|Early start and drive down to port at (Dead Man’s) Bluff to catch the ferry across the Foveaux Straight to Rakiura (Stewart Island). Sea kindly decides to be calm, as the 1 hour crossing is often very rough. Muttonbirds (Titi in Maori) a-plenty ! These are actually Sooty Shearwaters and possess amazing low level navigation skills, skimming the water between waves in search of food. They are also very fast, keeping up with the massive engines of the catamaran ferry and regularly cover vast distances (they have been measured to average 1000 km per day !) An interesting fact about the Titi is that they have always been an important source of food for Maori who ‘harvest’ them every autumn when they are nesting (and still do) on a remote island – we are assured this is sustainable.
The main settlement of the island is Oban. There are only 380 permanent inhabitants of the island and 14km of road, so we were surprised to be picked up by our motel (yes, motel !) manager and given a ‘technical tour’ of the town to help us to orient to all that is to be seen before being conveyed to the motel which is all of 5 mins walk from the ferry !
Our room had a verandah with a decent view, and this was regularly visited by interesting birds. The native species have not yet learnt to fear man, as NZ had no mammals until the Maori came along – this has been their undoing. Our first expedition was to Ulva, a small island which had been rid of pests like deer and rats (brought by Maori from Polynesia not by Europeans for a change). Our guide was actually the forester who eradicated the deer 42 years ago and who introduced kiwi back to the island (an action of which he is not proud as he had not realised that they mate for life and so when not capturing and transporting pairs, he was actually causing a lot of grief). We had a fantastic half day walking around, watching the rare birds and being taught about the trees, orchids, ferns and how to effectively poison unwanted animals. The Robins were really cute (and fat !) as they come right up to you and if you scuff the ground they leap in to eat any disturbed insects.
Unfortunately the island has a problem at the moment as the rats are back, and the authorities are planning how to send them packing again.
Blue cod for dinner (yummy) and a few drinks with a couple of Ozzies from Newcastle.
Next day we did a long walk around the coast. Beautiful and varied. Ferry back in the evening was not so calm, but exciting and we were followed for miles by a band of Buller’s Mollymawks (a kind of small (relative term – they are still pretty big) albatross with a big frown and snazzy beak). These are even faster than the Muttonbirds and could give the ferry a head start and still glide past ! Stayed the night with Dallas and Janice again to share our experiences and find out what we had missed !