One of the nine Great Walks, this loop takes you on a scenic excursion on Stewart Island. Departing from the small town of Oban, the run heads along the coasts and through lush rainforests with historic artifacts from the logging days and interesting Maori sites to visit along the way. If you are lucky, you might even hear or spot the elusive kiwi while spending the night at one of the huts or campsites.
Stewart Island can be accessed via a one hour ferry crossing of the Foveaux Strait from Bluff, and tickets can be booked online
The small town of Oban on Stewart Island has accomodations supplies, equipment and transportation as well as the official DOC visitor center where you'll have to pick up your permits/passes.
The trail can be done in either direction, and there are options to arrange for transportation via water ferry if you don't want to do the full loop.
Come prepared for rain, mud, and sand flies. If camping, be sure to hang your foot to keep it away from the inquisitive possums.
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When not too muddy, this makes for a great run. Most times be prepared to get your feet wet and muddy. If you are ambitious, you can catch the early ferry out of Bluff, run the loop, and catch the last ferry out of Oban for a full day trip!
From the ferry station in Oban, head south to the junction with Main Road. Look for the Rakiura National Park Visitor Center on the left a few buildings up; you'll want to stop here to pick up your permits and to check in with the DOC rangers for any updates before starting your journey.
Continue up Main Road, staying right at the junction with Airport Road until you come to the turn off for Kapipi Point Road
. This wide dirt road is a gentle ascent and relatively easy-going. There is a picnic table at the end of the road where you can take a breather before starting on the Rakiura Track.
From here, the track heads immediately into what feels like a jungle of ferns and dense, green forest. The start of the track is wide and well-maintained with crushed rocks to keep some of the characteristic Stewart Island mud at bay.
The trail winds gradually along the headland of North Arm, passing by Kapipi Bay and Prices Inlet where you'll get glimpses through the trees of the clear water and the shores across the inlet. The track continues through dense woods of primarily Rimu and Kāmahi trees interspersed with moss and ferns. Keep an eye open for the remnant of the mills that used to operate in the area.
The trail then turns north, passing the tidal mud flats of Sawdust Bay, where you might spot wading birds like oystercatchers at low tide. You can access the water at Sawdust Bay, making it a nice spot to stop for a break or snack. From here, the trail continues winding along the coastline until coming, first to the North Arm campsite, and finally ending at the North Arm Hut.
From North Arm Hut, the track heads east and north from Paterson Inlet, taking runners from the scenic coastline to the dense and verdant "rainforest" that makes up the interior of Stewart Island.
This amazing podocarp forest is actually in the process of regenerating from heavy logging activity although you might not be able to tell as the woods are already incredibly green, lush, and dense. On the eastern side of the track, you'll come across remnants of the logging operations, including two decaying log haulers and the old tramlines that were used to haul the massive felled trees out to the coastline.
The track itself is narrower and quieter along this section than along the coast. While you'll enjoy the morning birdsong if you run early enough, by the mid-morning to afternoon, the track becomes very quiet, and you'll enjoy a sense of solitude. You also will likely be astonished by the many shades of green as you head further into the lush inland forest. The podocarp forest is covered with a stunning variety of moss and ferns in addition to the towering native trees.
On this section of track, you'll also likely encounter another Steward Island feature—mud, and lots of it. Gaiters are recommended and in the rainy season, come prepared for mud that can be knee deep in places. The DOC has done significant work to lay plastic netting and rocks to help mitigate the muddy sections, but there will come a point where you can't really avoid it, so be ready to get a bit muddy before you are done.
As you near Wooding Bay and Port William, the track will split. Take a right toward Lee Bay Gate. The trail heads down to a suspension bridge and a short run along Wooding Bay and the beautiful golden sand of Māori Beach. At the southern end of the beach, there is a small creek that can be easily waded at low tide or crossed via a bridge at high tide.
After this creek crossing, the trail climbs up and around Peter's Point and follows the coast toward Lee Bay. There are some especially scenic coastal views from this vantage point as well as views back toward Mount Anglem to the northwest if you glance back over your shoulder. On the other side of the inlet, you'll pass the junction with the Garden Mounds Track
and continue along the coast until you come to Lee Bay and the iconic chain link sculpture that marks the northern trailhead.
From here, you have about a three mile run along the roads to return to Oban. After a short climb up a dirt road from the trailhead, take a right onto Horseshoe Bay Rd. and follow this easy paved road back to town. This last section is still scenic, and the road shoulder is wide in most places making for an easy return.
Many native birds including tuī, fantails, wood pigeons, parakeets, oystercatchers, and possibly little blue penguins. If you are really lucky, you may spot the elusive kiwi. Rimu, kamahi, ferns, and rata.