An aurora in the stars, albatross in the sky, seals on the beaches and kiwi on the trail – to see the best of the Rakiura Track, you need to know what to look for.
If you’re walking the Rakiura Track, one of the first faces you might see is Diana Morris at the Rakiura Visitor Centre. Morris has been advising trampers about what to see on the Great Walk for nearly a decade. She says what defines the track is its wild nature: coastlines, weather and wildlife.
Rakiura is the fastest growing track in the Great Walks network, with numbers more than doubling from 2748 in 2010/11 to 6663 in 2017/18.
Given its growing popularity and weather, when is the best time to visit? Morris says the track is characterised by regular rainfall year-round, but winter is quieter and more settled.
“Because the distances to walk are quite short, the shorter daylight hours during winter don’t have much of an impact,” Morris says.
Dryer weather is also not necessarily better.
“The bush always looks its best after rain, when everything is vibrant. Last year we had a really dry summer and we lost a lot of plants and it’s not good for seeing wildlife.”
As Stewart Island lies in the Roaring Forties, you can also expect wind.
“But the stormy weather also gives a chance to see the incredible albatross,” Morris notes.
Several species of albatross can be seen on the island. Stewart Island brown kiwi are also found throughout the track, including at Halfmoon Bay, while sea lions can be seen on many of the sandy beaches.
“New Zealand sea lions are a really special part of the walk – they are the rarest sea lion in the world and we’re lucky to have them hauling themselves up on local beaches, particularly Halfmoon Bay to Port William.”
Another threatened species, great white shark, also visit the island. DOC estimate about 100 great whites visit Foveaux Strait each year, but Morris says the beaches are safe to swim, provided you keep away from seal colonies.
The island is also one of the best locations to view the aurora australis, or Southern Lights. Morris says North Arm Hut is a good place to observe the aurora on the track as it looks south-west over Paterson Inlet and is far from any artificial light.
Beyond the track, visiting Stewart Island is an experience in itself – Morris recommends taking time to experience the island and nearby sites.
“I recommend planning some extra time to go to Ulva Island. It offers a fantastic glimpse of how all of Rakiura could be if it was predator free.”