Over halfway through our south island adventure, Andrew and I found ourselves driving in the rain to catch a ferry to Stewart Island. Located 30 km south of the south island, Maori legend has it that it is the anchor for the south island. The south island is the canoe for which, legend tells, Maui and his crew “caught” the north island. As our plans changed last minute, we found ourselves without accommodation until the day before. We’d called around but the few places on the island were all filled. Finally, moving up in our price range, a bed and breakfast suggested another place called Lettuce Inn. Basically an elderly couple rented their in-laws annex, and they had a vacancy for the night. The owner, Rob, said he’d pick us up from the ferry and we felt pretty special. This was some mighty fine treatment.
The ferry over was pretty nice. It was raining on the south island, but cleared up as we got to Stewart Island. The captain told us that since the young seals were learning to catch fish in the area that time of year, there were about 70 or so Great White Sharks in the area, catching their own dinners. We had our eyes peeled, but didn’t spot any.
When we arrived in Oban, the only town in Stewart Island, Rob, true to his word, picked us up. He gave us a brief tour of downtown and helped us to get situated at a visitors center with maps and an itinerary for the day. The accommodation was fairly nice, considering the expense. We had the place to ourselves, one room with many beds, we got our pick. The place had an old fashioned gas heater that we utilized later in the evening and felt very homey with all of the eclectic blankets, chairs and other bits and bobs.
At the visitors center where we first stopped, Andrew and I asked about hikes that might take 2-3 hours. The lady at the center detailed a three hour walk, and we thought it’d be a good deal to check out, it went west a bit, backtracked and then continued east past town. We followed her route west through the Fuchsia bush track up to a look out. The island was fairly vacant, not being peak vacation season and we basically had the route and area to ourselves. We heard several birds who sang lovely musical accompaniment as we took in the native bush and beautiful island. We walked to Thule Bay, and feeling pretty good and not ready to turn back yet continued on to Vaila Voe Bay where we watched some ducks. From here, we knew we needed to turn back if we were going to explore east, so we turned around and walked up and down and back to town.
Once there Andrew ordered blue cod and chips, a local favorite, while I indulged in some fantastic oysters. Not called the famous Bluff Oysters since they hadn’t passed through Bluff in the south island, they were super fresh and went delightfully with a mid-day game of pool at the local pub. Andrew promptly won the game and we set off east again.
Further along the eastward path, Andrew and I had a great lookout past Halfmoon Bay and a desolate beach and got to enjoy the company of none other than an extended family of ducks. Yup, halfway around the world and as far south as you can go and here we were, sitting on a bench like an elderly couple, feeding bits of bread to ducks. That’s us!
We continued on and got to a beach named after Andrew’s surname. Little did I know my partner’s family had a whole gorgeous beach named after them on Stewart Island! We picked up some paua shells, the shiny colorful shells from which local jewelry is made and decided where to go from here. I wanted to go to Lee Bay, where there was a statue depicting a huge anchor symbolizing the chain connecting Stewart Island, as an anchor, to the south island. After walking for several hours, a sign told us the bay wasn’t for another 4 km, and if the walk so far was any indication, it’d be hilly, really hilly. Well, why not we said! Our calves would regret that later.
On, and on, and on we walked, stepping on dried out crab shells, listening to them crunch on the sandy beaches, we finally arrived in Lee Bay, at the start of the Rakiura Track, another of New Zealand’s great walks. We saw the huge chain which “connected” to the south island and enjoyed the serene quiet of the island and native bush.
On the way back, it began to rain. And it rained and rained and rained on and off the entire way back. By the time we neared town center, we were exhausted. We grabbed some things at the local grocery and went home to put our feet up and heat up dinner. When we got back to our accommodation we saw a bunch of kaka’s in the tree outside. Intrigued, we stopped to watch. Our host, Rob, saw us and came out with a bucket of peanuts. The kaka’s came out in heaps and even ate peanuts out of Andrew’s hand! Aww!
After dinner, Andrew and I wanted to head out and see if we couldn’t spot a kiwi. We knew we had to wait until after dark, but an hour or so after night fell, it began to rain again. No big deal, we were tough! We threw on our jackets and set off towards a golf course where Rob said we’d have a decent chance of spotting kiwi. It rained harder and harder as we left town, and got darker and darker until we could only see where our flashlight (or torch as they say in NZ) revealed. I heard a rustling along the path we took, and may have seen a kiwi, but it just as easily could have been another bird, a rat or any other creature as it was so dark I barely got a look at it. Not satisfied with what might have been a glimpse of a kiwi, we continued on the dark, wet path. As we neared the golf course it was pitch black with the clouds obscuring every last star and it began to pour as if the heavens were taking a piss. It was raining so hard the raindrops were bouncing up as they hit the ground and we were getting drenched from every direction. Despite our desire to find a kiwi, we decided the battle was over and we headed the half an hour back into town and back to our quarters to dry out and warm up.
While we were disappointed at not seeing a kiwi, we enjoyed our stay on the island. It was a nice, slower change of pace, and not having a car, we got a nice, long walk in. When we got back to Bluff the next morning, we found the anchor attached to the “canoe” that was the south island and then drove up to a lookout. We grabbed some yummy pies, and decent coffee and set off along the Southern Scenic Route back along the east coast past Dunedin to Oamarau, where we stopped for the night. Andrew and I are glad we tried to find a kiwi, and it was really the adventure that counts.
Kiwis, 1: Andrew and Julie, 0