Got onto the phone to book a trip over to Stewart Island – but it’s a popular place and the earliest we can go is 11 March. We had a week to fill in so left Invercargill on 04 March to explore along the coast to the west and loop back.
Started off towards Riverton but as we didn’t leave Invercargill till after lunch we got as far as Thornbury and parked for the night beside the Aparima River. An official camp area so we had lots of ‘neighbours’ by nightfall.
Reached Riverton next morning – showery again but explored The Rocks road to Howells Point and had a look around without getting too wet.
Then to Mores Scenic Reserve and a 20 minute walk to a Lookout for elevated views over the town and river estuary. Spent the night in town in the RSA carpark and filled in some time in the afternoon by looking around the local Museum learning of the early Maori settlement, whaling and timber milling.
From Riverton we started following the Heritage Trail leaflet – Tihaka Bay then Colac Bay (known as a surfing mecca). Followed the back roads through farmland to Whakapatu Beach and Garden Bay (rocky shores and nice views).
Prettiest area was Cosy Nook which was a Maori stronghold back in early days and named “Cozy Neuk” by the first Settler after his home village in Scotland. Reached by driving down a narrow road and squeezing our motorhome around some old baches at the end of the bay to a turnaround area. The sea scape was pretty spectacular. A small camp area parallel to the beach but there was no flat ground big enough for us to fit on, so we moved on to the next place “Monkey Island”.
Monkey Island supposedly named after a ‘monkey winch’ that was located on a little island just off the beach which was used to move cargo from calling ships before there was a road through the area. You can walk to the island lookout at low tide. We spent 3 nights here – had a couple of very windy nights and a day of rain squalls passing by. This is another official camping area and it was pretty crowded each night by vans and ‘sleeper’ cars.
We continued along the coast to Orepuki and nearby Gemstone Beach – stopped and picked up some pretty coloured, but absolutely worthless, stones. We were expecting the beach to be all pebbles but today it was all sandy – apparently it changes from one to the other depending on tides and waves.
Next stop McCrackens Rest – a lookout over Te Waewae Bay that is home to a large pod of Hectors Dolphins. None to see today, but it was a bit scary to read that in the 1800’s a huge tidal wave swept in along this coast and over 200 people were killed (which in those days was probably most of the population). Hard to imagine looking out at the calm waters today.
The road heads inland not far from here and we stopped at Tuatapere to buy some ‘staples’ and a lunch stop. Going to start looping back from this point and we left town to head for Otautau (we drove through there about 10 days ago) and ended up back at Thornbury to camp beside the Aparima River for another night.
Next day we were back in Invercargill and returned to the Amble On Inn Holiday Park to get ourselves organised for our trip over to Stewart Island. We had a wild and scary afternoon and evening – a strong gale passing through – the motorhome was rocking around and the trees in the park were almost bending over double! It’s meant to pass over quickly….let’s hope so…or we’ll not be flying anywhere tomorrow.
Alarm (what is that unusual noise) rang at 0630. Outside it was completely silent and not a breath of wind lingering…phew! Breakfast, showers, packed up, dumped all our waste water, filled fresh water tank, re-fuelled with diesel and got to the airport with heaps of time to spare to check in at 0930.
Took off with Stewart Island Airlines at 1000 and a 20 minute flight saw us landing on the island.
A shuttle service delivered us to the Depot in Oban where we were met by Peter Tait of Shine Tours who took us on a quick orientation drive around the town to show us where everything was. We were booked in at Kowhai Lodge Apartments and were made very welcome and comfortable by Peter and his wife Iris. Sat down over a ‘cuppa’ and went over our paperwork and tour opportunities – we then set off walking down the hill to buy some sandwiches for lunch as we were heading off to tour Ulva Island at 1140.
