As long as I can remember I have wanted to travel. I am happiest talking about travels, planning travels and of course travelling. I have already travel to all seven continents and 75+ countries and I truely believe that travel bug only gets worse the more places you see!
A Kiwi born and bred, I have spent almost as long living abroad as I have back in Aoteoroa but am now back living in Christchurch and making the most of the amazing scenery we have here. I am lucky to be able to call this place home.
I have always writen journals on my trips in the days before blogs, moving to an online format in 2007 when I left the UK on what turned out to be a 6 year journey back to New Zealand. One day I may get around to uploading those old blogs, but for now I am focusing on an upcoming 4 month trip to South America.
I hope you enjoy my updates.
FYI this is not a normal blog, much shorter (and perhaps sweeter lol) than normal but I decided it was worth writing even if only as a place holder for the photos!
Now, all good Kiwi summer holidays should have three things – a beach, a boat and a bach (“Pronounced ‘batch’, it is a term Kiwis commonly used for a holiday home. Often located by the sea, river, lake or forest, baches are all about kicking back. They offer the perfect range of accommodation to allow you to holiday like New Zealanders do.” – thanks www.newzealand.com for that thorough definition)! Now I do not have any of these things, nor do I know people with a bach! But thankfully, I do know people with boats and New Zealand has plenty of wonderful beaches which are free, so my kiwi summer is saved 😂.
I grew up with English parents so although we always had great summer camping holidays, we never had the boating/water skiing holidays that others had. Luckily my brother now has a boat (as do some of his friends) and has family holidays like this and every now and then we join them and their friends for a few days. This year we were based in Waikawa – a small bay around from Picton at the start of the stunning Marlborough Sounds.
Picton is a small town and a gateway to both the Marlborough Sounds and the North Island via the Inter Island ferries that plough through the Cook Straight. Incredibly the Marlborough Sounds boosts 1/5th of New Zealand’s coastline (from the map you can see how) and only 1% of the population lol. Picton’s population is less than 5,000 which swells massively in the summer. Sadly, it has been badly affected by the lack of tourists over the last year (it used to get over 40 cruise ships a year stop in its deep water harbour) but hopefully it will bounce back as the world returns to normal (fingers crossed).
No holiday in Picton or the Marlborough Sounds is complete with other the drive up the coast. Though there are still road works and repairs going on from the massive earthquake that hit the area in 2016 (which closed much of the road for many months) it is still a stunning journey as you travel up the coast, along the beautiful turquoise Pacific Ocean (the photo does not do it justice) and then inland pass the vineyards, even with the intermittent rain.
Day 1 was the perfect day. This involved getting in the boat (which our friends keep in the marina here) and heading out to find the perfect bush lined deserted bay to set up for the day which happened to be in Kaipakirikiri Bay (according to my trusty maps.me). And the soundtrack to this perfect day … bird song and the perfectly clear water lapping the shores.
As relaxing as it may sounds, a fully day of sun and sea is exhausting lol. Even more so for those riding the biscuit (not sure why it is called that, but it is basically an inflatable ring they you sit or lie on and get towed behind the boat) or water skiing – neither of which was me 😂. I could not even ‘spot’ from the boat (too busy taking photos) without injury. The call is supposed to be ‘skier down’, not ‘spotter down’ 🥴.
After a perfect day on the beach, we tried out a spot of fishing on the way home, but the wind and swell had come up and we gave up after a few attempts. (I also did not fish but spent my time taking photos of jelly fish lol.)
On our second and last day it was a much more moody morning, but we were out again and explored some of the hundreds of beautiful bays and inlets with bush down to the beach. It was a bit to cold for water sports, so fishing was on the agenda – again unsuccessfully.
As the seas got rougher, we decided to stop off at the lovely Lochmara Lodge, one of the many small resorts in the Sounds, accessible only by boat. Their marketing slogan is “Just like Fiji, but cooler…” – so true lol.
It has 14 rooms and a waterfront café which was a lovely place to spend an hour or two over a beer or a coffee. They also have an underwater observatory and 11 acres of land which I hope to get back to explore one day.
It is probably worth noting you can still enjoy the joy that is the Marlborough Sounds even if you don’t have access to a boat, as there are ferries/water taxis and also the post boat which you can jump on to move around the bays.
Returning to the mainland we headed back in to Picton for the afternoon, where they were having their annual Maritime Festival which, not surprisingly celebrates maritime history of the region. Unfortunately, the weather was less than ideal, and it very soon turned into torrential, wind blown rain! That was our cue to head to the pub!
Picton was original the site of a Māori Pa called Waitohi (Wai meaning water, and Tohi meaning a ritual given to warriors before battle). When the British arrived, they realised how valuable the deep water harbour was, and ‘purchased’ the land from the local Māori who relocated their pa to Waikawa Bay (where I was staying).
And just like that it was time to head home. That coastal route home did not disappoint. After stopping briefly to check out the seals at Ohau Point we stopped again to watch a huge pod of dolphins just of the coast – 100s of them. You know when the family is out for a nice Sunday walk and 2 of the kids are crazy – constant jumping and twisting 😂😂. What a perfect end to the trip.
Our ride for the afternoon was a 4WD bus operated by Farewell Spit Eco tours. They have been operating tours to the spit for over 70 years, and are the only company licensed to do so. You are not allowed to drive on the spit, so the only way you can see it all is to take their tour – and it was definitely worth it.
Despite the lack of international tourists, they were operating 3 buses on this day, so they are clearly still doing good business with kiwis exploring their own backyard. Charles, a strapping Dutchman (who had lived in NZ for many years) was our guide for the day. He described himself as guide, driver, photographer and part time dairy farmer from Motueka lol.
As we headed west out of Collingwood, Charles told us all about the area and interesting bits and pieces about what we were passing. We started with a brief lesson on Mt Burnet, New Zealand’s only dolomite mine (who knew!). Dolomite is a hardened limestone and has a high magnesium content and is used in fertiliser and cattle supplements (to combat magnesium deficiencies). It is also used to purify steel.
If we blinked, we would have missed the tiny town of Pākawau, another relic of the coal mining industry in the region, dating back to 1840. Today it is home to the Westhaven Littleneck clam beds and processing factory. The clams are wild caught, stored in a pool to ensure they are not full of sand before being heat treated and snap frozen – they are then shipped all over the world.
