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Windswept wonder

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January 2022 Issue

Little Hellfire Beach, Rakiura National Park. By Sam Reindler

On Stewart Island’s North West Circuit, there’s a sense of relief in stepping onto a beach. At last, a firm footing and the opportunity for rapid progress compared to the boggy slog found inland. 

The proximity of Little Hellfire Beach to Mason Bay increases the tendency to rush towards the bigger beach and a hot brew at the hut.

But that would be a mistake. Here, track markers are washed up fishing buoys, bleached ropes and frayed nets and they signal the arrival at Little Hellfire. As far as Rakiura beaches go, this has it all: the tannin-stained and driftwood-choked creek mouth, coloured rocks, a significant dune system and community of plants including many which are threatened. 

The mānuka scrub keeps its head down against the prevailing westerly, the stunted gnarled forms enhancing the sense of remoteness of this place. 

Trampers might spot little blue penguins, a variety of gulls and, depending on the time of year, oystercatchers protective of chicks. Stewart Island kiwi roam the hills and coastal scrub, but seeing one is a matter of luck. Their footprints and peck holes in the ground are easy to spot, though. 

All of this is ample reward for delaying that hot brew at Mason Bay. 

Distance
125km
Grade
Difficult
Time
9-11 days to walk the circuit
Accom.
Multiple huts and campsites
Access
The North West Circuit starts at Halfmoon Bay