Peter picked us up and we drove over to Golden Bay to board the water taxi for the 10 minute trip to Ulva Island which is a bird sanctuary and where twenty endangered Stewart Island Black Robins were released in 2000. They are successfully breeding and increasing in numbers in the predator free environment along with other birdlife that is not so prevalent on the main island. Peter used to be a Forest Ranger in charge of Ulva back in 1969 and was instramental in setting up procedures for ridding the island of rats and goats.
He was a great guide and for the next four hours he explained everything he knew about the Island’s history, trees, ferns, orchids, mosses, the birds habits and was able to show us his ‘secret’ discoveries (a Red Crested Parakeet’s nest in a small tree hollow right beside the track with two eggs in it). He knew every bird call and pointed out things we would never have noticed on our own. He has also cultivated relationships with the tame black robins and they seem to come visiting when they hear his voice…feeding out of our hands and landing us. There is one private residence on the island and he keeps an eye on it for the owners so we also got a tour of Post Office Bay that is not open to the general public visiting the island.
During our walk we got to see plenty of Kaka, SI Saddleback, SI Weka, Bellbird, Brown Creeper, Yellowhead, Tui, Robin, Tomtit, Red Crested Parakeet and I even spied a Morepork in a thicket which caused a bit of a stir from others passing by as they are not usually spotted in daylight.
We paid for this tour as a package to get a substantial discount on our accommodation and to be honest it was well worth it. There were only four of us on the ‘tour’ so it was certainly personal. Peter also has a great website so we continue to visit it from time to check on the nesting parakeet and he has heaps of his own photos and publications to read.
The water taxi took us back at 1600 and we asked to be dropped off at the ‘town’ so we could stock up on some supplies at the Four Square store. Prices surprisingly comparable to those back in Invercargill. Walked up the hill to our ‘home’ for the next four days, unpacked and settled in. A nice place with everything we need plus heaps of reading and reference books, DVD’s, brochures on Stewart Island. A well equiped kitchen and everything was sparkling clean and with diesel heating and hot water.
We later walked back down the road to the local Kai Kart for fish & chips for tea and sat in the sun scoffing! Very pleasant and what a change from the gales we experienced yesterday.
Day two and shock horror, the alarm rang at 0600! Up early to catch a water taxi we’d booked to take us around the coast to Port William. It picked us up from the main wharf in Halfmoon Bay at 0730 and while waiting we were rewarded with a lovely sunrise across the water.
The ride to Port William wharf took about 25 mins – the taxi then continued on to drop four girls to another point further on down the coast. Our plan for the day is to walk Day 1 of the Rakiura Track starting at the DOC camp & Hut and walking back to the start at Lee Bay a distance of 8 km. The whole track takes 3 days and is 32 kms. We went to check out the Hut and the hut ‘hostess’ welcomed us and told us she was a volunteer on a 2 week stay and that the huts have been totally booked out since December – it’s a popular trek and open all year round.
It was just after 0800 when we set off walking along a good path through untouched forest, huge rimu trees and roughly following the coastland, although we couldn’t see the sea for a lot of the way through the thick bush.
We climbed over the first headland and descended into Wooding Bay. A large swing bridge there spanning a tidal river – water a dark ‘tea’ colour. The track took us along the shore to the DOC shelter and campsite at Maori Beach. We came across some big ‘bird’ footprints on the sand – a small ‘moa’?? We’d like to think they were Kiwi prints but Weka footprints can look identical too…take your pick!
Stopped for a look at the relics of an old sawmill that operated at Maori Beach, there was a small community of several houses and a school here. It closed down in 1931 and was the last sawmill to operate on Stewart Island.
Another stream here that you can cross at low tide or take a ‘high’ water track – we rock hopped and took the short cut. Then a steepish climb up and around the next headland – Peters Point.
Arrived at the next bay where Little River is crossed by another footbridge. Being low tide we decided to walk along the beach till we got to the bridge.
Uphill again and along the cliffs on the last stretch to Lee Bay. Nice viewpoints along the way and we found a convenient seat to have our lunch enjoying the sights. Saw more people at this stage all heading for Little River on a short walk.