Like Pākawau, Pūponga was also fairly easy to miss. At the height of the coal mining, the town was home to over 500 people as well as being the main port in the Golden Bay area. Today just a handful of people live there. The old wharf, once the longest in the Southern Hemisphere at 1km long, is long gone except for a few wooden pillars. The coal was taken down the pier by a small train – a 6 tonne diesel powered train (affectionately known as Donald) would take coal to the coal barges sitting in the man-made channels.
When no longer in use, ‘Donald’ the Locomotive (who had arrived in New Zealand from Scotland in 1901) was abandoned in the water and left to rust away until he was rescued in recent years by members of the Blenheim Riverside Railway Society who spent thousands of hours restoring him to his former glory.
From ‘Port’ Pūponga we travelled inland, across the top end of the island towards out first spot at Cape Farewell, the northern most tip of the South Island. We passed the site of a large Maori Pā (a hill fort) where there had been numerous big battles until the infamous chief Te Rauparaha arrived on one of his many invasions, destroyed the Pā and killed everyone!
Cape Farewell was the last point of New Zealand that Captain Cook and his crew saw when they departed in 1770 (well thought out place names strike again!). We always consider the South Island being directly south of the North Island, when in fact they overlap quiet significantly and this point of the South Island is actually in line with Palmerston North in the North Island!
After an early attempt to drill for oil, which thankfully failed, much of the land in the area now provides a buffer to Farewell Split – this land today is partially farmed as well as allowing forest regeneration.
We had time for a brief walk around the cliff tops and take in the view, thankfully there were no mosquitos or sand flies … because it was too windy 🥴😬.
As we got back onto the bus and travelled towards the spit, Charles told us that there can be 14,000 black swans on farewell spit in season, self-populated from Australia in 1840s. Apparently New Zealand use to have its own species of swan which was extinct before Europeans arrived – as with most of New Zealand’s extinct birds, it was much bigger and heavier than the modern day swans from Australia. I can only imagine how amazing it must have been to have Moas, Haast Eagles and giant swans wandering around.
At around 30km long, Farewell Spit is the longest sand spit in New Zealand (growing annually) and today it is a nature reserve of international importance due to the bird sanctuary and wetlands. The public can only access the first 4km (by foot) unless on a tour with Farewell Spit Eco tours (or part of DoC or Maritime NZ). In fact, its status of international importance means it is more tightly managed than national parks with a few of the rules being that you can not smoke, nor can you remove anything from the Spit (though I think I had a fair amount of Spit sand in my shoes by the end of the day).
At the beginning of the Spit is Triangle Flats, according to Charles this was the site of large Maori battles and numerous tools, weapons and parts of large wakas (canoes) have been found in and around the area. Apparently, the settlements here were not large, but both Abel Tasman and James Cook wrote about being approached by many waka filled with men (not particularly welcoming) – names such as Murderers Bay tells the story. (Apparently, it was all just a big misunderstanding -the local iwi performed a haka (basically a war dance) and blew a conch shell and the Europeans thought it was a greeting rather than a warning and replied with a trumpet fanfare – a clear declaration of war!) It is though that the Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri were killed off in an invasion by another tribe in the early 1800s.
Back on the Spit and we discussed how tidal the area is (the tides dictate what time the tours go) – being 2,000 hectares at high tide and 10,000 at low tide which is part of what makes it an important feeding ground for birds. In fact, the region has a higher biomass than a rain forest with over 90 species of birds, crabs, insects etc.
The base of the Spit used to be farmed, as well as being a popular area for hunting of birds until it became a nature reserve in 1938. It is not only a Ramsar Site – a list of Wetlands of International importance which provides a framework for international cooperation for the conservation of such sites but also a Flyway Reserve Network Site, a network of wetlands with significant importance for migratory shorebirds.
We crossed over the Spit from the sheltered wetland southern side to the sandy, exposed northern side where Charles had to get out from time to time to check the sand conditions before driving on to the sand. It was beautiful with kilometres of white sandy beaches and on this side, we are facing north, straight towards Mt Taranaki (if we could see) it.
Our first stop was right on the base of the Spit at Fossil Point, which holds fossils from an old riverbed from the Cretaceous period (a mere 40 million years ago). Fossil hunting was only interrupted by the random seals camouflaged as they lay around by the rocks. The weather had started to turn a little and it had started to spit so we jumped back on the bus and heading further down the beach, past the public access area and beyond. 👍🏻👍🏻
As we drove slowly down the Spit, Charles pointed out just a few of the birds we spotted, including Godwits (Charles was really excited to see them.) Did you know that Godwits have the longest migratory flight of any flapping bird, taking 9 days from Alaska to NZ non-stop, losing half their body weight during the journey? Legend says that a Godwit sat on the shoulder of legendry Maori voyager Kupe, guiding him to Aotearoa.
We also saw dotterels, variable oyster catchers, black back gulls and Caspian terns (the largest tern in the world) hanging amongst white fronted terns who are almost identical except for size (Caspian tern being almost twice the size of the other). The White fronted terns have only just started breeding again on the spit 👍🏻 Unfortunately, there are no photos as we didn’t stop and there was rain on the windows of the bus. 😢
According to Charles, variable oyster catches have the fastest growing beak in the bird world – 0.4mm a day!! They are also show resource polymorphism – their beak can change shape depending on the food source. They can be long and sharp for ‘stabbing’ food, or short and stout for shovelling. Sounds to me like Charles Darwin should have done a study on Farewell Spit as well as in the Galapagos Islands!
Charles was clearly very passionate about the history and wildlife of the area that he enthusiastically educated us about on the drive.
We passed a massive tree stump which was washed up in a flood in 2010. On the stump was 2 pied shags – the story goes that they arrived on the stump, as there never used to be pied shags on the Spit before the arrival of the stump!
The Spit is currently growing, getting longer and wider. Some think it will eventually attach itself to another island or piece of land as it continues to grow. It is clear how much it has grown when we got to the lighthouse compound – which use to be at the end of the spit and is now a number of kilometres inland! However, it is highly likely that some of the sand will blow away again! Only time will tell.
Towards the end of the Spit, there was no vegetation – nearer the base of the Spit, Maram grass had been planted over the years to stop the erosion of the dunes (they move roughly 30 metres per year). That said, it is believed that the part of the spit was once covered in forest and moa bones have been found in nearby Maori middens.
