Mt. Rakeahua and Mason Bay

Image: Jake Osborne | Creative Commons

Introduction

Stewart Island/Rakiura's Southern Circuit Track is a remote, challenging tramp and requires good fitness, route-finding skills and backcountry experience.

Track overview

71.5 km loop

Walking and tramping

4 - 6 days round trip from Freshwater landing Advanced: Tramping track

Dog access

No dogs

About this track

Track description

The track traverses the low-lying Freshwater and Rakeahua Valleys, then heads across to Doughboy and Mason Bay.

The easiest way to start and finish the Southern Circuit is to arrange a water-taxi pick-up or drop-off at Freshwater Landing, Freds Camp or Rakeahua Hut. This allows you to avoid some of the sections most prone to flooding. You can also walk the circuit to and from Halfmoon Bay/Oban but need to allow another 2–4 days to complete it.

During heavy rain flooding is likely in low lying areas. Caution is required especially in the Rakeahua and Freshwater valleys.

The track crosses the swampy freshwater valley.
The track crosses wetlands in the Freshwater and Rakeahua valleys

Halfmoon Bay to North Arm Hut

Time: 5 hr
Distance: 12 km

From Rakiura National Park Visitor Centre, turn left and follow Main Road. Turn right along Kaipipi Road until reaching the sign marking the start of Ryan's Creek, Fern Gully, Kaipipi Bay and North Arm tracks. Continue until just before Kaipipi Bay. The track to North Arm is signposted on the right.

North Arm Hut

North Arm to Freshwater Hut

Time: 6–7 hr
Distance: 11 km

freshwater to freds camp. Photo: B Mudie.
These sections are prone to flooding after heavy rain

This section of track is steep and often slippery, crossing over Thompson Ridge. During periods of heavy rain, some creeks on this track may become impassable.

Freshwater Hut

Freshwater Hut to Freds Camp Hut

Time: 5 hr
Distance: 10 km

The track starts directly opposite Freshwater Hut and travels down the swampy Freshwater valley to Tolson River – this areais prone to flooding. After crossing the river by swing bridge thetrack enters the forest, traversing undulating country to FredsCamp Hut (10 bunks).

Freds Camp Hut to Rakeahua Hut

Time: 5 hr
Distance: 12 km

SW Arm from Doughboy hill. Photo B.Dobbins.
South West Arm from the top of Doughboy hill

The track follows close to the shore of Paterson Inlet’s South West Arm and then the banks of the Rakeahua River. Rakeahua Hut is about 3 km upstream from the mouth. Note: After heavy rain the area near Rakeahua Hut is prone to flooding

Rakeahua Hut

Side trip: Mt Rakeahua

Time: 5 hr return
Distance: 9 km

The track climbs through forest and subalpine scrubland to a rocky summit with great views. The track is marked by poles above the bush line.

Rakeahua Hut to Doughboy Bay Hut

Time: 8 hr
Distance: 16 km

Doughboy at last. Photo: Gary Cocker
Doughboy Bay

The track climbs gradually up the Rakeahua valley – after heavy rain the early part of this track becomes waist deep in water. The track continues through forest, semi-open scrubland and bog fields, then steeply descends into Doughboy Bay. An hut is at the north end of the beach.

Doughboy Bay Hut

Doughboy Bay Hut to Mason Bay Hut

Time: 6 - 7 hr
Distance: 18 km

The track climbs steeply up Adams Hill and across the swampy summit before descending through forest to Cavalier Creek on Mason Bay. Walk north along the beach to Duck Creek. The track to Mason Bay Hut is marked by buoys attached to a pole.

Mason Bay Hut

The track runs along beautiful Mason Bay. Photo: Gary Cocker.
The track route runs along Mason Bay

Mason Bay Hut to Freshwater Hut

Time: 3–4 hr
Distance: 15.5 km

Follow the track to the Island Hill homestead and then over flat tussock and mānuka country to Freshwater River and Freshwater Hut. Note: This track is often flooded during periods of heavy rain.

