By Jennifer Ross, Community Ranger on Stewart Island/Rakiura
“Why would you do that?” is one reaction I got when I told people I had walked the Rakiura Track in one day. Others were more positive and said “well done” or some other verbal equivalent of a high five.
Why would I do that? Because my friend Claire Simpkin asked me to, it sounded like heaps of fun and it was for a good cause.
Claire came up with the Rakiura Track Challenge as part of Orphans Aid International’s “Challenge for Change” Week. She had done quite a bit of planning including looking over the maps in detail and doing training walks in Invercargill. I had been driving a car around Oban for three weeks and doing very little walking – everyone trains differently.
We decided to start very early and stuck to that plan. I picked Claire up at 6 am. It was still dark out. Claire had unfortunately left all of her amazing, pre-planned food on the ferry the night before and we were leaving to start the track too early to be able to get it. She made do with food from her host’s pantry which seemed to fuel her just fine.
We started the track at Lee Bay at 6:30 am and as we began our walk, the sun rose above the horizon and light crept over the land and sea. The birdsong was beautiful and we were the only ones on the track.
When we hit Little River the tide was so low we could easily walk the beach route. After leaving the beach and climbing the stairs we heard something in the bush on the right side of the track. We stopped, listened and looked. A flash of brown feathers appeared and Claire asked me if it was a weka. We didn’t have to wait long before a large female kiwi poked her beak out from behind a crown fern and walked toward us on the path. This was the first time Claire had seen a kiwi in the wild and what a treat to see in daylight and right on one of our Great Walk tracks. The kiwi walked toward us before skirting around us through the bush and continuing along the path. This is the second time I’ve seen a kiwi walk along the Rakiura Track and it still cracks me up.
We were buzzing with energy after that encounter! What a fantastic start to our day. Walking along Maori Beach we saw kiwi and deer prints in the sand. Shortly after the Maori Beach swing bridge we reached the turnoff to North Arm Hut. I pulled out a thermos of chai hot chocolate and Claire ate one of her salmon sandwiches. We sat and talked about the next stage of our walk as it was one we were both unsure about. I walked it two years ago and remembered it being hard. We packed up and got going.
We started calling the sections day one, two and three since most people take three days to walk the track. This got progressively more hilarious as the day continued. “Day two” had us roaming through beautiful forest filled to the brim with moss and ferns. We climbed our first real hills and walked across many helpful bridges over picturesque rivers. With good conversation and company, before we knew it we were jumping for joy at the half way buoy. This section took much less time than we had expected.
Seeing the sign to North Arm Hut stating it was five minutes away was another highlight. We stopped there for lunch and while we did try to eat outside at the picnic table built for giants, the sandflies were relentless and we decided inside would be best. We were right. After half an hour of eating, relaxing and being slightly amazed at ourselves for making it that far we set a departure time of 12:15pm and stuck to it.
Then there was “day three”. We had lost a lot of our initial enthusiasm and our legs were getting tired. We started walking in a purposeful, head down marching style and planned one small break in two hours. We took our break on a bridge over a wide stream and sat down slowly and tenderly, groaning about our knees and hips. We ate snacks, got up and walked on. And on and on and on.
I knew it wasn’t far when we reached Kaipipi but it seemed to take forever. We finally reached the Ryan’s Creek turnoff and were ten minutes away from completing our goal.
Claire and I reached Fern Gully, took a watch photo with the track sign as proof of our arrival time and collapsed. Our 30 kilometre adventure took a total of 8 hours and 45 glorious minutes. Walking the Rakiura Track in one day is long but doable and mostly enjoyable. We felt like we’d accomplished so much and ended up raising $1,050 for Orphan’s Aid International.
Thank you to everyone who supported us, whether it be through kind words of encouragement leading up to the event, hugs of congratulations after we finished, cold hard cash donations or a pickup from the end of the track.