The North West Circuit on Stewart Island

lonely beach

125 km of breathtaking beaches, unique huts and stunning views over the ocean. 10 days of muddy feet, rocks&roots, tears of joy and pain: Last week I finished the North West Circuit on Stewart Island – the third largest island of New Zealand. As I learnt in the pub quiz in Oban, 85% of Stewart Island are claimed as nationalpark. I open my island-diary for you trying to express the intensity of this experience. When I browse the pictures of my trip around the northern part of Stewart Island, I can hardly believe all these sublime places crossed my path. Just see yourself!

mud walk
Track between Freshwater Hut and North Arm Hut.

Day 1 – Bungaree Hut, around 6 pm

I thought I’m prepared for everything: raincoat, gaiters, food. Nope. I’m not prepared for this: Stunning beaches, peaceful fern-framed trails, blue skies. Of course it is just the beginning of a long, exhausting tramp. But even if my hips are hurting already, I know that every strain rewards. After seven hours I reached my first destination – Bungaree Hut.

stunning beach.JPG

What should I say? I can hardly describe, what I just experienced. This place took my breath. 18 km of concrete and mud payed off within one second. The moment, when the rainforest cleared and the rough track turned into a walk on the most beautiful beach I could imagine. It knocked me out. 

lonely beach
This moment, when you realise, you’re having the time of your life right now.
bungaree hut
At Bungaree Hut.

Day 2 – On the way to Christmas Village Hut, 11:20 am

I’m standing in the middle of the rainforest. Sweat is rinsing from my forehead and drops on a fern leaf to my feet. The weight of my backpack is dragging at my shoulders. My hips are hurting. I lift my head – the next slippery ascent through the muggy forest is in front of me. I’m standing. One minute. Two minutes. Maybe five minutes. Behind the chirping of the crickets and the singing of the birds I hear the waves of the Pacific Ocean. Strong and calm they are breaking. More than ever I know why I am doing this.

through the rainforest
On the way to Christmas Village Hut – crawl through rainforest.

Day 3 – Christmas Village Hut, 6:48 am

The ocean is orange. My shoulders are burning too. I have to go on.

sunrise christmas village
Sunrise at Christmas Village Hut.

Still Day 3 – Yankee River Hut, 5:46 pm

How am I? A good sleep and a big breakfast with oats and nuts are half the battle. During the day I ate one muesli bar, two slices of bread and 15g of jam. Ah, and one small piece of cheese I left over. Now I’m having around 150g of couscous with a small can of tuna. To sum up: The first days were luxury. This trip exceeds my expectations by far. But I know, that I finished only one third of the whole journey.

riverbed
Yankee River.

Slowly I’m starting to understand, what relaxation is. The fresh sea breeze blows my thoughts away. For the first time on this track I’m loosing time and space completely. Eight days to go in paradise.

beach selfie
Selfie near Yankee River Hut.

“The sound of the ocean – This is, what relaxes me. The waves are vigorous but reposing. The ocean transmits a unique energy. With every breath I take, I absorb this energy.”

Day 4 – Long Harry Hut, 10:30 pm

The party is over. Today it started to rain heavily in paradise. I’m starting to worry about the next upcoming hard days. Completely wet and starving I reached Long Harry Hut. Luckily I met these four hunters straight from heaven. They pretty much saved my life. They shared their delicious stew with me – sausages, lamb, carrots, onions, peas. Alongside they served cooked potatos and as a dessert homemade carrotcake.  After the rescue operation in Westport it was probably my second luckiest day in New Zealand. That is all part of my Stewart Island experience. 😉 THANK YOU. <3

smokey beach
Smokey Beach lives up to its name.

Day 5 – East Ruggedy Hut, 3:50 pm

Amazing walk – more than happy! I can’t believe, how lucky I am. Even if I’m starving, I’m looking forward to spend five more days walking this beautiful island. AND: I saw two kiwis right before I reached the lookout point. The highlight after this remarkable event was the coffee with Omri, a hiker I met at the hut. (He has a nice beard.)

rocky beach on stewart island
Rocky Beach – A revelation after all the mud.
rugged ruggedy beach
Ruggedy Islands and East Ruggedy Beach. East Ruggedy Hut is located behind the sand dunes.

Day 6 West Ruggedy Beach, about 9:46 am

Heavy clouds are hanging over the ocean waiting to release the rain. The waves whipping furious over the bone-strewn beach. The end of the track is still far off.

plastic beach
Rubbish on the beach. This is the Westcoast of the island now.

Still day 6 – Big Hellfire Hut, 8:10 pm

This day was probably the hardest of the whole journey. I didn’t even make it to the lookout point. Slowly I’m starting to understand, why this track is anything but recommendable. You want to do the North West Circuit off season? Just don’t. There is no point. No pleasure. Concerning the DOC brochure: What you call a steady climb is an up and down – nonstop. Okay, I can’t write at the moment, so I leave it like this.

life buoy at hut
Life buoy at Big Hellfire Hut.

