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Published: October 24th 2006
Hello Mr KiwiThe third and smallest of New Zealand's three islands, is the kiwi haven of Stewart Island, a mere boat ride South of the South Island across the Foveaux Strait. The reason most people visit is for the pure wilderness of the place, the opportunity to do some cracking tramping and the added bonus of a rare spotting of a kiwi in the wild.
Okay, so this is actually a stuffed one in Invercargill's Southland Museum but we did really see a wild one on Stuey.
We spent a night in Invercargill, a last minute decision made after driving to and making an inspection of the port town of Bluff and deciding that this drab and depressing place, was not where we wanted to lay down our bags for the night. We also got the added benefit of free freshly baked bread in the hostel we stayed at.
The boat trip across from Bluff across the Foveaux Strait takes little more than an hour but for me, a sufferer of motion sickness (amongst my many ailments), it was one of the longest hours I'd endured in a long time. The sea was extremely rough and for some reason I hadn't foreseen the problem at all, so had not taken any pre-journey steps to ease my suffering (i.e. Stuggy pills). I even sat
Bluff: Stirling Point
Where Highway 1 begins - we think it is more appropriate to say "where it ends" - not a very inspiring place.
inside near the bumpier front end of the boat and didn't realise that would only exacerbate the problem further. Ten minutes into the journey and after some massive 5m waves crashed into our vessel, I started to understand the errors I'd made and staggered to the outdoor back-end of the boat, sick bag in hand. For the record, there was no vomit (I don't know how I avoided the embarrassment but I did). It did severely mess me up though and I had a pins and needle feeling across my body, limbs and a numbness to my head that wasn't making me a happy-chappy. To make matters worse, Laura found this all highly amusing! When we reached Stuey Island, I could only lie down and sleep in an attempt to recover. So came an abrupt end to Day 1.
The second day I awoke feeling much improved and after weighing up the different options for the time spent at Stuey, we settled on a two day trek from Freshwater Landing with an overnight stay at Mason's Bay - an area renowned for a large kiwi population and somewhere that offered a high probability of spotting one.
2-3 day trek from the township of Oban to the Freshwater Landing but this can be avoided (and was) by taking one of the four water taxis operating in the town from Golden Bay to the Freshwater Landing jetty. From there it was a 15km (fairly flat) tramp to the Mason's Bay DOC hut, which took us about 4hrs.
The tramp is spectacular for its isolation. There are only 250 residents of Stewart Island, even with the additional tramper-types you still know that the likelyhood is, that there isn't a human for miles around whilst attempting these walks. Through low bush, tussock covered plains, manuka lined avenues, podocarp woodland, salt marshes and marram covered dunes, we made our way towards the western coast of Stuey and Mason's Bay. Much of the trail is boggy as it follows a flat area that used to be a sea separator of the higher northern and southern ends of the islands. Some of the trail is fitted with boardwalk which elevates you to a drier level above the bogs and marsh. Even so, you can't help but get a little wet and muddy and this turns out to be the only thing that
Tommy At Sunrise
With the Pacific Ocean and a deserted 15km long beach.
tempers the tramping pace. To make matters worse it started to rain, and when I say rain I mean "piss it down" about 30mins from the hut, so we got a little drenched and what is worse, knew that such a downpour would only make the return trip that much tougher.
At Mason's Bay we were looking for Southern Tokoeka or Stewart Island Tokoeka, a breed of kiwi numbering around 20,000 in the area. These endangered and shy flightless birds are best viewed from dusk to dawn but since the rain didn't let up into the night, we like the kiwis decide to stay undercover. Four New Zealanders (I use that term and not Kiwis to make the distinction) who also tramped to Mason's that day, did brave the rain and found nothing - surprise, surprise! During the night we were all awoken by a loud repetitive shrill of a kiwi just by the hut - one of the New Zealanders jumped out of his sleeping bag to investigate but again found nothing. Laura and I vowed to get up at 5am and try for a dawn sighting. When the alarm awoke us we pulled on our gear and
headed out into the darkness and fortunately, a dry morning. A couple of hunters and two DOC guys were also staying in the lodge and advised us to look along the track between Mason's Hut and a historic homestead about 500m away. Off we went and soon realised the extent of wildlife making its merry away around us - two possums dashed past us which I can tell you is quite scarey in the dark! After walking for a few hundred metres looking left and right into the bush I suddenly spotted a blob ahead of me. I stopped only 2m away realising it was the elusive kiwi with its famous long beak. It obviously sniffed me and as I stood rigid with Laura inches behind me it approached for a closer look. Both Laura and I looked at each other smiling, it was amazing to see it so close and although you shouldn't approach these timid creatures it's fine if they approach you and that he did, having a good sniff inches away from my ankles. I was probably more scared of being pecked by him than he was of me and I flinched making him hop back before
heading off to check out Laura. She got a close look too before he hopped off with a little jump that made us both giggle, along the path. We'd come to spot kiwis and that was exactly what had happened. We chose not to find more in the knowledge that being inches away was as good as it gets and so headed back towards the bay to wait for sunrise. On the way, we bumped into the keen New Zealander who had followed us out in a last ditch attempt to find a kiwi. We told him of our lucky encounter pointing back up the track from where we'd come and to our amazement who should be hopping along behind but our tag-along kiwi! He remarked "well, this is too easy" before heading off to find a clutch of the little fellas. Not many New Zealanders have ever seen a Kiwi in the wild and so we count ourselves very lucky to have had the privilege. To anyone wanting to do the same, 5am between the Mason's Bay Hut and the historic homestead is a good bet! We then watched the sunrise around the bay before heading back to the
hut to pack up and move out.
The return back to Freshwater Landing was as expected, very wet and very tiring both physically and psychologically (it's hard walking already covered ground but even harder in shin deep water). At the Freshwater Landing Hut we met a Swedish student who was attempting the ten-day tramp around the north-western circuit of Stewart Island, a real feat of stamina and also planning (ten days of provisions in a rucksack!). Our water taxi picked us up and took us back to Oban via Ulva island where we did a quick walking tour and saw a variety of plant and bird species protected on the reserve as well as beautiful sandy bays. The next morning our boat journey back to the South Island met with dread turned out to be a much more pleasant trip with flat waters, a stuggy in the belly and an Invercargill student hitcher in tow, keeping me occupied with chat. We arrived back in Bluff, took our hitcher into town and then headed off down the coastal road for the Catlins Coast southern scenic drive...
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