Fortunate enough to be home while our new UK visas were processed we took an opportunity to be tourists in our own country.
Driving south from Christchurch in Tam’s fathers big Chevy Van, we started our South Island Road Trip. Drawing attention with an electric blue and burnt orange paint job, we turned heads on the road and even more at the gas station – filling the thirsty V8 engine. The Chevy was also a left hand drive, making life a bit stressful for the passenger in the middle of a few roads, but came in handy if you needed to throw a nectarine stone out the window without the chance of hitting your passenger.
The long coastal road took us past the Moeraki Boulders, a geologists wet dream!
Our first port of call was Dunedin, Mitch’s old stomping ground at the University of Otago. We edged the Mystery Machine up the steep streets of Mornington to stay with Clayton and Ainslie on the top of the old parts of a volcanic caldera.
The following day, we took a detour through the Catlins, to see the penguins, seals and albatross of Nugget Point.
The Catlins is where the ancient forest meets the ocean, the trees bent crooked in the cold southerly.
Our stay in Invercargill wasn’t too eventful. We met up with Simon and Evelien who had been traveling a large part of the South Island. Our dinner at a local Thai restaurant had the best example of a Southland accent we had ever heard – the simple little things about being back home.
The boat from Bluff was a bit choppy, but not enough to get the tourists vomiting off the back deck. A few mollyhawks and albatross flew around waiting for a hopeful few chunks of breakfast. Arriving into the port of Oban, we quickly found our backpackers, fluent in German and near the local establishment.
Stewart Island, or Raikura, is the geographical base of the New Zealand land mass, and the anchor to the waka of Maui.
The kaka screeching overhead came in to feed on peanuts.
The wildlife on the nearby Ulva Island sanctuary, however, was more cautious, waiting for us to stir up flies and grubs from the path before coming in to feed.
Our hike, the Raikura Track, was the most recent addition to the New Zealand Great Walks. With our new found German companion, Sarah, we set off to Port William, an old logging town that never came. Here we relaxed in the afternoon sun, cooked ready-to-eat meals at dusk and late at night, managed to see a wild kiwi coming in to feed. The kiwi on Stewart Island are much more sociable and didn’t appear too phased at having onlookers as it pried worms from the lawn.
The next day saw us hike overland to the North Arm hut. Here we met hikers that were finishing the longer 11 day walk, with dried mud caked on their legs. One, Andy, had encountered a kiwi in broad daylight a few days before. We enjoyed a swim over the slimy mud flats feeling the seaweed with your toes and flinging the occasional jellyfish before the sandflies arrived at dusk. The walk out took us back into Oban and straight to the local for cod, oysters and chips. Late in the day, we spied several Fairy Penguins come in to roost behind the wharf, a daily ritual of landing, preening and scrambling over the rocks up to burrows in the hill.
Leaving Stewart Island, you had a real sense for what pre-settlement New Zealand must have been like. Probably better. The wildlife is naturally inquisitive and in abundant numbers. Sadly some predators survive and flourish on the island, but conservation efforts have come a long way. The furthest south we have ever been and a real gem tethered to the bottom of the South Island.