Away to Stewart Island on a Wing and a Prayer


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Oceania » New Zealand » South Island » Stewart Island » Oban
May 4th 2021
Published: May 7th 2021
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Waking this morning in Invercargill we had hoped, when we pulled the curtains, to find clear skies and light winds for our short flight to Stewart Island.However, it is not to be, with dark skies in the west and a steady breeze blowing.

We opted for a plane ride to Stewart Island as our memory of watching a ferry leaving Bluff pitching and rolling in heavy seas was enough to put us off travelling by ferry on this route for life. As we have discovered there is not a huge difference in the price of the airfare compared to the ferry and so we thought 15 minutes of terror is better than one hour plus plus of rockin’ and rollin’ across the strait.

We had a bit of time to fill in before check in for the 1pm flight we are booked on so thought a bit of a tiki tour of Invercargill was in order to try and get a fix on this very flat city.

Having checked out what was to the east of the city we travelled back via the impressive Southland Stadium, well known for the Southern Steel netball team and also Rugby Park, the home of the Southland Stags both iconic teams in their respective sports codes.

The city boasts a sizeable green area of over 200 acres called Queens Park which has a large number of different public facilities and is deemed a tourist attraction by the local city council. The park was part of the 1856 plan laid out for the city and has endured ever since. Being flat we guess the city has never been short of land to develop as the population increased over the years and this has resulted in the council’s ability to retain this large green space as originally intended for the benefit of the residents and tourists.

We visited just a small part of it and took a stroll around a small free zoo to pass a bit of time.

As the morning came to an end we took the road to the airport which is just a couple of kilometres from downtown Invercargill and would probably have to be able to boast as the city with the closest airport to the downtown area of the city.

As we waited for our flight to depart rain clouds rolled in across the airport and we wondered what it was going to be like in the 9 seater Britten-Norman Island aeroplane which we understood would scoot across the strait at around 1200 feet above what we guessed would be a building sea with waves as the westerly wind had also picked up.

After what seemed like an age an announcement was made for the passengers to Stewart Island to proceed to Gate 1 and we lined up with our fellow 7 other travellers plus the pilot who then proceeded to escort us out to the small plane. We were both a bit relieved to see that the aeroplane did have 2 engines.

Once we reached the plane the pilot split us into 2 groups, one to board on the left and the other group on the right. As the airline website said, every passenger has a window, the website though didn’t say just how squeezed in a passenger may feel if your fellow travellers were ‘big’ people!

Light rain was still falling as we taxied out to the main runway and with a quick turn at the end the pilot gave the twin engines the throttle and we sped off down the runway lifting gently into the air.

With a slight turn to the left we were soon at cruising altitude and as we were below the cloud level and the rain had stopped the view down at the landscape was quite amazing as you could pick features out on the ground that you wouldn’t normally see when you are flying in a bigger aircraft as they cruise at a much higher altitude.

Of course it was only going to take 15 minutes to get to Stewart Island so there wasn’t a lot of time to climb any higher.

As we crossed the strait our thoughts were confirmed that we had made the right choice to fly rather than the ferry as the sea below looked rough with whitecaps rolling along in the westerly wind.

Before we knew it Stewart Island was below us and the pilot made a right hand turn that enabled us to see Half Moon Bay slightly ahead and then the runway was ahead of us and we were landing safe and sound. We hadn’t needed the ‘prayer ‘on what had been a very enjoyable flight to New Zealand’s third largest island and somewhere that had been on our bucket list for more years than we could recall.

There were showers passing over as we piled into a van to be taken down to the village of Oban from the landing strip on the top of the hill above the bay.

With overnight bag in hand and our two back packs we headed off across the small bay and up Church Hill to our accommodation for the next 3 nights at Rose Cottage.

The cottage is your quintessential Kiwi bach and on first inspection looked like it had all we will want to keep us comfortable.

The view from the small deck is expansive with about 80% of the bay visible to us with just the town area and wharf beneath us out of our view.

After settling in we strolled back down the short but steep street to the Four Square supermarket for essential supplies such as wine,fruit,yogurt etc.The supermarket was very well stocked and surprisingly the prices didn’t seem much different, if at all, to what you might expect to pay on the mainland.

While down at the bay we called into the Real Journeys building and booked two trips to get a sense of what the village and bays are all about on a short bus trip that will incorporate some history and then later in the day a boat trip in the early evening that will include Kiwi spotting on a beach at the approach to Patterson Inlet the next large bay next to Half Moon Bay.

We have been settling into a bit of a routine with watching the full episode of The Chase at ‘wine time ‘and then backing that up with the first segment of the news before heading out for dinner, when we haven’t cooked in. And tonight would be no different.

The upmarket Church Hill Restaurant, just 3 doors away, was closed for the season so the only choice for dining out was the South Seas Hotel and that is where we made for hoping that at least for one of us that Bluff oysters would be on the menu.

There are 2 options of where you can dine, either in the restaurant, if there is room, or in the pub. Either way the menu is the same and so are the prices of drinks.

Tonight there was room in the restaurant for us but unfortunately no oysters on the menu. The waitress was a bit unsure why oysters didn’t feature.

Gretchen was tempted by 2 crayfish tails for $50 but in the end opted for Blue Cod as I did. Perhaps oysters might appear over the next 2 days.

With the sky cleared away the starlight sky was amazing with the Southern Cross in amongst a multitude of other stars. At home the Southern Cross is usually easy to pick out as there is too much light to showpiece all the others we could see from our stroll up the hill in the complete darkness.

So our day of adventure and travel had come to an end and tomorrow we are set to take on the two trips we have booked.

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