The population of Stewart Island is 400, there are only 19-25 children in the school (the only school) and there is only one town called Oban on Halfmoon Bay.
We had an early start on the ferry to Stewart Island. There is a chain at Stirling Point in Bluff which you can see from the ferry and this signifies a link between the South Island and Stewart Island. A Maori god sailed the south island and when he got to where he wanted to stop he dropped his anchor to keep the South Island from moving. The anchor was Steward Island and there is a corresponding chain on Stewart Island. The crossing was very smooth; despite the horror stories we were told about it being a very rough ride. The views were incredible as we approached Stewart Island. The weather was sunny with blue skies and not a cloud in the sky. We immediately went to the DOC (Department of Conservation) centre and confirmed all of our bookings for the Raikura Track tramp. After unpacking and getting to the hostel we made our way to Bathing Beach where we swam and played on the beach. The water so clear and the sand was so white. It was a perfect introduction to Stewart Island. We watched a local film in the Bunkhouse Theatre which was narrated by a local dog which we met!
We enjoyed a beer in the sun in the only pub on the island in the South Sea Hotel where we met Steve (one of the permanent workers on the vineyard we just worked at) and his family. We chatted to locals and got some good tips on places to visit during our stay. We went out for dinner afterwards and Jeff enjoyed a trio salmon dish while San had some pork belly cooked Asian style. With full bellies we went to Golden Bay beach where we rented kayaks. Our trip was beautiful, Jeff was in charge of steering in our double kayak, we went in and around some inlets, played with giant tough sea weed, saw star fish, held a sea urchin and a sea cucumber, saw a baby black gull flying with its family, spotted some blue penguins swimming around us and to top it off we watched the sunset directly in front of us. We had a good nights sleep in a real bed before our tramp the next day.
Raikura Track: Day 1; Halfmoon Bay to North Arm Hut
We set off at a reasonable time for a brisk 6 hour walk. We walked along the coast for the first part and then we headed into the forest. The colours in the forest were spectacular, there were so many different shades of green and the sunlight streaming into the forest made beautiful patterns. We had great weather all day and not a drop of rain. (We were told that it rains 256 days a year on Stewart Island, we found this hard to believe). We stopped half way for lunch at a beach and continued on but feeling quite sleepy after lunch. After a long walk we arrived at the hut. We were pleasantly surprised by how clean and modern the hut looked. We quickly chose our beds in a 12 bed dorm and lay by the water reading and snoozing until we couldn't tolerate the sand flies anymore. We had dry freeze carbonara which was surprisingly tasty! We played cards with Jean and Lea over candlelight and Jeff spotted a deer outside the toilet (long drop, smelly and fly ridden - Yuk!) which scurried away quickly. We went kiwi bird hunting with our torches and heard one, but we didn't see him.
Day 2: North Arm Hut to Port William
After a good night sleep but with some aching muscles we spent some time chatting to people at the hut and then set off for the second stint. We had 13km to cover in 6 hours. It was another beautiful walk through the forest, up hills, down hills, through mud, over bridges, over trees and tree roots. We stopped in the forest for some lunch. As we approached Port William, we were getting some amazing coastal views, the water so blue and sparkly and the sand was so white and fine. We could hear the sea as we approached. We went for a swim just after we arrived (a very quick one!), it was so refreshing. We had a cold shower with our water bottles afterwards which felt fantastic. The huts are basic and only supply water and long drop toilets. We lay in the sun reading while the sun was out and then got chatting to a Canadian family. They were just heading out to catch some fish and they offered us some fresh fish later. It was a blue cod and they had some Paua too which Jeff enjoyed. We played some cards with the DOC rangers and went kiwi hunting again. We still didn't see any but did hear them, Jeff almost jumped out of his skin when (what he thought was a cat) a possum jumped out of the bush. This would also explain why the kiwis weren't coming out. We watched a possum climbing a tree using its back legs to grip and front legs to walk. There are lots of traps around for rats and possums.
Day 3; Port William to Halfmoon Bay (Oban)
After a few noisy mosquitos, rain, people snoring and doors opening by themselves we eventually got up and completed the tramp. We passed some beautiful beaches and crossed a swing bridge, but there was a giant sea lion blocking our path. Jeff blew him a kiss but he growled fiercely at him, it roared a bit more at Jeff so we decided to take a different pathway a little further away from him. We passed a green parrot on the forest floor, he was beautiful. We had a 5km walk on the road which felt like a long time and then had lunch on the beach and celebrated the end of our tramp with a cold beer in the sun! We enjoyed a bottle of wine and some extremely spicy pasta (far too much cayenne pepper!!). In the evening we walked to Observation Rock where you have an almost 180 degree view of the coast, we were a little late for the sun setting but it was still beautiful.
Today we went to Ulva Island, after a great sleep in a bed! Ulva Island is a predator free bird sanctuary. Sometimes they get deer that swim from Stewart Island to Ulva Island which is amazing because it's a long way for a deer to swim!. We got to the island by using a water taxi and we were lucky enough to see some blue penguins swimming around. A Post Office was built in 1872 to cater for the mail boat arriving in Stewart Island waters. A flag would be raised to alert workers and families in nearby settlements that mail had arrived and they would row or sail to Ulva Island to collect their post. It was a very social gathering and people used to dress up. We saw some Stewart Island Robins; they were so friendly and curious. If you wipe your foot in the dirt they will come and perch right beside your foot. We saw a Kaka tearing off bark on a tree to get to the termites. There were a lot of Stewart Island Weka's (Kiwi wannabes!) There were some beautiful beaches where Jeff found some mussels for dinner. Back in Oban we had a Kiwi French lunch; a blue cod with parmesan coating baguette and a crepe roulade. Jeff went mussel picking and cooked mussels for dinner in a white wine and garlic sauce.
On our last day we spent some time reading in the sun, picking more mussels for dinner that night (we picked two big bags with Jean and Lea), had a beer in the sun and played a giant checkers game. We jumped on the ferry and came back to Invercargill. We were both happy to see our vana again after a week of not having it.