The Calm Has Returned to Stewart Island

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Oceania » New Zealand » South Island » Stewart Island » Oban
May 6th 2021
Published: May 10th 2021
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After we returned home last night from the pub we were sure the wind had abated or at least in the pitch blackness of Church Hill, Oban, it seemed that way.

However, during the night the wind did return with gusto and we assume from a slightly different direction as something metallic was rattling noisily on the roof wanting to take off into the air and land somewhere to the east of us.

Sunrise however revealed that the wind had blown itself out and it didn’t look like we would miss out on our boat trip to Paterson Inlet and Ulva Island at midday because of the wind.

With time on our hands we lazed around and continued to enjoy the vistas from our Kiwi bach until it was time to head down the hill to the wharf and make our connection for the boat trip.

There were 19 people in total on the trip including ourselves and the ferry boat that usually ply’s across the strait was our transport.

As we crossed the harbour the captain and tour guide slowed the catamaran down so we could get a good close up look at a Mollyhawk, related to the Albatross, bobbing around on the water while another Mollyhawk glided around low above the water very gracefully. Getting so close up got the trip well underway for even more bird watching to come.

The boat also edged into the small Harrold Bay so we could get a view of a tiny stone cottage built around 1836 by Lewis Aker, a harpooner on a whale chaser. Lewis married a Maori wahine, Mary Pi, and together they had 9 children, all of whom they raised in this one room cottage.

Then it was around the point and into Paterson Inlet where the state of the sea looked nothing like yesterday and we cruised around the coastline passing Iona Island and then onto Ulva Island which has a great reputation for seeing native birds close up.

We were split into 2 parties with a separate guide each and off we trekked for an hour and a half in the forest along well formed paths.

There weren’t a lot of birds around unfortunately although a rare Stewart Island Robin did follow us close for a good distance and we did have a close up encounter with a weka on the track.There were a number of birds high up in the canopy that we heard and some people caught a glimpse of.

Our guide who said she had been in her job for 50 years was very knowledgeable on trees but couldn’t entice any of the many bird species on the island to come close enough to us. In a way this made the walk a bit disappointing although we did have to remind ourselves that this is nature and at the end of the day you see whatever turns up as you pass through their territory.

It seemed the other group had had similar luck to us and perhaps that had been down to the storm force winds of yesterday.

The boat had to be back in Oban for the 3pm crossing to Bluff so it was a more direct cruise back into Half Moon Bay to unload us and take on passengers for the trip across the strait.

We journeyed up the steep hill one more time to fill in time before it would be time to head back down to the pub for some dinner and then out on the Beaks and Feathers trip up to the air strip tonight for some Kiwi spotting. We say one more time as tonight after the Kiwi spotting the van we go out in will drop us back to our bach making for an easy return.

Before we headed out for dinner and tonight’s activity we had a visit from 5 kaka who made themselves at home on the deck of the bach with one even landing on Gretchen’s shoulder as she tried to get photos of them.

The restaurant at the hotel looked busy again and it appeared that perhaps the backlog of people hadn’t been cleared yet back to the mainland so we had our pizza dinner in the bar again with the locals.

Not wanting to have consumed too much alcohol before the Kiwi spotting we held ourselves back to a couple of wines each before wandering across to the departure place at Beaks and Feathers.

Eventually another woman arrived and then 3 others and a couple arrived and the guide gave us a run down of what he hoped he would be able to show us once we got up to the airstrip.

We expected it to be dark when we got up to the airstrip but the actual darkness to what we ‘expected’ was another dimension.

The airstrip is privately owned and in reality is just a strip of tarmac with grass verge about 10 metres wide both side with the tarmac being about 600 metres long with an access road at one end and bush both sides. And it is sited on the top of the hill above the village of Oban at the highest point around.

The guide gave us a torch between each couple which emitted a red light rather than a white light so that the Kiwis wouldn’t be scared off when they came in contact with the light source.

Starting out on the left hand side on the grass between the tarmac and the bush we followed the guide closely and within a few minutes we came across the first Kiwi of 4 that we would see in the next hour and a half. This Kiwi was a juvenile and was supposedly not yet fully used to people coming up to the airstrip at his feeding time and pointing a red light in his direction. After a few minutes he scuttled off into the bush and we moved on further along the grass edge.

The next Kiwi that came into the torch light was an adult and was quite happy to find its food while we stood silently about 5 metres away

Crossing the tarmac the third Kiwi was also an adult but this one we followed for quite a long way with the guide keeping us just behind the Kiwi as it wandered left and right along the grass edge. The guide had thought that the Kiwi might want to cross the tarmac even though its territory was really on the side it currently was. He didn’t want to surprise the Kiwi by being too close and hadn’t realised that there were a group of people studying him under the red light.

After a considerable time of watching and following the Kiwi our guide suggested we move on to a family they sometimes see at the far end of the runway and see if anyone was out tonight.

Strolling in the darkness down the middle of the tarmac the guide pointed in the direction of the only light source in the sky just above the bush line and made comment that that was coming from Invercargill city some 30 plus kilometres away as the crow flies. There was really only a glow and apart from the stars it was the only source of light in the sky.

Unfortunately the index, our guide said to see the Aurora Australis or Southern Lights was not high tonight so our chances of seeing green lights dancing in the sky were virtually nil. He also added that the naked eye doesn’t really pick it up all that well and the experience when you do see it is nothing like you would view in a photo or video where the camera lens is slowed down more than the naked eye reacts at.

The fourth Kiwi family weren’t active tonight but on the way back to the van we did come across another juvenile from the third family we had seen the adult from and we watch it for some minutes before it was time to head home.

All in all it was a great experience and although we have seen Kiwis in captivity in dark enclosures during the day this had been all outdoors as the Kiwis were going about their nightly routine in their own habitat in the wild.

The guide dropped us all back at our respective accommodations and it was very pleasing not to have to walk up the steep hill again rather just a few short steps from the top of the road to our Kiwi bach.

Tomorrow our Stewart Island experience will be over and it’s back to the mainland to start to head north.

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