KIWI: Stewart Island's Natural BeautyA little island, off a little island, off a little island . . . is how David Attenborough once described his visit to a Ocean Beach on Stewart Island during a nighttime excursion to see kiwi birds in the wild. The flight across from Invercargill is just 20 minutes but it transports you to another time, in another place that seems to have been preserved for visits in a 'Tardis time machine.'
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2014
A little island, off a little island, off a little island . . . is how David Attenborough once described his visit to a Ocean Beach on Stewart Island during a nighttime excursion to see kiwi birds in the wild.
To get to this island's deserted beaches I first had to leave my own island (Waiheke) by ferry, taking a taxi to Auckland Airport before catching a Boeing 737 flight to Christchurch. I then boarded a much smaller Bombardier Q300 twin-propeller plane from Christchurch to Invercargill before jumping aboard a 10 seat Britten-Norman flight to Stewart Island.
The flight across from Invercargill is just 20 minutes but it transports you to another time, in another place that seems to have been preserved for visits in a 'Tardis time machine.'
As I was greeted by my accommodation host the bird calls from Tui, Kakariki and the infamous cheeky native parrot, the kaka barked out at me as I was shown my room in the appropriately named Kaka Retreat located in the small settlement of Oman. This is a village of about 350 souls where the local 'Four Square' has bragging rights in calling their store, the most southerly supermarket in the world.
I had dinner in the local pub, the South Sea Hotel where the Sunday night trivia quiz was in full swing, filling the bar with 80 or more locals and tourists. I sat by myself but was soon sequestered into a team from the North Island called the Crazy H's that consisted of Ryan, Olive, Jocelyn, Helen and Neil. I had to leave before the final results but they probably ended up in the top half of all the other teams I reckon?
At 8.30 pm I bordered the boat Wildfire with 15 other intrepid night owls to seek out kiwis in the wild. Bravo Tours have operated the kiwi night excursions since 1989, and Phil’s clientele have included such luminaries as the renowned presenter Sir David Attenborough. It takes about three hours including a cruise out to . . . Cove before hiking along a hand-torch-lit track for about 20 minutes to Ocean Beach, a favourite spot for the kiwis to break cover and dig with their long beaks into the sand and seaweed for tasty delicacies. We saw two kiwi birds close up and two kiwi on the fringes of the thick bush. Another successful encounter we were assured, bearing in mind very few New Zealanders have ever seen a kiwi in the wild!
The following day had started slowly as we didn't arrive back at the wharf in Oban until 11.45 pm the night before. However I still managed to hike about 6-7 km on the Golden Bay Track returning via the Deep Bay Track around Oban, which is mainly in bush with a good number of steps to negotiate. However with three days to spare the Rakinau Track is on of DOC’s great walks and considered a ultimate challenge to hikers.
After sneaking into the South Sea Hotel for a lunchtime pizza (very yummy) and a pint I caught the 12.45 pm Patterson Inlet Cruise on board the Stewart Island Experience luxury catamaran. The trip is very informative with commentary by fourth and fifth generation islanders as they cruise close to the coastline.
Muttonbird story . . .
To conclude the trip we ended up with a visit to Ulva Island - a renowned wildlife sanctuary that includes a host of rare plants. During our 45 minute guided walk we spotted native birds such as the Stewart Island robin, kaka, bellbirds, tui and a pair of Stewart Island weka, which are often mistaken for kiwi. Weka are supposedly a flightless member of the Rail family, they can however flap their wings while jumping and if necessary swim.
As soon as the cruise finished I hopped in a bus for a Village & Bays Tour. With only 27 km of roads it's hard to get lost on Stewart Island, however what is surprising is that there is over 350 km of hiking trails once the road finishes. This little tour is good value for money and a great way to explore Oban with a knowledgeable guide who regales the passengers with entertaining insights into the community, history and environment on the island.
My last excursion of the day was to walk up the hill to the town's only fine dining establishment, Church Hill Restaurant & Oyster Bar. I started with half a dozen deep-fried Stewart Island oysters, which was by nautical miles some of the best I've ever tasted. I also knew I couldn't leave the island without sampling the mainstay fish caught in local waters - Blue Cod. Mine was oven-baked with brown butter sage sauce, potato and kumara rosti and seasonal vegetables – was a true southern winner.
Besides all the hiking opportunities on the island there are mountain bikes to hire, scooters or cars and kayaks that can be rented as well as the charter fishing industry which is one of the best in New Zealand and a mainstay of the community and the fishing it can be divulged is superb. So it’s hard not to be impressed with the third largest little island in New Zealand, a little island, off a little island, off a little island that has a big heart and a rugged reputation.
Shane Boocock travelled to Stewart Island courtesy of Venture Southland.
T: +64 (0)3 211 1400
Stewart Island Flights
T: +64 (0)3 218 9129
Kaka Retreat, Stewart Island
T: +64 (0)3 219 1250
Paterson Inlet Cruise
T: +64 (0)3 219 0034
Bravo Adventures Kiwi Spotting Tour
T: +64 (0)3 219 1144
Village & Bays Tour
T: +64 (0)3 219 0034
Church Hill Restaurant
T: +64 (0)3 2191 123
South Sea Hotel
T: +64 (0)3 219 1059
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