Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

Looking over Oban harbour

The oldest house on the Island

A cove on Stewart Island

Ulva, in blue, field guide on Ulva Island

Golden Bay Jetty

A view while walking on Stewart Island

An Oyster Catcher and chick

Lee Bay

Te Puka, the Anchorstone

The Bush Telegraph, Trunk Call

Oban township

Greendale Guest House on the right

A view across to Greendale

The view from Greendale


One night with Wensley and Roger was never going to be enough. During an evening of chat we prevailed upon them to look after our frozen food items whilst we were on Stewart Island, and to put up with us on Thursday night when we returned from Stewart Island, and on Friday after we have our windscreen replaced.

Next morning we talked far too long with Roger before getting a refill for one of our gas bottles. All now was a rush. We drove into Invercargill under Roger's direction and on the way back left him at the end of his cul-de-sac. The 19 mile drive to the port of Bluff was completed as legally fast as we dared and we would have to wait for the return trip to take in the scenery. At the wharf Sylvia leapt from the cab, reported our arrival and found out the location of the secure car park. I'm still not sure what all the fuss was about. Boarding of the boat did not take place until we had been their 5 minutes, and there was another ferry 6 hours later anyway.

The 1 hour sail across the Foveaux Strait was conducted at speed over slightly choppy water on a catamaran, and we both survived with our breakfast still inside us. Wendy, our hostess, was waiting with her car at the doc side and we were given a brief orientation lesson during the short drive to her home at Greenvale. Her brochure states, 'Greenvale provides luxurious accommodation. The property is only 50 metres from the sea, (76 long footsteps up a very steep hill), providing magnificent views of Foveaux Strait'. The brochure did not mention what a lovely and helpful woman Wendy was, and how she tried to provide everything possible to ensure we had a wonderful stay with her. We were already aware of this however, as our Scottish friends Lorna and Gary had stayed with Wendy and told us all about her; and they were right.

Stewart Island was visited by Captain Cook and he thought the island was attached to the mainland. The name he gave it was later discarded and the island was named after William Stewart. In 1809 William was aboard the 'Pegasus', sailing for Port Jackson, Australia, on a sealing expedition. While the boat was in the large south eastern harbour which now bears its name (Pegasus), William Stewart began charting the southern coast; his work is acknowledged by the Island's name. The Stewart Island National Park is known by one of the Maori names given to the island. The name Rakiura recalls glowing sunrises, sunsets, and the aurora australis, or Southern Lights. Well that's what they told us, our nights were overcast and with the opportunity for a luxurious bedroom, we were never going to see a sunrise.

Maori legend describes Stewart Island as the anchor for the rest of New Zealand, and Maori presence can be traced back to the thirteenth century. A warm current from the Australian Great Barrier Reef flows onto Stewart Island, bringing a much more diverse variety of marine creatures than would normally be found in waters of this latitude. The island is about the size of Singapore and is nearly almost National Park with a variety of walks to suite all. The inhabitants are from many nationalities and live mainly around Oban and Halfmoon Bay, or at nearby Horseshoe Bay. These bays are named the wrong way round thanks to a man who got them muddled up whilst printing an early map; it was too costly to repair the error, consequently Horseshoe Bay has a lovely half-moon shape.

Our first afternoon was spent walking to Ackers Point Lighthouse, on the way viewing the oldest building on the island and marvelling that a large family of 9 children was brought up here. On our return we visited Evening Cove, intending to follow the walk round and back to the main path. However, there were no signs at the beach and as the tide was coming in we retraced our steps across the rocks, later learning that the path had been washed away during recent storm. After a meal at a local restaurant we walked to the jetty and watched at close quarters 6 of the Little Blue Penguins, (smallest in the world), swim in from the bay and climb out of the water. Eventually one set off on his quest to scale the steep incline to his burrow. Laying almost on his tummy it was amazing to watch the penguin climb at speed. It was now 10 pm so we set off for our lovely lodgings.

Breakfast was at 7.30am because we had to be at Golden Bay jetty for 8.30. We are booked with Ulva's Tours for a tour of Ulva Island; another treat recommended by Lorna and Garry. After a great cooked meal followed by home made jams, Wendy drove us to the Bay. Although there are only 17 miles of road on the island, and some of them are gravel roads, Wendy still has to pay full road tax. Due to the hilly terrain, and the short journeys, she reckons she only gets 2 kilometres, (1 ¼ miles), per litre of fuel.

