Mason Bay, Stewart Island. © Great South

The Rakiura Track: beauty in isolation

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Tucked away on New Zealand’s third island, Stewart Island Rakiura, the Rakiura Track is a great opportunity for an island adventure.

Diverse native birdsong, lush forest, relics of bygone days, beaches and rugged coastlines are all features of this year-round Great Walk. After each day’s hiking, you can relax and unwind in splendid isolation.

Rakiura, the Māori name for Stewart Island, translates as ‘land of glowing skies’, and probably refers as much to the night-time displays of aurora australis, the Southern Lights, as to the island’s spectacular sunsets. The island is also known as Te Puka a te Waka a Māui, The Anchor of Māui’s Canoe, and a chain-link sculpture at Lee Bay reflects this story. The island takes its more recent European name from William Stewart, an officer of the sealing vessel Pegasus, who compiled the first detailed chart of the southern coast.

The Rakiura Track is a 32-km loop and takes three days to walk. The circuit follows open coastline, crosses forested interior and meanders along the sheltered shores of Paterson Inlet. It passes sites of historical interest and introduces many of the common sea and forest birds of the island.

The track takes walkers through mainly rimu and kāmahi forest with a rich diversity of tree ferns, ground ferns and perching orchids. Rata is more common at higher altitudes.

Along the coast, keen birdwatchers should look out for mutton birds tītī (sooty shearwaters), shags, Buller’s mollymawks, cape pigeons and little blue penguins. In the forest, walkers may see and hear bellbirds, tūī, fantails, parakeets, shining cuckoos, and wood pigeons, grey warblers, kākā and tomtits. You can also listen out for the Rakiura tokoeka kiwi calling, or look for its footprint.

The tidal flats of Paterson Inlet host a variety of wading birds, including the New Zealand dotterel, oystercatchers, herons and godwits.

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