On arrival at Lee Bay we came across the large sculpture of a chain link that joins to the legendary ‘anchor stone’ that ties Stewart Island to the mainland.
From Lee Bay it is another 5 kms along the road back to Oban. We could have phoned Peter for a pickup but as we were still feeling pretty ‘chipper’ at this stage we decided to set off walking. It was pretty scenic around Horseshoe Bay – however, what we didn’t realise was the road from that point was uphill and downdale…past Butterfield Beach…and up again before finally descending into Halfmoon Bay.
We were pretty stuffed by the time we reach Oban and rewarded ourselves with an ice-cream sitting on the beach in the sun before we tackled the last uphill walk back ‘home’. The whole walk took us around 6½ hours but that included all our numerous photo stops, lunch and exploring.
Day three. Had a bit of a sleep in. Feeling a bit stiff – so one way to cure that…we set off walking again. Going to do a few of the local walks – uphill on the Fushia Walk nearby, then to Thule Bay via Raroa Walkway which followed a little stream downhill through more thick forest. Views over Paterson Inlet.
Up a little headland to Golden Bay Road to start another walkway to Deep Bay. This track was like a switchback – lots of steps (ouch). It followed the Golden Bay shoreline giving us some pretty views.
From Deep Bay we walked along a short road to overlook Ringaringa Beach. The track from there has fallen down the cliffs and the route closed – we were facing a backtrack up and over a large hill. So we hunted around for an alternative way to get down to the beach and found a farm track at the end the headland – a couple of local kids told us we could get down and climb over some rocks to get to the beach.
Tide starting to come in but it worked out fine and we had a leisurely stroll along the beach to join another walkway up and over to Leask Bay.
From there we just followed the road around a few bays back to Oban. A nice lunch stop at Lonnekers Beach where we watched the fishing boats and ferry coming into Halfmoon Bay wharf. Another 4½ hours walking but again lots of stopping along the way.
Dinner each night on the Island was from the Kai Kart – they served up the most amazing burgers and it was quick and easy and very pleasant sitting outside in the fresh air and enjoying the view.
Day Four – Alarm set early again to pack up our bags and get ready to leave the Apartment by 0800. We fly out today at 1730 so dropped our day packs at the Airline Office and walked over the hill to Golden Bay wharf to catch the water taxi back to Ulva Island.
To fill in the time we are going to walk the other tracks on the Island that we didn’t do when we were there with Peter. Sea is like glass today and no wind. Walk took us to West End Beach – we really took our time but not so many birds showing themselves today. At one place the birdsong was so loud and varied though – Neville managed to record it on his cellphone which was quite cool. West Bay very scenic and lots of marble stones on the beach.
Time getting on so we had a much quicker walk back to the wharf to get the midday return ferry. We got a ride back to Oban with the wife of the ferry operator – it was most welcome for sure.
The rest of the afternoon we visited the little Oban Museum and the local cinema to watch an amusing local film “The Dogs Tail” which was narrated from the eyes of a local doggy star (who was in the foyer to check us out). It was a nice little cinema with very comfortable seats (and I totally deny shutting my eyes on a couple of occasions!). Then to the DOC centre to browse the displays that we didn’t look at on an earlier visit. Finally a coffee break sitting in the sun at the beach, while watching the comings and goings of the locals…there seemed to be cars everywhere at times.
Reported back to the Airline Office to check-in at 1630. A short shuttle ride to the airport and we were amused when the driver and the incoming pilot were in radio contact and as soon as the plane flew over us we were racing down the runway after it. Another scenic 20 minutes flight back to Invercargill…and guess what…it was raining and cold again!!
The motorhome has been parked up in the Airport Carpark in our absence and all was OK. The solar panels kept the battery charged up and the fridge was still running…phew!! That was a bit of a concern but there must have been some nice days while we were gone.
We stayed in the carpark overnight and no-one came around to question us – that way we just had to drive out by 0900 to get full use of our $34 four day parking fee.