This week the Department of Conservation celebrates the 20th anniversary of the official opening of Stewart Island’s Rakiura Track as a Great Walk, the southern-most of New Zealand’s iconic walking tracks.

Date:  20 November 2012

This week the Department of Conservation celebrates the 20th anniversary of the official opening of Stewart Island’s Rakiura Track as a Great Walk, the southern-most of New Zealand’s iconic walking tracks.

Numbering nine in total country-wide, the Great Walks draw thousands of domestic visitors and international tourists annually. Last summer, over 2700 people walked the Rakiura Track, with almost half of these being New Zealanders.

Stewart Island/Rakiura Field Centre Supervisor, Sharon Pasco, is effusive about the popularity of the Great Walk. “Over the years it’s been great to see the track develop. Since we have been included in the nation-wide booking system, lots more people have been coming to the island and enjoying walking the track.”

“It’s wonderful to see families and groups of visitors here and the big advantage is, they can do the walk at any time of year,”

Stylish new interpretation panels have been installed at the Rakiura Great Walk huts and various sites along the way. These panels offer walkers a taste of the unique history of the area and reveal how, over several centuries, rich natural resources have drawn humans here.

For over 600 years, the coastline has bustled with activity from pre-European food gathering to planned townships. The Early Maori site, Pa Whakataka, later became the location for Port William/Potirepo with its chequered history as a sealers’ base, a whaling station, an oyster fishing centre and even a failed attempt at gold prospecting. A subsequent settlement of migrants from the Shetland Isles proved unsustainable.

Trampers looking at log hauler. Photo: 90 Seconds.
Trampers looking at log hauler

At several sites along the track walkers can see evidence of the timber milling industry which thrived on the island, with relics of log haulers and steam boilers some of the more visible highlights.

However, in the early 1900s, removing timber became uneconomic and this allowed forest trees to re-establish. Nowadays, these areas of regenerating bush, along with areas of virgin podocarp forest, add to the variety of experience for visitors on the Great Walk.

More recent history includes the creation in the 1980s of what was initially known as the “link track” connecting Port William and North Arm, during the New Zealand Forest Service days. In the early nineties, this section was upgraded with many kilometres of boardwalk over the soft peaty terrain. A fresh upgrade has seen ageing and substandard boardwalk removed and the track hardened with gravel and rerouted to give access to historic sites and huts on the Great Walk extended and given a face-lift. 

Amongst those involved in the work has been a group of stalwart volunteers from the Winton Rotary Club who recently spent a week doing carpentry and painting at North Arm Hut.

Winton Rotary Club volunteers at work.
Winton Rotary Club volunteers at work

Visitor Assets Programme Manager for DOC, Dale Chittenden, is appreciative if the work of volunteers. “We really value the support of the Winton Rotary Club,” he said. “This kind of partnership is what conservation’s all about.”

Stewart Island/ Rakiura is prized for its native birdlife and along the Great Walk a huge range of bush and shoreline birds can be seen. At this time of year, walkers frequently report seeing kiwi/tokoeka, particularly close to North Arm Hut on the shores of Paterson Inlet.

To mark the anniversary, the Rakiura National Park Visitor Centre is giving away track certificates to the first 50 people to complete the walk.

This southern-most Great Walk offers visitors a unique island wilderness and historic experience that’s available year round. Bookings are available through DOC’s website, at the Rakiura National Park Visitor Centre, Stewart Island or at any DOC visitor centre.

5 star-attractions on the Rakiura Track

  • Glorious tranquillity is only a short boat ride or even shorter flight away. This is the ultimate island wilderness experience and a taste of the way New Zealand used to be. You’ll be welcomed by a cacophony of native birdsong and a warm greeting from the locals in the tiny settlement of Oban.
  • From this year-round accessible track, you can enjoy exhilarating cliff-top walking between Lee Bay and Port William with fabulous vistas of the island’s gorgeous golden beaches and rugged coastline, and the protected bays of Paterson Inlet.
  • Into history? Then you’ll find plenty here from early Maori kaika sites around Maori beach and Port William and the abandoned Shetland Islanders’ settlement to old log haulers and other relics from the sawmilling days dispersed along the track.
  • The amazing Stewart Island Kiwi/Tokoeka (unlike their cousins further north) can sometimes be seen foraging during daylight hours near the North Arm hut and campsite and can be heard calling at day’s end.
  • And who would want to miss even the slight possibility of experiencing the exquisite Southern Lights/Aurora Australis at night – or at least a gorgeous sunset at dusk?


Sharon Pasco – Programme Manager Community Relations/Field Centre Supervisor
Southern Islands Area, Department of Conservation
Phone: +64 3 2190004

See also

Rakiura Track

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