Despite Abel Tasman clearly mapping the Spit, lots of ships have beached on it (Captain Cook did not see it at all due to poor weather), so in 1870, a 30m high lighthouse was built on the end of it, in a compound with 4 houses. (As I previously mentioned, when built, the lighthouse was on the end of the Spit!)
As nothing would grow in the sandy ground, with no fresh water, all suppliers for the lighthouse keepers and their families have to brought down the Spit by horse and they were always digging the house out of the moving sands. It was apparently the least desirable lighthouse posting in the country!
In 1890, one of the lighthouse keepers started getting soil from town every couple of weeks and planted a windbreak of macrocarpa trees that we still see around the compound today. This protected the compound from the wind and sand and enabled the families based there to start grow some of their own produce.
In 1897, the wooden lighthouse was replaced with a steel lighthouse, which was converted to electric in the 1930s. The electricity was only for the lighthouse and the lighthouse keepers and their families were not allowed to use it till 1957. The last lighthouse keeper left in 1984 (from what use to take 3 keepers to maintain), with the original electric light being replaced in 1999.
Anything orange on today’s lighthouse is from the original lighthouse and the feet are painted red – why you ask? Apparently, it was in support of the Team New Zealand in the Americas Cup champaign – Sir Peter Blake started a traditional of red socks in 1995 in support of the team.
After taking a break for afternoon tea in one of the old houses, we were back on the bus and back down to the beach.
In the distance, we saw what I thought was a dog running across the beach, it was in fact a seal (which makes far more sense). I have never seen a seal run so fast, when it reached a small area of water, it skidded across on its belly before jumping back on its flippers and continuing to run. We think it was chasing another one we had seen nearby – males are very territorial!
A little further down the Spit is a large Gannet colony housing over 10,000 birds. It is in fact the only gannet colony at sea level (they are normally on high rocks over the sea). Farewell Spit Eco tours actually run another tour specifically to see the Gannets but as we have a few minutes to spare Charles decided to do a sneaky drive down the Spit to see some of the Gannets flying around and the colony in the distance …. the wind had picked up and this open end of the spit was incredibly windswept. The sand blasted us as we stepped out of the bus but at least the sun was shining, and I was happy to have the opportunity to see them.
Our final stop on the Spit was at the sand dunes and the highest point of the island, where we had some time to walk up the dunes (or run in my young energetic nephew’s case)! It was great fun (and my nephew’s favourite part of the day) and I enjoyed the amazing patterns in the wet sand.
The wind continued as we drove back down the Spit, and the surface sand was now being blown along – it looked like we were driving through a river of sand with currents running through it.
It had been a long day, but I highly recommended the tour.
OK – it was not quite Christmas but Boxing Day – the day after Christmas that I set of with my nephew. (Just as a side note, there appears to be no clear reason why the day after Christmas is called Boxing Day, but the most common explanation appears to be that it is because it was the day off for servants so they could visit their families (back in the day in the UK) and the day when they received a gift (or Christmas box) from their employer.)
It was typical Christchurch Christmas weather – raining and cold (yes, it is summer!) 😂 We quickly packed up the car with way too much stuff (the theme of all my road trips) and headed out on my annual Aunty/nephew road trip – this year we headed north to Marahau.
I thought it was cold when we left Christchurch, but the temperature dropped to 8.5 degrees through Lewis Pass, clearly no one told the weather gods it is summer 🤦🏻♀️!!
We stopped in Murchison for some lunch at the Commercial Café (which I recommend), one of the many buildings in the town dating back to the town’s gold mining past during the late 1800’s/early 1900’s. It was a great little café, and it is a perfect location to stop as it was just over halfway into the journey. From here it was only another 1.5 hours driving to get to our final destination – unfortunately the last 30 minutes of that was stuck behind a milk truck – a trait of a classic kiwi road trip!!
Marahau is a small town on the north coast of the South Island which is a starting point for the Abel Tasman National Park either by foot or water taxi. The Māori meaning of the name Marahau is ‘windy garden’, apparently once a site for growing crops. Today it is a popular summer holiday destination with a permanent population of around 500.
We arrived at the campground and got the tent up just before the heavy rain started – oh and the thunder. In all honesty it was a great thunderstorm (which I love), and it was topped off by an incredible rainbow across the bay – huge and full of colour. Not surprisingly, I abandoned my dinner to run across the road to take a photo of it lol.
We had time for a quick walk before we headed back to the tent, just in time for the rain to start up again, so the rest of the evening was spent snuggled under blankets with some wine in my enamel mug (for me) in real camping style – this is truly shaping up to be a classic kiwi holiday 😂.
The joys of camping, as the rain continued the water level rose and the ground sheet stood no chance against the growing puddle … soon water started seeping through the front part of the tent and pooling on the floor. We made sure everything not waterproof was off the floor on top of the chairs and retired to our ‘sleeping chamber’ with camp stretches in the hope that the roof did not start leaking before the rain stopped – it was a waiting game as to which would happen first! On the bright side we had missed a massive hailstorm that hit the neighbouring town 🥴
The rain calmed and we survived the night (although it was clear my one season sleeping bag – that one season being summer was not going to cut it!) and we woke to a sunny albeit not hot, morning.
Thankfully, the pond around (and a little in) the tent had dried up by morning and we managed to get most stuff dry whilst having breakfast, before heading out for a short walk in the Abel Tasman National park – well, me a walk, my nephew a run as he is an athlete in training (he is only 14 but competes in distance running at a national level so had a training schedule to keep to) I most certainly am not an athlete😂!
It had started off as a cool day, but I got warm fast walking and I was obviously over dressed lol. The walk was beautiful walk, and I loved the flax in flower and all the tuis feeding on the nectar. I was obsessed with trying to get the perfect shot (I think I did ok).
My walk took me on a short part of the Abel Tasman Great walk (I have done other parts of it on another trip but never the whole thing). This time I passed Porters Beach and ended up at Stu’s Lookout – I am not sure who Stu is, but I thank him for this lovely lookout.
After our run/walk we stopped for a drink in the lovely Park Cafe, right by the car park to the national park before taking a gentle stroll along the shore to the campground for some lunch and a relaxing afternoon. We have a couple of full days coming up so wanted to enjoy some down time too.
