Northwest Circuit | Stewart Island, New Zealand

Distance:  125 km (77.7 mi)

Average Time: 8 or 9 days

Start / Finish:

Difficulty:  Moderate to challenging

Season:

  • Year-round
  • A winter tramp means significantly shorter daylight hours.
  • There is no strictly defined rainy season on Stewart Island. Rain seems to fall fairly consistently throughout the year. On average, 275 days per annum.

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Maps / Info :

  • Online Information: For anything and everything pertaining to the Northwest Circuit, check the DOC website (i.e. Free downloadable brochure, trail map, trekking notes, logistical details, etc.).
  • Guidebook: The Lonely Planet Hiking & Tramping in New Zealand guidebook has detailed trekking notes and a basic trail map (similar to the one on the DOC website). Also available in Kindle format.

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Route / Conditions :

  • The trail is very well marked from start to finish. The first and last sections of the route, which coincide with the Raikura Track are manicured and extensively planked. The rest of the track, although well marked, is much more challenging, largely due to the inordinate amount of mud. I kid you not, this is one seriously muddy place.

Northwest Circuit Overview Map (DOC website)

  • In regard to water, I drank straight from the streams with no problems. However, if you are worried, check with the DOC office in Oban for all the latest info on the island’s water quality.
  • The beaches on the Northwest Circuit are fantastic. If the sun is shining (or even if it’s not) go for as many swims as possible.

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Sleeping :

  • The sandflies can be ferocious, it rains a lot, and with so much mud you really want to be keeping your pack weight as light as possible. In other words, LEAVE THE TENT BEHIND. In addition, the huts on this track are uniformly fantastic (with the exception of Freshwater Hut) and rarely crowded.

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Overview :

  • If you are heading to Stewart Island to hike the Raikura Track, I would recommend rethinking your plans. Although classified as a Great Walk, it is actually pretty ordinary. The section from Lee Bay to Port William is lovely, however, the rest is over-planked, viewless, and nothing special.
  • I would recommend sucking it up, taking your time, and doing the North West Circuit. Incredible beaches, pristine coves, abundant birdlife, and did I mention the mud? It is a track you will not soon forget, and it represents the best chance you will have during your time in NZ to see a Kiwi, the country’s national symbol.
  • Upon completing the circuit, a fantastic pub and possibly the best fish n’ chips in NZ await you in Oban.

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