Ulva, our guide is named after the island and is a passionate and knowledgeable woman where this island is concerned. She conducts small parties to Ulva and identifies and informs on the birds and plants, history and Maori customs. There are a number of islands around Stewart Island which are now pest free but the public are not allowed on them; we are only allowed on Ulva Island which is an 'open sanctuary'. Before boarding the boat our boots were checked and we were asked if we were sure no rats were hiding in our bags. There used to be thousands of rats on Ulva Island. One pregnant female rat on Ulva could undo many years of hard work. A rat can swim up to 750 yards and usually one makes it to the island each year from an off shore boat. The poison baited traps set every 170 feet around the edge of the island have so far kept the island rat free.

After a very enjoyable and instructive time with Ulva our guide, we visited her shop and then walked the steep hill to The Lookout before walking round Golden Bay and Watercress Bay to view the islands of Faith, Hope and Charity. Our tourist map stopped at this point, however, we came upon a sign stating, 50 minute walk back to Halfmoon Bay, (you know, the one shaped like a horseshoe), or keep going 2 hours for 3 ¾ miles along a track, 'very muddy in places'. Of course we took the longer walk to Halfmoon Bay, and asked ourselves at every muddy section why we make such stupid decisions.

Tonight's evening meal was in the back of a big blue caravan eating a superb meal of Blue Cod and chips; a delicacy recommended to us before we went to Stewart Island. At 9 pm we joined Phillip and seven others at his launch. Phillip is the only person who is allowed to take parties to a part of Stewart Island where the Stewart Island Brown Kiwi can be viewed in the wild. There are now believed to be 20,000 of these Kiwi's on Stewart Island and 12 in the area where we are going. These Brown Kiwi have a far better system to ensure their young survive than the mainland kiwis do, and due to the eradication of the predators the numbers are well on the increase.

The first part of the expedition was a 35 minute sail to a bay which, due to a storm having washed away the jetty, Phillip took us in parties of up to 5, to the shore in his small boat. We then walked in single file, each with a torch for safe footing, along tracks through the bush. If we had seen 6 kiwis it would have been a good night. If we had seen none it would have been a 1 in 364 chance and tough. None were seen on our walk through the bush, eventually we arrived at a beach where after walking up and down to the crashing of the waves, we observed a young male kiwi feeding at the edge of the beach vegetation. He did not mind Phillips torch upon him and we had a good view for more than 5 minutes before he moved back into the bush. Further along we saw an older male kiwi but he decided not to hang about for the tourists. The rest of our night's effort was failure; only two kiwis had been seen and we were still thrilled. We arrived back at 1am.

Breakfast was at a later time due to our late return from our kiwi spotting. After another wonderful Stewart Island breakfast, (we had both chosen blue cod again), Wendy took us for a drive round past Horseshoe Bay to Lee Bay where a big symbolic anchor lays. On our way back we went round the back areas of Oban, finally arriving at the small but good museum where some of her ancestors are featured in the photographs. Then it was time for our last treat before getting ready for the 3.30pm ferry back to Bluff.

We had booked the 1pm tour on the Halfmoon Harbour Semi Submersible boat that cruises the harbour 3 times a day, allowing passengers an underwater view of the kelp areas and fish that live in the bay. A marine guide gave an informative commentary during the ¾ of an hour voyage. Back at Greenvale it was time to gather our belongings together, travel with Wendy back to the jetty and kiss her a fond goodbye. If you want to treat yourself, a few days stay at Wendy's home is recommended.

Our stay had been expensive but worth it. There is no running water on the island, just what the rain provides. There are no banks or ATM's and businesses prefer you to use credit cards to save the cost of cash having to be sent to the mainland. Unless created on the island, everything is more expensive due to delivery costs by boat or plane. Stewart Island is quite idyllic but not a cheap place to live.

After being greeted like long lost friends by two of the crew, (we had sailed with them on the submersible less than 2 hours before), we survived the journey back to Bluff intact. Our first task was to drive to the dizzy height of Bluff Lookout and gaze back towards Stewart Island whilst watching the ferry sail with a new set of lucky people.

About 80% of New Zealand's population live in the north island and most of them have never visited the south island, let alone Stewart Island, despite some of them having visited several other countries. What is the matter with them? They should read our blogs, look at the photographs, and wake up to what is on their doorstep.

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