|So, we’re finally on our way to the long awaited Stewart Island, which is the largest island outside of the two main islands. We had our plan to take the bus from Invercargill to Bluff (which is the southern most town at the end of the South Island) and then take the ferry (a twin hull catamaran holding probably 50 passengers) over to Stewart Island to the only town there - Oban, pop. 700. We left on a very rainy and windy day, so the ferry ride over was really rough - I mean hold a barf bag over your mouth rough! Fortunately, neither Bruce nor I got sick but a lot of other people did!! The captain estimated swells of 3-5 meters, when we hit the bottom of the swell the tops of the waves were at eye level out the window. We wanted to go to Mason Bay where we were assured that we would see lots of kiwi but because of the wrong tides, we weren’t able to take a water taxi there until the next day. So instead, we got our tramping permit and started out on our 7 mile trek to the first camping hut along the Rakiura Track. It rained almost the entire way, but more of a mist than anything, so it wasn’t too bad. We hiked through some beautiful bush, along some beaches and over a couple of swinging bridges. We hiked up and down steps - sometimes about 50 in a row!! Finally, after about four hours, we arrived at our hut. This was our first experience staying in a hut instead of a tent and it was quite an experience. The sleeping arrangements reminded me of my stay in the sorority house in college - lots of bunks with people all sleeping in the same room. Lots of snores, snorts, wheezes and noises at night and needless to say, we didn’t get too much sleep. We met some really nice Kiwi women that were trekking for about 2 weeks, all the way around the island! We decided to stay an extra day in the area of the first hut instead of continuing on. We had a wonderful day just relaxing along the beach, reading our books - exploring the area and enjoying the sun. We left the next day and hiked back to Oban. One of their claims to fame is their fresh blue cod. We ordered it once at the hotel there - delicious, and then we bought some at the general store and cooked ourselves. It was so fresh and good!!!!!!! We booked a great little cottage there, owned by a really nice German guy and his Kiwi wife, and stayed for another 3 days on the island so we could go to an amazing place called Ulva Island. It’s a tiny paradise that has been declared a bird sanctuary which is predator free. Back in the 90’s they started a program of trapping/poisoning to rid the island on non-natives, it took 4-5 years to do an island about 1 by 3 miles long. We spent the day there and saw some wonderful birds and just enjoyed this beautiful little island. The sounds alone were spectacular to hear the “normal” sounds of NZ; a lot of the forests we’ve been hiking in are deadly quiet. Accounts of early explorers mention having to shout to one another to be heard over the sounds of the forest birds. It’s amazing how committed the people are to trying to rid the islands of predators that don’t belong here that are killing the plants and birds that are indigenous to the country. Along the way we met a delightful young lady named Mia; she is staying quite a while in NZ on a work visa from Taiwan. Met her on her mini-vacation from her job as a waitress in Te Anau, this is just to let our young friends know that there's more then one way to travel the world. So, we returned to the mainland on a much calmer day and continued on our way.