We had a better night’s sleep without the threat of floating away, which I was grateful for as we had a big day ahead. We set off relatively early for our day trip further around the coast. It wasn’t such a long drive but included the infamous Takaka Hill which is very windy and well known for its frequent slips in heavy rain leading to constant roadworks and lane closures!
Our first stop was at Te Waikoropupū (Māori for “bubbling water”) Springs (locally known as Pupū Springs), the largest freshwater springs in the country which contains some of the clearest water ever measured, some say the clearest (as measured in 1993 by NIWA, finding the visibility to be 63 metres!). To maintain the clearness of the water it is forbidden to have any contact with the water – this includes fishing, swimming, diving, boating, drinking etc.
After walking through the small information area, it is just a short 30 minute walk through the bush to the view platform over the springs – there is lots of water bubbling up (can you believe 14,000 litres of water gush out of the spring every second … yes, every second!) and yes, they are very, very clear.
The site is sacred to the local Māori (Ngāti Rārua) and a place of cultural and spiritual significance with the springs representing the life blood of Papatuanuku, the Earth Goddess and the tears of Ramgini, the Sky God.
It’s probably worth noting that there is no charge to visit the springs so definitely worth a stop if you are in the area.
From the Springs it was only a short 30 minute drive to the small town of Collingwood in the Golden Bay area. One of New Zealand’s oldest towns, it was originally settled in 1852 and grew substantially after the discovery of gold deposits nearby. Unfortunately, the gold rush was short lived in the area and it was only a few years before the gold miners moved on to other parts of the country in search of richer mines.
The town went on to have a second boom with the establishment of coal mines in the area. In fact, it was even considered as a possible capital ‘city’ when the British were looking for a more central location (they settled on Wellington).
Over the years, the town has suffered a number of large fires destroying most of the original buildings. Today, the town has had a bit of a resurgence due to its close proximity to Kahurangi National Park and it being the starting point for trips to Farewell Spit (or Onetahua) – this is reason we were here. We had a little time before our tour started so we had a brief walk around the town (which to be honest only takes 10 minutes lol) and to have some lunch. I probably spent more time admiring the Pohutakawa in bloom (I love them!)
To avoid boring you with a very very long blog post, this trip will form the next blog – something for you to look forward to.
After sitting in a car or on a bus most of the previous day, we decided to do something a little more active for our last day, Sea Kayaking – it sounded like fun at the time 🥴 There are a number of companies that offer similar kayaking experiences and hire kayaks for self-guided tour, but we decided to go on a guided tour with Marahau Sea Kayaking which was based just across the road from the campground.
After kitting up (in so much gear I could barely move) and having our safety briefing, we loaded the kayaks up on the trail and headed down to the river at the end of town. Apparently, they normally enter from a sand spit but decided to try the river on this day. And so our small crew – our lovely Canadian guide, a couple from the US who live in Nelson and us, jumped in our kayaks and had a calm and relaxed paddle down the river as we got used to the boats and headed towards the river mouth and the sea … I guess it is called sea kayaking for a reason right?
Out at sea we travelled down the coast, into a small lagoon around Apple Tree Bay (we were fortunate with the tides which allowed us to get in the narrow access point into the lagoon). From here it was decided that we would cross the small channel to Adele Island, a small pest free island that is a sanctuary for birds and seals.
The winds had picked up a bit and as soon as we left the relative shelter of the coastline it was really hard work paddling across this small section of open ocean and I was exhausted by the time we reached the island and dreaded the return journey!! I was so happy when we finally got back to Observation Beach for a rest with some snacks and a drink.
It was a lovely little beach and picture perfect – one of the other small groups on the beach was playing some Six60 – a New Zealand band and to me, their music is the sound of summer.
We had opted to do the half day kayaking which meant from here we caught one of the water taxis back to Marahau. Not only did we get in the water taxi, but they also had to stack the kayaks on the back, making it so heavy that a couple of the crew had to get off and push the boat off the beach. Back in Marahau, the boat drove straight on to the waiting trailer – waiting in a long line of trailers towed by tractors in the shallow waters of the incoming tide. And the final leg of the journey was ‘Road boating’ 😂 – sitting in the boat, which is sitting on the trailer as the tractor drives it back to base lol.
It was a great end to a lovely few days having a true kiwi summer break.
We had a calm night, and we woke to a beautiful morning surrounded by mountains, bush and bird sound from the shores of nearby Anchor Island. Nothing like Ulva but more than anywhere else, yet another perfect morning as it has been every day for my morning coffee. It was made even more perfect by a couple of dolphins swimming around the boat and some little blue penguins in the distance – what more could you ask for. After such a beautiful start, I popped outside after breakfast and it was raining ☔️ah, Fiordland.
Our outing this morning was going to take us to around Luncheon Cove and on to Anchor Island. Anchor Island is highly protected which means the numbers of people on shore at one time are limited and the logistics of this seemed far more difficult than it should have been 🤦🏻♀️ lol. I was in the last group to depart the ship. On the downside this mean a lot of waiting around as we did not get off until almost 10am, on the upside by this time it had stopped raining!
We spent some time looking at the fur seals lounging around on the rocks and relaxing in the water before it was our turn to land on Anchor Island at Luncheon Cove (apparently Captain Cook had lunch here one day, hence the name!). In 1792, 14 men (though some accounts say 11 men were left) were dropped off at this same spot by the Sealer ship Britannia with the intent of spending a few months catching the abundant fur seals in the area. They were left with building materials to build not only a house to live in, but another boat, in case the Britannia could not come back to collect them.
The house and boat they built here are considered the first European house/settlement and boat built in New Zealand. Despite their boat building success, the Britannia did come back to pick them (and their 4,500 seal skins – of course that translates to 4,500 less fur seals!!) 10 months later so the nearly completed 52 ft long boat was left in the small creek on Anchor Island.
So, when the men were not busy building (and making beer out of Rimu leaves), they were sealing and killed 100s and 1000s of the local fur seal population. Seals were greatly prized and Captain Cook even made the following entry in his diary in 1773“ Thursday 22nd. In the PM I went with a party a Seal hunting, the surf was so high that we could only land in one place where we killed Ten, these animals serve us for three purposes, the skins we use for our rigging, the fatt makes oyle for our lamps and the flesh we eat, their harslets (heart and liver) are equal to that of a hog and the flesh of some of them eats little inferior to beef steakes, nay I believe we should think it superior could we get the better of prejudice.”
