5 hours and 8.5km. I had been looking forward to Long Harry hut, everyone we met had raved about it. Our fitness was improving and packs were getting lighter. We saw a kiwi just up the hill from Yankee hut and Long Harry lived up to my expectation. The hut was perched on a hill looking out over the beautiful bay. Chris even caught us a fish!!

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Showers as we hit the beach

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Chris with our fish!
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Long Harry

Day 6: The show must go on

Trouping on to East Ruggedy! Another pretty good day. No more showers and the most stunning view from the lookout! Even saw dolphins way down in the bay passing through! Had a cup bath outside at the end of the day so I was a little less stinky too, bonus.

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The amazing view from the lookout
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Still smiling, must be a good sign
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Chris determined to catch another fish

Day 7: No more coast huts = no more paua

This day I had been somewhat dreading. It looked long and had some substantial height gain. However, while I was very much ready to reach the hut by the end, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. We checked out a cave, saw some beautiful beaches, some incredible coastlines and enjoyed the sunshine. Highlight of the day: an amazing sunset. Big Hellfire, I don’t know where you get your name but you were a pretty cool hut!

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Me with my trusty walking stick
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A cave!
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Me dwarfed by the absolutely amazing coast
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What a way to finish the day

Day 8: We have come a long way

Mason Bay, here we come! Looking forward to reaching this hut. Great views all the way down to Little Hellfire beach. I was not too enthusiastic about the hill to get over to Masons. Bloody hills!! But we made it and the wander along Mason Bay beach was lovely. Thankfully the tide times were on our side so we didn’t have to use any of the high tide routes. At the hut we spent some time sunbathing and tried to go for a swim in the creek but it was freezing!!! I only got ankle deep. Later we went for a walk to spot some kiwi. We heard kiwi but no luck seeing them, just some possums and some very loud deer.

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View from Big Hellfire
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Masons Bay
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Walking along Mason Bay
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Almost there
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Mason Bay hut!

Day 9: 

An easy morning, no point in rushing. Todays hike was flat and only 4 hours away. The sun was shinning and although it was not the most exciting days walk it was easy.

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It’s a swamp

Day 10: The last day!! 

Again we chose to skip the great walk hut so we were in for a big day! We got a nice early start and tackled the hill, which looked like the hardest part of the day. After the hill it was just 4km around the coastline and then onto the Great Walk track. We made good time over the hill, although it started to rain and then really set in. The rain was going no where today. Unfortunately, the hill turned out to be the better part. Once we hit the coast it was this up and down business again, with roots and fallen trees as obstacles. Defiantly not my favourite part of the track. We had lunch at North Arm hut, then wet and getting cold it was time to march out. The Great Walk track was a piece of cake after coming off the North West. It felt like a highway. After it leaves the coast it’s not too exciting and we really just wanted to get out. We made good time and after a day spent in the rain we arrived on Tanya’s doorstep sopping and tired but it is amazing what a hot shower and pub meal does. Thank you so much for your kindness Tanya!!! We so appreciated it.

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A break in the rain. A little chilly at North Arm hut.

 

Overall, the track was an amazing experience! Certainly a challenge, probably mostly so because of the state of my fitness, haha fitness bootcamp! We were so very lucky with the weather having sunshine for most of the way. I think the mud was even less than usual. Thanks Chris for your encouragement and waiting for me when I was dawdling. A big thank you again Tanya for offering us a bed and ride. It was certainly an adventure!

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