Rakiura - a tale from Stewart Island.


by Nathan Fa'avae
(Owner, General Manager)

Autumn is almost over and winter will soon be upon us. I’ll admit I enjoy the four seasons and always look forward to one ending and a new one beginning. Each season has unique opportunities and from an outdoor adventure perspective they’re all spectacular in their own right. One of the great things about New Zealand is that the outdoors are accessible all year and most locations are best suited to a particular season.

For me Stewart Island is such a place. I recently enjoyed my fourth visit to the adventure wilderness paradise. I have always gone there in Autumn. What I enjoy about the Island after summer is the busy period is over, it’s quieter. There are less insects, in summer the sandflies, bumblebees and mosquitoes can become a large part of your day. The days are generally still warm and the nights are cool, making your sleeping bag an appealing place to crawl into at the end of each day. Winter in Stewart Island you ask, I’ll be skiing. Spring is the wettest season which can sometimes be hard to believe when you’re there in Autumn and it’s raining like the Genesis Flood.
This trip was tagged onto the school holidays. My eldest daughter had returned to university so my wife Jodie and other two children, Zefa (16) and Tide (14) formed the crew crossing Foveaux Strait in search of adventure.

As the ferry motored out of the shelter of Bluff the skipper announced the safety briefing through the sound system, warning passengers to expect a ‘few lumps’ in the strait, everyone I’m sure aware of the southern understatement and interpreted that correctly. He went onto to say that if you don’t travel well to sit at the rear of the boat, there was an exodus of people from the bow to the stern. That suited me fine, I backed myself to handle whatever the southern ocean had in store. I first went to the Island in 1993 with the aim of kayaking around it.

Roaring-40 weather had other ideas. I returned in 2012 for another attempt, this time getting stopped half way around by a cyclone that pinned us to a beach for over a week, ironically named Easy Harbour. I finally managed to complete the circumnavigation by sea kayak in 2017. Each trip to the Island I’d seen what the sea can whip up.


I stood near the bow looking out through the waves and fog, Stewart Island in the distance, inviting, a little menacing in the mist. I began to think about why we were going there, what we hoped to experience and what we wished to achieve.

Our plan was to complete the North West Circuit. The Department of Conservation suggested time is 9-11 days to complete the 125km circuit. We didn’t have that long. We had 6-days but after studying the map closely we were comfortable we’d have time, provided we hiked all the daylight hours. We gave ourselves a safety buffer by having sea kayaks dropped to Freshwater Hut so we could paddle the final section across Paterson Inlet, adding a nice element of variety to the trip. The kayaks had the added bonus of avoiding North Arm Hut which was closed to deal with an outbreak of bed bugs.

So why were we there?
For Jodie and I we were keen for a challenge, fairly regularly we seek out hard things to do. We believe these experiences are important development for our children too, to learn adversity, deal with hardship and discomfort, to knuckle down and persevere with what’s in front of you. But with that there needs to be achievement and reward, some greater benefit otherwise it’s simply an exercise in futility. There has to be enough fun and enjoyment to offset anything that … well ... isn’t fun. From our experience, the learning can be aided by some basic well timed facilitation, what we call teachable moments, seeking the lessons from nature (our children will probably say this is one bummer having Parents who are outdoor educators! )

We place high value on disconnection. We don’t want phone reception or wifi. We want to live simply, get up close and connect to nature. By this I mean hiking in the rain, getting blasted by wind, sheltering under trees, walking along desolate beaches, feeling the cold or the warmth from the weather and time of day. Why do we place value on it? Because it gives us all space and time, to think, to converse, to ask questions, to pose topics for discussion, to wonder. Values are often defined in the wilderness

These trips are about exploration, physically going to and seeing new places on power you have generated yourself, and mentally providing your mind stimulus to engage. Perhaps to make this point better, the alternative to being on an adventure is most likely a daily routine, the grind, the rat race, monotony - typically these are not impelling experiences or fond memories.


Ultimately I think we venture into the wilderness to grow and develop, which means you make a shift, you come out of the experience an improved version of yourself that went it.

Two significant factors in making this process complete is recovery and nutrition. Having the ability to get quality rest is vital. A warm dry sleeping bag, ground insulation, a reliable tent or a hut. Sleep.

Food is equally important. Remembering that trips into the wilderness are both physical and mental, having a healthy energy source to fuel your muscles to carry your pack up and over the terrain is needed, but also having a power supply to your brain to allow development and growth to happen. Life in many ways is a journey of self-improvement, and when you’re on that journey it’s inspiring and satisfying, purposeful. Success is measurable on these trips, you set off each morning with a goal, you work towards the goal literally step by step, interesting things are bound to happen, you reach your destination overcoming the obstacles you faced, you end your day with success. It's a basic formula but it works.

I believe beyond doubt that incredible things happen to people in the outdoors and I know the real hearty meals we’re making at Absolute Wilderness give people the healthy energy and nutrition they need to maximise their adventures.

We were walking 8-12 hours a day through all weather and a myriad of terrain, having a hot tasty meal to look forward at the end of the day was really, really good! Absolute Wilderness really real meals.

Seeing Kiwi in the wild is very special for anyone, especially New Zealanders (Kiwis). We learnt that the Stewart Island kiwi have adapted to daytime feeding because throughout summer there aren't enough hours of darkness for them to forage for food.

DAY 1 Half-moon Bay to Bungaree Hut : 18km (started 1pm)

DAY 2 Bungaree Hut to Yankee River Hut : 23.5km

DAY 3 Yankee River Hut to East Ruggedy Hut : 18km

DAY 4 East Ruggedy Hut to Big Hellfire Hut : 15km

DAY 5 Big Hellfire Hut to Freshwater Hut : 30.5km

DAY 6 Freshwater Hut to Thule Bay, Half-moon Bay 23km

While the distances each day are not that much, the terrain is very slow in places, deep mud, slippery roots, sand dunes, rocky beaches, climbing in and out of creeks.

Sea kayaking Paterson Inlet. www.seakayakstewartisland.nz

Dinner after our biggest day. We started the day at Big Hellfire Hut, hiked to Mason Bay then to Freshwater Hut, collected the sea kayaks and paddled down the Freshwater River to Paterson Inlet, finding a campsite after dark ... a fair dinkum Adventure Racing style day! We've started planning our next trip there already.

ABSOLUTE WILDERNESS STORESPECIAL!  (only while last on website)

You've made it to the end of the story so I think you deserve a treat. For the rest of May, if you buy 3 or more meals - enter the code PUDDING - and we'll throw in one of our yummy desserts with your order.