(The journals of Captain James Cook: the voyage of the Resolution and Adventure, 1772–1775, edited by J. C. Beaglehole. Cambridge: Hakluyt Society, 1961, p. 126)
Sealing in the area carried on until 1946, but thankfully the population of seals has built back up today and we saw many in the area, including one who had a bit of a stand off with one of my boat mates!
But the story of the boat did not end when the original group of sealers were picked up. Two years later another ship, the Endeavour, came to the area and the crew finished the build. They named their ‘new’ boat the Providence and sailed it to Norfolk Island.
Today, Anchor Island is particularly important to the conservation efforts of endangered species. In particular the Kakapo which were introduced to the island in 2006, having been cleared of the last of the predators in 2005 (all the deer were removed in 2007). In the 2015 breeding season they had 38 chicks on Anchor Island and today there is a population of 80 young Kakapo on the island. Unfortunately, they are nocturnal so there was little to no chance of seeing one whilst on the island. Apparently there use to be one who came out to ‘greet’ visitors to the island, but they removed it to an island that is not open to the public as they were worried someone would ‘steal’ it!
We had a short walk on the island but to be honest I would have preferred just to sit some quietly and listen and watch the birds rather than go on the walk-through mud and learn and see nothing special. It was also hot going, dressed for zodiacs and then hiking, but I shouldn’t complain, it was beautiful, and I am so fortunate to be able to visit such important places.
When our time on shore was over, we jumped back in the Zodiac for another trip around the islands, this time there were a lot of fur seals, including some pups and also Fiordland Crested penguins swimming around in the water. We also past a number of crayfish launches (similar to the one the chef had sourced the crayfish for dinner) – they often have helipads on top of their pontoons, so their fresh catch can be taken to Te Anau by helicopter!
Back on board and there were a group of 3 penguins on the rocks, near the ship but a little too far for decent photos. They were so cute jumping around trying to decide whether to go in the water or not 😂 (well, that’s what it looked like to me)!
During lunch the ship moved again – stepping out of the ship every time after we move is like stepping out into a new world – this time we were anchored off Pigeon Island, truly the birthplace of conservation in New Zealand. Pigeon Island is where Richard Henry set up home when working on his conservation efforts on Resolution Island.
Richard Henry was an Irishman who came to New Zealand in the late 1870’s and got a job as a rabbit shooter on a sheep farm. When he saw the damage stoats, ferrets and weasels were doing to the native bird population, he predicted that they could wipe out the entire population. He believed the birds would be safer on offshore islands, and although his ideas formed the basis for much of today’s conservation efforts of native species, his efforts to keep the predators at bay, were futile.
In 1894, Richard Henry was appointed custodian and caretaker of Resolution Island in Fiordland which became New Zealand’s first island reserve for native wildlife. He set up home on Pigeon Island and built a house and a Kakapo pen, the remains of which we can see today. He left Fiordland in 1908 and became caretaker of a new reserve on Kapiti Island – both Kapiti and Resolution remain key to New Zealand’s conservation efforts today.
Pigeon Island is another restricted island, this time, only 12 people were allowed on shore at one time, so we had limited time to explore this beautiful little island. We were joined by a chirpy saddleback (saddlebacks were only introduced a couple of years ago and appear to be doing well.) It is definitely clear to see how much more birdlife there is on the pest free islands and Pigeon Island was no exception. Sadly, there were also many sand flies whilst waiting for to leave the beach 😫!
Back on the ship and it was already time to start packing, and a celebratory Kir Royale and cheese board on the bow to toast to the last night of the trip. It was beautiful weather … sunny and warm, just like the first evening we celebrated on the bow, just a short 6 days before. It was so warm, some people jumped in the water, including the captain of the ship and the naked chef – literally 🥴!! I did not join them as I am a complete wuss when it comes to cold water!
Before dinner we had one final evening recap of the day and the trip as a whole. It was amazing to be reminded of all the amazing places we had been in the short 6 days on the ship. Apparently, adversity and revelation weld a group together, thankfully we had had not much adversity but lots of revelation.
After our final dinner, most of us headed back up to deck to enjoy the journey out of the Sounds into Foveaux Strait. We started the day with dolphins, and we ended the day with dolphins, a flock of sooty shearwaters and the odd albatross soaring around the boat. It was beautiful but, not surprisingly it started to get rough as we made our way around the infamous Puysegur Point and that was my cue to head to bed!!
Most of the night was relatively calm despite the 3 hours rocking and rolling to start … and we were very soon heading in to port at Bluff (after we passed a couple of albatrosses waving goodbye) for a 7.30 landing. We had had a pilot on board for the whole trip (a requirement for a ship this size) so we did not have to wait for one when we arrive in port and could just sail straight in.
It has been a great trip and I think we had been particularly lucky with the weather. Apparently, we 3-4 metre swells at worst, sounds terrible to me but apparently it is nothing to the seasoned seafarers!
Phone reception had come back over night and everyone was back on their phones – me to change my flight from 4pm to 11am given that we were be in port so early. It is always so refreshing to have a break from the internet.
Shortly after breakfast we were ready to depart and was waved off by the crew who lined up on the wharf to say their farewells. They trip was short, but incredibly sweet and I have already got my eye on some future journeys with Heritage Expeditions.
NB: Photos really don’t do this area justice – no photo can really depict the grandeur of the lush green forest covered mountains and the deep green colour of the water. Yet another place I would love to spend more time.
After a relatively good sleep despite the rolling (or pitching as we boat people say lol), we woke up in a perfectly calm inlet of Open Cove, at the entrance to Thompson Sound. Of course, my phone still thinks I am in Vladivostok and after asking around, it appears this is the first time it has happened, and no one seems to know what’s up 🤔. I continued my morning coffee with a view this morning, this time my view was of beautiful cloud topped mountains flowing down into the sea.
We were out in the zodiacs by 9am and we zipped around the northern end of the sound and then down a beautiful Pandora River. As with yesterday, the tide was on our side, otherwise we would not have got very far down the shallow river. It was beautiful and peaceful, and the river was lined with beautiful bush including flowering rata, kamahi and orchids. We were welcomed to the wonderful Fiordland weather with sun, rain and hail all in about 30 minutes 🤔. It seemed crazy as it was not that cold. Another great Fiordland feature was also out to greet us – sandflies, so many sandflies!! Luckily, we were pretty much covered from head to toe with our wet weather gear so there was not a lot of opportunity from them to bite.