Freshwater Hut

Side trip: Rocky Mountain Track

Time: 3 hr return
Distance: 5 km

A climb from behind the Freshwater Hut, through forest andsubalpine scrubland to rock outcrops, gives panoramic viewsover the Freshwater Flats and Paterson inlet.

Freshwater Hut to North Arm Hut

Time: 6–7 hr
Distance: 11 km

This section of track is steep and often slippery. It crosses overThompson Ridge to the North Arm of Paterson Inlet. North Arm has a Great Walk hut and campsite. Note: During periods of heavy rain, some creeks on this track may become impassable.

North Arm Hut to Halfmoon Bay

Time: 5 hr
Distance: 12 km

The track traverses above North Arm to Sawdust Bay. From the former sawmill site the track cuts across a low headland to reach Kidney Fern Arm in Prices Inlet, and continues through forest for another hour before emerging at Kaipipi Bay. From there it follows the former Kaipipi Road to Halfmoon Bay.

Know before you go

What to expect

Track surfaces are varied and involve long sections of mud that can be knee-deep and thick, regardless of the season. Some sections of track are prone to flooding.

Keep to the tracks as valleys are steep and the bush is dense.

Beach access can be difficult when tides are high and seas are rough – if necessary, wait for low tide.

Weather

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. Earthquakes and associated tsunamis are a possibility.

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.

Communication

Radios are not provided in any of the huts. Cell phone coverage is very limited and should not be relied on.

Taking a personal locator beacon and/or mountain radio is strongly recommended.

Cooking porridge at Bungaree.
Cooking porridge outside Bungaree hut

Huts and hut tickets

All backcountry huts on the North West Circuit Track require Backcountry Hut Tickets or an Backcountry Hut Pass. Read more about Backcountry Hut Tickets and Passes

Trampers planning on staying at any of the Great Walk huts and campsites while walking the North West Circuit Track must make a booking prior to departure.

What to take

The following gear is essential, no matter how warm it is on the day of departure. Remember to pack everything in your pack inside a plastic pack liner to keep it dry, especially your sleeping bag and clothes.

  • At least two complete sets of clothing – one set to walk in and another to change into at the hut if necessary (it is not possible to dry clothes at the huts). Note: Cotton clothing like jeans, T-shirts and sweatshirts is not suitable; polypropylene, which is quick drying (but can be flammable), is recommended.
  • Boots – comfortable and broken in
  • Mittens/gloves – wool or polypropylene
  • Woollen hat/balaclava and sun hat
  • Raincoat – waterproof and windproof, with hood
  • Overtrousers – waterproof and windproof
  • Gaiters (optional but recommended)
  • Extra socks, underwear, shirt/lightweight jersey (depending on length of trip)
  • Food – lightweight and high in energy value. Take all you need for the entire trip – once you leave Halfmoon Bay there is nowhere to buy more
  • Sleeping bag – good qualitydown or hollofil
  • Portable stove and fuel
  • Cooking, drinking and eating utensils, pot scrub and tea towel
  • Drink bottle
  • Matches/lighter, in waterproof container
  • Candles and torch – include spare batteries and bulb
  • Toiletries – including toilet paper
  • First aid kit – including insect repellent and sunscreen
  • Topographical map and compassor GPS – note that thick forest cover can interfere with GPS signal
  • Survival kit – include survival blanket, whistle, paper and pencil,spare food
  • Personal locator beacon and/or mountain radio (optional but strongly recommended)

Tell someone

Before you go into the outdoors, tell someone your plans and leave a date to raise the alarm if you haven't returned. To do this, use the New Zealand Outdoors Intentions process on the AdventureSmart website. 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.

Contacts

Rakiura National Park Visitor Centre
Phone:   +64 3 219 0009
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Email:   stewartisland@doc.govt.nz
Address:   15 Main Road
Oban
Stewart Island 9818
Postal Address:   PO Box 3
Stewart Island 9846
Back to top