No one said it would be easy and in fact the promotional blurb suggested it equated to Abel Tasman on steriods so where do I start....A 10 seater Stewart Island Airlines plane was waiting for us (Ralph, Chris, Kas, Karen, Roz, Kate and Keith) at Invercargill airport. Our Team Leader Ralph taking his role very seriously took his place in the pilot’s seat. Hold on Ralph– not sure that was the plan. Fortunately our pilot asked Ralph to move over so he could fly the plane. Off we go.
Once on Stewart Island, we launched right into it, adjusting packs, filling water and collecting gas. Karen and Kas were brilliant organisers and ensured we were all good to go. A shuttle took us to Lee Bay to start tramping. What a confident seven to share this adventure with, and those early kilometres we really enjoyed. But the day was a tough one. Starting our tramping later in the day and heavy packs made climbs and slippery declines a challenge. After that first day Kate and Keith decided to modify their itinerary to better suit themselves, leaving the surviving five to continue.
The North West Circuit offers such spectacular and unique scenery and with three avid photographers on our team so much was captured to share. It is surely a place of contrasts. On one part of the island the sea was a misty blue and round the next bay the sea was an rich emerald green. Sand was the colour of brown sugar at one beach yet light and creamy at another. There were incredible seaweed-clad rocks like we had never seen before perhaps Neptune’s dreadlocks.
The wildlife was something special too with kiwi in the wild seen in the day time and night. Deer, possums and unfortunately ferral cats were also sighted. This massive sealion was sunning himself on the sandy beach as we walked quietly by. The native birds like Kaka flew high in the trees singing out.
Annoying were the persistent sandflies and mosquitoes at lower altitudes drawing blood and leaving huge angry welts. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Ralph our bush basher and track clearer dropped his shorts to protect his thigh to knee portions. We were rather concerned about his other regions being exposed. Ralph assured us that he had them covered. Chris suggested sandflies should be marketed as an international commercial venture to reduce the numbers.
The sign of hunters was unpleasant with a dead deer hanging to mature in a fenced off area. On the seashore disappointingly we observed the pollution; multi coloured plastic fragments, fishing parahernalia- nets, rope, nylon, and rubbish.
Tramping terrain varied with undulating climbs, steep climbs, tricky muddy declines, boulders at Boulder bay, multiple river and stream crossings, sand at Lucky beach and Smokey beach and soft sand dunes. It was challenging tramping and taking regular breaks for hydration and nutrition made it manageable.
Towards the end of each day we became more tired and needed more encouragement or persuasion to keep up the pace. Right foot, left foot, breathe. Thank you Ralph. Not long to go now........ the hut is imminent- we are going to see it any minute. One of the most challenging days was when we were literally racing the tide. If we didn’t reach a certain point on the second beach at a certain time we would have to wait out six hours or attempt the high tide route which involved a scary sandstone cliff climb. We made it!
The estimated tramping times seldom equated to our actual tramping times (captured in the graph). Perhaps it was our pace or breaks. Days were long, nine and a half hours our longest.
We had packed our tents and were prepared to use them if necessary but we also had our five dollar unserviced hut tickets. Huts were not bookable and filled on a first in first served basis. Some nights the hut was really packed and on one night there were even two guests sleeping on the floor. Temperatures in the huts varied particularly when the wood burner was used. On a couple of nights temperatures on the top bunks became excessive with some exiting sleeping bags and shedding clothing. One hut had run out of water so we resorted to filling our water bottles and a big bucket from a nearby stream.
There was a real sense of community in the huts. We got to meet many international guests and of course others from New Zealand with a passion for the outdoors. Some travelled alone, some with family and some with friends. There were trampers and also hunters. A Japanese couple on honeymoon impressed us attempting to complete the circuit at pace. They left very early in the morning and on occasions skipped a hut.
In one of the huts a bright spark had attached a power switch with a sign suggesting suitable for a young lady’s hairdryer. I expect she was disappointed when nothing happened despite plugging it in. Kas had a light bulb moment finding a light bulb positioned near a signpost.
It was interesting to meet Father and son from Invercargill. Big Al ( the young son) carried most of the gear including Dad’s full bottle of Jamieson’s whiskey.
We are pleased to say there were no broken bones on this trip but just a few blisters, cuts, scratches, bruises and grazes. Karen had a NEAR MISS down a log. We learnt more about each other and a lot about ourselves, and had simply a wonderful experience.