From Pandora River, we continued on our expedition to Neck Cove where we jumped out in the shallows and went for a bit of a bush whack … a serious bush whack in some cases where there were no tracks at all. (FYI bush whacking normally refers to walking through the bush where there is actually no track – I guess it means you have to ‘whack’ away the bush lol.) It was fun and the bush was beautiful though it took some time to find a decent route out to the beach (avoiding the swamp), but we finally made it back and on to the boat for time to dry off before lunch. As we ate the ship headed into Blanket Bay, part of Doubtful Sound, where we dropped anchor.
After lunch we were back out in the zodiacs for a couple of hours zipping around the bays of Secretary Island with a short stop on one of the small beaches. Secretary Island is one of New Zealand’s most important islands for conservation as it has always been free of possums and rodents. Subsequently it has been cleared of deer and stoats (a great challenge given the very steep and densely forested slopes) making it one of the largest pest free islands and populations of endangered species have been relocated there.
It is interesting how localised weather is in this region. We could watch the rain showers pass down the valleys and across the fiord (and across us too of course 🥴) but thankfully there was not too much rain and we did not get too wet.
We had another evening recap before dinner, and boy what a dinner it was. We had passed a couple of small crayfishing operations during the day and the chef had taken it upon himself to negotiate a large number of crays for 2 bottles of Russian vodka (I did hear numerous versions of what it he actually swapped for the crays, but in every version, Russian vodka was gratefully received by these remote fishermen lol). The fresh crayfish went down a treat with my fellow passengers – if only I liked crayfish lol.
Why are some areas called ‘Sounds” and others ‘Fiords” I hear you ask? It is an interesting question, and I was keen to learn that a Sound is a drowned river valley whilst a Fiord is formed in a valley left behind by a glacier … of course in Fiordland, there was once many glaciers along the coastline.
After dinner I headed back on deck as it was a stunning evening to leave Doubtful Sound and head back out to the ocean as the sun set – but I did have to make sure I was back in my bed before we got out past the headlands and it got rough again 🥴
Day 5 and we work up in Cascade Cove in Dusky Sound, having travelled through the Acheron Passage during the night. I had slept well again with only a few hours of rolling during the night and it was yet another beautiful morning, a perfect morning for the helicopter flight some of us had booked.
I was in the first group that set of in the zodiac to the floating helipad and into the helicopter. We then flew up the sound and landed on the top of Mt Pender (at 1100m above sea level) where we were met by Ross, an ex-senior DOC ranger who told us all about the region. From here there was spectacular views of Dusky Sound and some of the 360 islands it contains.
Despite being almost summer, there had been some snow on the peaks of the mountains around us and it there was definitely a brisk chill in the area. Too soon our time on the top was over and we could also see a weather front coming in from the sea as we headed back to the barge for the next group to go up. It was such a special experience, and I was certain that my photos would not do it justice (I was right)!
We had a quick zodiac cruise around Pickersgill Harbour and the historic Astronomers Point before heading back to ship. Astronomers Point is the site of a temporary observatory set up during Capitan Cooks second voyage in 1773. It is significant because they were testing new technology and it was considered the most accurately located place on the globe at the time.
Cook and his crew, having just sailed through Antarctica, cleared about an acre of forest and set up camp for provisioning and ship repairs. They even set up a brewery, using Rimu and manuka leaves to make beer with the hope of preventing scurvy during their 5 week stay.
Having had an early start, we were all back on board before 10am and we set sail deeper into Dusky Sound It was beautiful travelling down the sound with snow-capped mountains in various shades of blue and grey. We sailed through Cooks Passage and past Long Island, through water so clear you could see the Little Blue penguins popping up from time to time, as well as see them swimming under water!
We anchored just off Cooper Island in Sportsman Cove and had time for a pre-lunch zodiac cruise, passing the tiny but beautiful Shags Island which was covered in flowering Rata. Have I mentioned the sand flies 🥴🤔🥴 – we were keen not to stop for very long as every time we did, the sandflies would swarm in! Despite that, it was wonderful to be completely surrounded by native bush. (It was frustrating that my maps were still showing that I was in a Russia as I had planned to use them to pinpoint our location in these small coves and bays 🤦🏻♀️.)
As we had lunch we started sailing again. I must say, meals were always interesting as there was a great mix of people on board. Most were very well travelled, many were very experienced trampers, other were birders and/or botanists and about half had been on Heritage Expedition trips before.
A weather front was moving in as we sailed down the Acheron Passage, the wind picked up as we watched the rain travel down the valleys. Thankfully the sea was not as we were in still in the sheltered fiords and by late afternoon, we were anchored in the protected Duck Cove.
The day finished with a great lecture from one of our guides, Lindsay Wilson. Lindsay has a long history of working with the Department of Conservation in the Fiordland area and gave us some wonderful insights into conservation in the Dusky Sound area.
Fiordland National Park is the largest national park in New Zealand, established in 1952 and it plays an incredibly important role in conservation in New Zealand. In fact, it is considered the birthplace of conservation when in 1890, when Richard Henry set up a New Zealand’s first island sanctuary on Resolution Island and single handedly rowed more than 500 Kakapo and kiwi to this and other island sanctuaries in the area. (FYI Resolution Island is New Zealand’s 5th largest island.) He even used a muzzled dog to help him track down the birds on the mainland.
Unfortunately, he had underestimated the distance stoats, ferrets and weasels could swim, however his techniques of using conservation dogs and relocating endangered species to predator free islands is still key to New Zealand’s conservation efforts today.
Today a number of the islands in Fiordland have been cleared of pests and in fact Anchor Island today is home to half the world’s population of Kakapo!! (I should note that of course they are endemic to New Zealand and therefore the entire world’s population is in New Zealand lol)
I looked forward to exploring the area more in the morning.
After a good night’s sleep moored in the very calm Paterson’s Inlet, I woke up to a beautiful view of Ulva island (I didn’t make it for sunrise which is now around 5am 🥴). The air was also full of bird song from the island. Fun fact, Paterson Inlet is the inlet with the most shoreline in the Southern Hemisphere!