Day 7 – Mason Bay, 3:37 pm

I didn’t reach the hut yet, but I have to capture this moment. The ocean whips. The clouds chasing each other. Not quite without getting wet, I passed the narrow part at the sandy high coast – one of the risky parts of the track. (Fortunately I catched up the low tide and didn’t have to take the high tide route.) The cloud cover breaks and I break out in tears. I can’t believe, what I accomplished the last seven days. This moment rewards every fall, every mud hole of the last week. I am so happy, that I did it. I listened to my intuition and obviously, I knew that this place will render me tranquility and gratification. I feel so small in front of the ocean. At the same time I never felt that united with nature.

stoney beach
Mason Bay Beach.

Day 8 – Freshwater Hut, 5:08 pm

This morning my motivation hit the bottom. After I left the beach and reached Mason Bay Hut, I fell into a dark hole. Again plagued by the fear of starvation to death, haha. Anyhow – I don’t know how I feel. But I think this is, how it feels, when you are starting to reach your physical limits and it starts to effect your psyche. After being high yesterday on the beach, I’m completely done since I arrived Mason Bay Hut. I could hardly sleep, because I racked my brain. Why? Because I couldn’t stop thinking about all and nothing. I can’t find a solution, a remedy for my non-existent problems. I want to plan everything, but leave all doors open. That doesn’t work out. What’s the opposite of my approach? Plan nothing and do not have any options? Planning nothing and pushing it to the limit? Maybe I have to keep walking. At least I feel that my brain slowly shuts down or more precisely it focuses on the essential things (eat, walk, sleep).

hut book
Hut book at Freshwater Hut.

Back to reality: My washing session with warm water made a big difference. Patricia commented: “ You look so much brighter than after your arrival.”, “How did I look like?”. More than convincing she answered: “Desperate!”. And yes, I was. Yesterday I cried for joy, today for desperation – however, if only briefly. Yesterday I felt relieved from the exertions, the lows and highs of the last days. Today I also felt relieved in some kind of way: It become clear, that I cant change the path, but the path changes me.

Day 9 – North Arm Hut, 4 pm

After the lowest low of the whole trip yesterday, I started very early and motivated this morning. I’m not sure if Patricia, Maria and Nathan or the suspicious french guy, who I shared the first hour of today’s walk with, motivated me. For sure both encounters were inspiring. Patricia is Maria’s mum. She suffered from breast cancer. After overcoming the disease, she walked the North West Circuit with her daughter. In spring. Heavy rainfalls let the creeks swell up to torrential rivers. Beyond that a big storm turned the hike into a torture. This story assured me again, how lucky I was. I had only two days of real rain. The other days I had a lot of sunshine, strong wind and some showers. It was just perfect. Besides the East Ruggedy to Big Hellfire and Mason Bay to Freshwater parts, I was in a positive mood.

muddy feed
“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are mud.” Unknown Author

I’m so proud, that I did it all by myself – with my own feet, shoulders, legs and knees. It feels like I have overcome a huge obstacle. I learnt a lot, about how I’m overcomplicating things by boundless underestimating my own abilities. I’m sure I can surmount bigger hurdles, if I stop beating myself down.

north arm sunset
North Arm, Great walk area.

To be fair – without the hunters Jeff, Mike 1+2 and Tony, Pia and Sarah as well as Patricia, Maria and Nathan and of course Omri, who shared food and experiences with me, the trip wouldn’t be as enjoyable as it was. (Unfortunately I don’t have a single picture of these lovely people.)

rainforest selfie
In the woods of Stewart Island.

What else did I learn?

There are two kinds of people, who walk through mud voluntarily. One fall on their knees into the mud, stand up immediately and go on. The other ones fall, stand up, look around and start analysing: What did I do wrong? Did I eat enough? Am I not focused enough? Instead of moving on, every detail is being analysed. Doubts are raising, if the own skills are sufficient to finish the track. It hinders the progress tremendously. It is obvious, which type I am. I over-analyse instead of proceeding. I’m tiptoeing instead of breaking forth. I could be a good hunter. What else? Maybe a risk manager. Who knows…

Day 10 – Oban township, DOC Visitor Center

No words necessary.

visitor center oban
In front of the DOC Visitor Center in Oban after the hike.

The race is long, in the end it’s only against yourself.”

Unknown Author

 

7 Comments

  1. Wow, so much to experience, learn and feel in “just” a 10-days walk …
    It’s all about the track we choose and the people we meet along the track, is not it?
    Awesome photos, honest and refreshing thoughts. Thx for sharing!

    1. Hey, thanks for sharing your thoughts! Yeah, there are things to learn and to discover every single day I guess – not only during a long walk. Yes, the track and the people we meet along inspire us and change us. Save travels! Uli

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