It is Blowing a Stormforce Gale in Oban,Stewart Island

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Oceania » New Zealand » South Island » Stewart Island » Oban
May 5th 2021
Published: May 9th 2021
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We went to bed last night with a starlight sky and calm conditions.

At sometime in the dark night all that changed with wind that sounded of storm force speed.

The ‘Kiwi’ bach held together although at times as the wind howled we wondered whether we might have to go to the bottom of the cliff over the path up from the village to pick up what might have been left of it.

The wind abated a bit when the sun rose and looking out from the deck of the bach the water on the bay below was being flattened out by the stiff breeze blowing over it.

One can understand why the early settlers opted to set up their community where they did towards the eastern end of the island. After all we are in the middle of the roaring 40’s and generally the wind comes from only one direction, the west. So the village of Oban facing generally east is quite sheltered being below the hills that stretch up from the small flat area where around half the population live.

We have two trips planned for today.

First up is a 1 ½ hr bus ride around the village and surrounding roads where we are promised great views and lots of history to give us a good background on being a ‘Stewart Islander’. It seems to us even after only a short time here that it would take a special person to adapt and live here for although you are not too far from Invercargill on the mainland, you can feel isolated especially when the weather kicks off like during the night.

We wandered down the hill to meet up with around 20 others also booked for the bus trip and as you get with a diverse group of people almost every couple had a story to share about the wind during the night and how their voyage on the ferry or flight on the Britten Norman Islander had gone. And that included the last 3 people to board who had arrived in on the ferry that should have arrived at 10.45am but was over half an hour late having to take ‘the scenic route’ due to very rough seas in the strait. It was clear from their conversation that they were pleased they weren’t just here for the day and having to return on the afternoon ferry to Bluff.

The water in the harbour was quite calm compared to what was picking up further out in the bay and was going to be interesting to take a look at the Paterson Inlet from Observation Hill as it was far more exposed than Half Moon Bay.

There are around 27km of roads on the NZ third largest island so you can tell most of the island is only for hikers if you want to get further out of town.

Our driver Grace was very informative about the village and its services including the local policeman who is on his own to uphold the law. Much of his time is given over to search and rescue and making sure the road code is adhered to and that vehicles are roadworthy and have current warrants of fitness.

We passed the local rugby ground where the only match each year is in February between Pakeha and Maori with Grace joking that if the team you were playing for was behind at half time you could always switch sides because most of the local residents have a bit of Maori blood as well as Pakeha.

Up the hill to the highest point around the village and we got off to take in the view over Paterson Inlet at Observation Rock. As expected the wind was howling up here while down on the inlet the seas were churned up in the gale westerly.

Paterson Inlet was named for the Governor of NSW, Australia although he never visited here. Stewart Island however was name for William Stewart, first officer on the Pegasus which sailed here in 1809 and Stewart chartered part of the island.Capt Cook did sail by in 1770 but thought that the island was part of the mainland and therefore did not chart what he saw as a separate island separated by a strait Perhaps he had been here in the same type of gale force winds we were experiencing and did not try to venture into the strait.

Heading around to the southern side of Half Moon Bay, which we have a grand view of from our bach, we listened to the history of some gum trees planted at Lonnekers Beach by early settlers. Of course these trees are totally foreign to the other 99.9% of forest on the island but have been allowed to stay as they form part of the early history.

Heading away through the village and in a more northerly direction we were driven around 3 or 4 very sheltered beaches to Lee Bay where the Rakiura Track starts and took time to look out over the sheltered bay towards the mainland which was obscured in the prevailing weather.

Then it was back to the starting point at the bottom of Church Hill to end the drive which was very enjoyable and informative.

With the wind blowing even stronger than when we started out on the bus trip we called into the Real Journeys booking office and checked as to whether our second trip of the day, Kiwi spotting, was likely to go ahead. This trip was going to entail a boat ride over Paterson Inlet to a beach where Kiwi apparently comes out of the bush to feed at night.

The company had not made a decision on whether the trip would run tonight so decided to cancel out and try and book ourselves a land based and short trip for some Kiwi spotting tomorrow hoping that the wind might have abated.

We got ourselves two places on the Fins and Feather Kiwi spotting trip up to the airport runway, where we had landed yesterday, for tomorrow night and crossed our fingers for a calmer evening.

Back at the bach we spent the remainder of the afternoon watching the wind churn the sea in the bay and the ferry head back to Bluff while the gale force winds continued.

A short time after the ferry disappeared around the headland’ another’ ferry came into sight entering the bay. Was this the ferry that had left just a few minutes previously turned around because of the rough seas? We will never know,or will we?

There had been no flights landing today and it did seem like perhaps the afternoon ferry had returned to port as the hotel restaurant was full and the next option of choosing off the same menu but eating in the bar with the locals was the best and only choice. It seemed like the islands accommodation would be full up tonight although not so full that the local accommodation organiser contacted us and snatched the two spare bunks in the bach!

The seafood chowder was as they say, ‘a meal in itself ‘although I didn’t detect any oysters and I am now starting to get desperate that we will have travelled all this way to where the best oysters in the world are grown and even though the season is in full swing, none are going to pass my lips!

Heading home back up the hill we think the wind had dropped and we have our fingers crossed for our boat trip to walk amongst the birdlife on Ulva Island, another location you shouldn’t miss when you come to Stewart Island.


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