After a big buffet breakfast we got ready for our first on shore expedition to Ulva Island and being the first day everyone was ready early for our 8am departure – raring to go.
Initial comparisons of small vs big expedition ships (the bigger ship being the one I went to Antarctica on in 2014/15) – the bigger ship had a dedicated muck room for getting dressed in your outside gear rather than 3 people trying to do that in our small room (it’s not that bad but difficult if we are all trying to get ready at the same time (which we inevitably were). Secondly on the big ship we typically exited the ship at sea level straight into the zodiacs … on this ship there we steep stairs to decent. Nothing that I could not deal with though.
Now, if you are a regular reader, you will know I had been to Ulva Island just a few short weeks previous but it is definitely the kind of place that I could return to multiple times and, as with nature, every time would be different. All 50 of us disembarked the zodiacs on to the small wharf at Post Office Cove and we were able to choose which group we wanted to join – fast walkers, moderate walkers and potterers.
All the guides were provided by Ulva’s Guided Walks (who I had used the last time I was there) and I recognised one of the guides as Ulva herself and immediately decided I would join her group regardless of which one it was! Ulva Goodwille is well known on Stewart Island (she is named after Ulva Island) and she has even written a book about Ulva Island (which I was lucky enough to get a signed copy when I visited the last time). She is a direct descendant of the first Maori people of Stewart Island and is clearly very passionate about the island and it’s inhabitants.
It turned out, Ulva was leading the potterers group which was fine by me and it was even better because there was only 5 people in the group as opposed to the other groups that had 20 or so. We did not have to potterer far to come across two Red Crowned Kakariki feeding chicks in a hole in the tree – we could not see the chicks but they were definitely keeping their parents busy.
The whole island was filled with amazing bellbird song, occasionally interrupted by three saddlebacks, who, according to Ulva (who clearly speaks Saddleback lol) were all very angry!! We saw kereru, bellbirds and tuis doing ‘zoomies’ through the trees. We tasted some of the sooty mould (odd I know 😂) which tasted very sweet and learnt about the 73 species of endemic coprosma (only found in New Zealand) which can be identified by the dots up the centre of the leaf (see the photo).
In hindsight perhaps it was a little too ‘pottery’ for me but I loved all the stories Ulva was sharing with us. One of my favourites was the story of the Kaka, who used to have a red head, but the Kakariki stole the red feathers, so now Kaka have white feathers on their head and why the Kakariki are always “laughing” 😂.
Slightly more factual stories included her theory that saddlebacks could be flightless in 1000 years as they hate to fly and will avoid it if they can! They nest on the ground and ‘run’ up branches rather than fly. Of course, the existence of predator free islands like Ulva are the only place they can truly live this way and survive.
We learnt about the Robin’s who at this time of the year have ‘brooder patches’, where they pull out some breast feathers so their skin is closer to their eggs. It was clear that most are sitting on eggs currently.
We passed massive 500 year old Rimu trees and tiny orchids, so tiny they were easy to miss. There were almost no orchids in bloom when I was on the island before, but this time there were a few more including tiny green hooded orchids and bamboo orchids.
As we were admiring a morepork, who was comfortable tuck up in the incredible root system of a large South Rata tree (morepork are owls and therefore predominately nocturnal), a tui swooped in and dive bombed it! The morepork are predators and the tui must have eggs or chicks nearby that it was protecting. We didn’t see where the morepork went and never saw it again.
Back down near the beach we came across a Rifleman’s nest (New Zealand’s smallest bird). There was a tiny feather near the entrance but sadly we did not see the bird themselves … instead we got to watch some battling weka! The weka wars went on for some time before one of them gave up and wandered off lol.
It was a beautiful morning on Ulva Island but too soon it was time to head back to the ship and as we had lunch, the ship moved around to Kaipipi Bay, one of the many small bays that line Paterson’s Inlet. From here we headed back on to land for a walk back to Oban. We ended up walking along the last stretch of the Rakiura 3 day track down into town along with those who had actually done the 3 day walk 😂. They look exhausted but happy and we bumped into them again cooling off their tired feet in the ocean.
It was a warm sunny day and Oban, and the town was very busy (as was the bar) so I just decided to chill a little by the beach, fascinated by the amazing colours and patterns in the sand and it was not long before it was time to get the zodiac back to the ship which was now anchored in the harbour just offshore.
Settling into our onboard routine, we had a recap of the day in the bar before another great dinner. One of the staff had been asking around about the jellyfish from the previous night. Apparently, they were speckled jellyfish and at this time of year there are many of them due to additional nutrients in the water.
During the early hours of the morning, we moved again, this time around to the eastern coast of Stewart Island at Port Adventure (the movement made a nice little swell to rock me to sleep lol) and we work to another beautiful morning which I started with coffee on the deck before breakfast. It also helped that breakfast was not until 7.30 (rather than 6.45 the day before though we are clearly getting into the routine of boat life).
Weirdly, by morning, my phone was saying the time was 4.30am rather than 7.30am 🤔🤔 but when I went in to the world time it had the right time for Wellington – had we changed times zones over night?? No… apparently the ship (from Vladivostok) has some technology that phones are picking up … so it is showing the time in Vladivostok 🥴 or are we on the way to Vladivostok – technology is wonderful but weird … even my offline maps thought we were in Russia and all my photos show they were taken in Vladivostok?!? Thank goodness I was not relying on the alarm to wake up!!
By 8.45 (New Zealand time) we were out on the water in the zodiacs (there are enough zodiacs for everyone onboard to be out on the water at the same time) and started cruising around some of the bays, passing a few Little Blue penguins in the water and some Foveaux Shags chilling out in the trees. Apparently, they can be black or black and white!
As we cruised along the southern arm of the bay, we spotted our first Fiordland Crested penguin, hiding out under a branch on the side of the water and spotted kaka flying overhead. We admired white fronted terns and variable oyster catchers, all posed on a small group of rocks. It was so peaceful and calm when we turned the engines off … it was also warm – too warm for all the clothes I was wearing when we were going slow, but I was grateful for them when we picked up some speed!
We had a brief land stop at the Port Adventure Hunters hut (to give the crew time for a quick outboard motor repair) and I spent the time admiring the beach with its beautiful mixture of coloured shells, rocks and seaweed.
