The world famous signpost at the carpark features on postcards and New Zealand tourist literature everywhere. It seems obligatory to have a photograph of yourself, family, pets, cars etc with the AA signpost as the backdrop.
The track starts from Stirling Point at the start of SH 1. Other access points are at the end of Gunpit Road (1.1 km before Stirling Point) and Flagstaff Road, 2.1 km before the start of SH 1.
The track is metalled for its entire length, with the first two sections to Lookout Point being even and suitable for wheelchairs (a few places may need help). The track is well used by locals and liberally furnished with benches. Numerous interpretation panels enliven the rich natural and human histories.
From the carpark and the return of the loop, signposted immediately on the right via the Glory Track, the wide track skirts the rocky coastline. A mix of hardy fuchsia (with papery red bark and four petalled flowers), olearia and hebes present a smooth contour over the igneous norite granite, which is the predominant rock type of the hill. Swarms of bull kelp fronds dance in the swirls of the ocean currents and black back gulls, Stewart Island shags and white fronted terns fossick for food nearby. Views out to sea show the sprinkling of islands including Dog Island, with the 36-metre high lighthouse.
After 20 minutes the second junction with the Glory Track departs on the right. The track continues to follow the coast to Lookout Point, a further 30 minutes. The views of Foveaux Strait and Stewart Island open up as you round the headland and the bulbous hummock of aptly named Lookout Point becomes obvious. The rocks were used to search for the southern right whale (amongst others) as they passed the straits on their migration routes. The lookout also has a plaque remembering the 5 people who lost their lives in a 1998 air crash in Foveaux Strait.
The track now climbs to the right along the Millennium Track, well supplemented with steps and metal to aid the 45 minute climb to the top of Bluff Hill. Initially the vegetation is a low mosaic of ‘coastal moor’, with flax, hebes and tea-tree growing close to the ground. Intermittent gorse patches have managed to invade and gain a foothold in the vegetation composition. Dense thickets of manuka form corridors through which the track passes, providing nitrogen for the soil to aid future generations of plants.
At Bluff Hill the parking area is topped with a lookout (See Bluff Hill Track). The track to Stirling Point leaves from the southern end of the carpark. This is known as the Topuni Track in honour of the dogskin/kuri cloak woven with flax that Ngai Tahu rangatira with high mana would wear. The naming celebrates the continuing spiritual importance of the area to local iwi. The 20 minute descent is relatively gentle, arriving at a junction with the Glory Track at the end of Gunpit Road. Head left, passing the gunpit and descend steeply back to Stirling Point.
Bluff Hill is open to the full fury of storms from the south and west. The vegetation zones are a response to life in this harsh environment with frequent strong winds, heavy rain, salt spray and hot summer days. The mature forest near the top of the hill is a mix of podocarps, mainly rimu, miro, Halls totara, and kamahi. In the mid layers shrubs such as the tree daisy (Olearia arborescens), five finger, kohuhu and broadleaf prevail. At the bottom of the hill, nearest to the coast are ferns including bracken fern, hard fern/piupiu, fuchsia and hebes.
Birds in the area include Southern Bullers mollymawk, sooty shearwaters and blue penguins.
Stirling Point was named after William Stirling, an English whaler who arrived at Preservation Inlet in 1830. He became the first pilot of Bluff harbour.
Dog Island, also known to local Maori as Motu-piu or ‘swinging island’, is the most conspicuous island on account of the lighthouse perched on top.. The lighthouse was designed in 1865 by J.M Balfour, an uncle of Robert Louis Stevenson. Stone was quarried on the island and the edifice was later sheathed in concrete. Ruapuke Island (roughly translated as ‘Two Hills’) had over 200 Tuhawaiki (Ngai Tahu hapu) inhabitants in 1830. Bird Island, funnily enough, was home to massive flocks of birds in early European times including the titi or muttonbird, still harvested annually in April-May and preserved by local Maori.
The Bluff Gunpit was a coastal defence camp established in 1942 and cost around £15,000 to construct. It was manned by the 142 Heavy Battery and the 11th Heavy Regiment. Buildings included gun mountings, magazines, observation post, sleeping quarters, mess rooms and stores.
South Island ▷ Southland ▷ Bluff
Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