IntroductionBackcountry walk over flat tussock wetland and mānuka country to Mason Bay which has one of the most extensive inland dune systems in the Southern Hemisphere.
15.5 km one way
Walking and tramping4 hrs one way
This track is prone to flooding in heavy rain. Flood markers are located on the track. Do not proceed if the water is above the flood marker. Turn back and return to the hut.
The track to Mason Bay begins at the Freshwater Landing near Freshwater Hut and heads inland directly through a tussock wetland. It is well marked and is easy to follow due to the mānuka shrubland that lines either side. In this area it is likely that you will see a wide variety of bird species such as bellbird/korimako, tomtit/miromiro and the Stewart Island Robin/toutouwai.
After about 3 km, the mānuka shrubland becomes thicker and the track begins to follow the swiftly flowing Scott Burn Stream. During heavy rain, this 4 km section of the track is prone to flooding and at either end of this section there are flood signs with an orange marker located 20 cm above the base of the post.
If the water is above the orange flood marker it is crucial that trampers do not proceed, as sections of this stream are prone to erosion and this will be not visible in flood waters. Instead, turn back and return the way you came.
Leaving the mānuka shrubland behind, the track begins to open up and starts to follow a short boardwalk through a wetland area. Here you begin to get your first glimpses of the extensive sand dunes that Mason Bay is so well known for.
Nearing Mason Bay, the track passes through old fences, areas of pasture and leads you to past historical relics such as the shearing shed and Island Hill Homestead. After passing the Homestead, Mason Bay Hut is located 15 minutes further down the track.
This track is part of the North West Circuit and Southern Circuit and it is accessible by walking adjoining tracks. The track between North Arm and Freshwater can be challenging, involving a significant river crossing, many steep and slippery gullies and knee-deep muddy sections.
The Freshwater Landing can be accessed by water taxi up the Freshwater River at high tide. Organise transport before you go as there is no reception once you head into the backcountry on Stewart Island.
Mason Bay beach can be accessed by plane or helicopter. You will need to contact the operators directly.
Visit the Stewart Island Website to find out more about transport options to and from this track.
Ensure you are prepared for muddy and slippery track conditions all year round.
Obtain an up-to-date weather forecast before starting the track and be well equipped for extreme weather conditions. Remember, exposure and hypothermia can affect anyone and can kill.
Stewart Island’s weather is extremely changeable and difficult to predict. Strong winds, hail and heavy rain can occur at any time of the year. Check the Rakiura National Park weather forecast – NIWA website.
Taking a personal locator beacon and/or mountain radio is strongly recommended. Personal locator beacons can be hired from the Rakiura National Park visitor centre.
Radios are not provided in the huts. Cell phone coverage is very limited and should not be relied on.
What to take
Remember to pack everything in your pack inside a plastic pack liner to keep it dry, especially your sleeping bag and clothes. Bring at least an extra day’s food with you in case you are delayed (for example, by severe weather).
Tell someone your plans
Before you go into the outdoors, tell someone your plans and leave a date and time to raise the alarm if you haven't returned. To do this, use the New Zealand Outdoors Intentions process. It is endorsed by New Zealand's search and rescue agencies and provides three simple options to tell someone you trust the details about your trip.
Mason Bay weed eradication project
The Mason Bay dune system has been recognised as internationally significant due to its size and natural patterning of flora and fauna. Mason Bay contains a number of threatened species including the creeping herb and the sand spurge. Other threatened or rare species reliant on dune system include the sand tussock, pingao, the South Island lily and tutu. Pimelea moths and are also found in dune systems.
Exotic marram grass was introduced to these systems as a tool to stabilise sand movement in the early farming era. However, since its introduction marram has invaded some of these dune systems and it is the greatest threat to other species, particularly the native sand-binding sedge, pingao.
Marram grass control began in the 1980s. This control programme and associated monitoring is of national importance and is undertaken through a joint agreement between DOC and the University of Otago Geography Department. The marram control programme usually occurs from October to April.
Mason Bay Place is a popular location to view kiwi and other wildlife in their natural habitats. Check how to interact with wildlife when you encounter them.
Respect wildlife and follow these guidelines in order to ensure their safety:
- Do not use flash photography or spotlights as kiwi are sensitive to light. Torches equipped with red filters lessen light impacts on the birds and improve your chances of seeing them.
- Keep to formed tracks at all times and do not follow or chase any wildlife. It is prohibited to touch, handle or approach a kiwi within 5 m. Keep 20 m from seals and sea lions.
- Keep noise to a minimal level to give you a better chance of hearing kiwi and their movement.
- Never surround kiwi or penguins. If a circle was drawn around the bird, less than half of it should be filled by people.
- Kiwi and other wildlife have the right of way at all times. Ensure they always have access to the safety of the bush or ocean.
- Do not feed any wildlife.
The Island Hill homestead is a living museum and great place to learn about the challenges and lives of New Zealand’s early sheep farmers. View the Mason Bay Homestead video (4 minute clip on YouTube).