With all the zodiacs back in working order, we headed down beautiful Heron River – it had a real central/ South American vibe to it, with jungle on both sides of the dark river – I almost expect to see alligators in the water, or monkeys in the trees.
As the river narrowed and shallowed, I ended up helping Heidi our guide row the zodiac (as it was too shallow to use the outboards) – but at least I avoided having to get in to push us over rocks in the really shallow parts 👍🏻 lol. Apparently, the plan had been to try and get as far down the river to see a waterfall … we did, and it was about 10 cm high 😂😂
Back on the ship and we quickly lifted the anchor and set sail as we sat down for lunch. After all the paddling efforts of the morning I was ravenously hungry and I was surprised when my phone pinged during lunch, meaning I had reception (which we don’t have for much of the trip). It seems we had abandoned the route we were supposed to take around the south of Stewart island and instead went back past Oban (hence the phone reception) and along the north coast. I understand that sometimes things have to change, particularly on trips like this, but it was disappointing they we could not do the plan but also that they really did not tell us about it …
We spent the afternoon at sea in somewhat choppy water so had a couple of lectures – I missed the first one of Maori settlement of Auckland Islands (we are not going there, and I was exhausted after my paddling exploits of the morning), the second was on the Southern Ocean which we were experiencing so I did go to that one – key takeaway for me is that the southern ocean is the biggest ‘continuous’ ocean in the world. It was certainly continuously moving at this time!
We did a drive by of the Solander Islands, a group of 3 rocky islands that are the tips of an extinct volcano that is believed to have last erupted between 150,000 and 400,000 years ago. It is believed that it is the size of Mt Taranaki, the rest of which is submerged. It was named after one of Cooks botanists – clearly Solander was not as popular as Banks who got a large peninsular (was thought to be an island at the time), Solander basically got a lump of granite in a remote part of the ocean!
It was beautiful sight with the dramatic skies – albatross and giant petrel soaring around the ship and sealions frolicking in the sea around us. It was truly beautiful and remote part of our wonderful big backyard that not many people get to see.
We then set sail across to the mainland (the South Island that is😂). I decided to forego dinner (though I was disappointed to be missing out on rib eye steak) but it was pretty rough by my standards and getting around the ship was tough. It was definitely the roughest seas I had had in my limited sailing career (although many onboard had seen much worse). Apparently, the crew and staff enjoyed a rather large dinner as many people did not eat!!
The level of excitement for this trip was akin to that of an overseas trip, and technical I would be crossing the seas 😂. Packing even involved the ‘big boy’ bag coming out, probably unnecessarily but why not – why I need to take as much for a week as I did for 4 months a couple of years ago don’t I 🥴.
Bear with me as this 7 day trip will be a number of blogs – not sure how many yet, we will just have to see how much I write lol.
I had been following the Christchurch based Heritage Expedition trips for some time – particularly with an eye on trips in the South Pacific and north east Russia – and of course their Antarctica trips, and as with all tour operators worldwide, Covid had decimated the majority of their clients (overseas guests). Fortunately for me, that meant it freed up time and trips for the humble kiwi in our big backyard – I jumped at the opportunity to explore remote parts of country you can only see by sea.
The arrival of my ship even made the news as the first passenger ship (and it predominately Russian crew) granted permission to enter the country through the Covid border restrictions – it arrived just 8 days before my departure which added to the excitement.
And so, I was back on a plane to Invercargill (for the second time in 2 months) and this time it was a fully masked flight. I had been wearing one on my last couple of flights, but it was now mandatory on all flights – better safe than sorry 👍🏻.
The New Zealand small town syndrome set in before I even left the airport, as I bumped into a girl I had followed and chatted with on social media when I was in the UK and she was in Spain. She had finally got back to New Zealand a few months earlier with her German boyfriend – it’s always nice to meet someone in person.
In Invercargill, I got a shuttle to the ‘joining’ hotel, unfortunately it was a long way from the main part of the town, so I had to kill some time in the bar 😂 till the meeting time. At least I could sit down, have something to eat and drink.
Now we knew the crew was covid free as they had spent over 40 days at sea getting here and had had 3 covid tests, but what about the passengers? I had nightmares about it becoming the ‘covid ship’ and being trapped for weeks! To ensure this did not happen we had had to complete a health declaration 10 days and 2 days before departure, just noting if we had any symptoms …. and before boarding the bus (to get to the boat) they had medical staff checking our temperature, throat and lungs (breathing) to deem us ‘fit for travel’ – thankfully I passed 🥳😂 (New Zealand did not have any reported cases of Covid in the community at this time so the medical check was just an extra precaution.)
To be honest, it was all a bit disorganised, with no real clear instruction as to what we were supposed to do – I stumbled across the medical ‘line’ as I wandered around the reception area of the hotel, and once cleared medically there was no further instruction, so I just found a comfortable seat and read by book … I could have mingled but decided that there was plenty of time for that when we were on our way.
My tactic of sitting alone ended up getting me targeted for an interview … there were a fair amount of press around as it was the first passenger ‘cruise’ to go head in a covid world … I was not sure it would ever see the print or tv, but I hope the photos/ videos were not close ups – I hadn’t even brushed my hair 😂😂! (FYI – there was an article with a photo, as well as a TV segment!)
Just prior to departure we had a so called ‘bag security check’, although there was no real check, we just had to identify our bags and were assigned our cabin number which we had to remember 😂 – then there was a little more standing around before we boarded the bus and headed to Bluff – the southern most point of the South Island and the departure point for our boat.
Finally, onboard and I found my cabin which was small but with plenty of storage (which is necessary as you need to be able to put everything secure in rougher seas). I was in a triple berth (the cheapest option) but was lucky enough to get the single bed (as opposed to the bunk) and soon met my room mates Helen (who I had chatted with briefly at the hotel) and Anne.
After a quick introduction to the staff (all who said how grateful they were to be back at work) we were finally on our way and heading out of the harbour and into Foveaux Strait just after 5pm. Apparently, the Strait (which I flew over just a few weeks earlier) can be rough, and the boat certainly had some movement to it, but it was not too bad. We had a little time to stand on the deck and enjoy the views before heading back down the stairs into the lecture room for the all important safety briefing.
The safety briefing was followed by an ‘abandon ship’ drill where we actually had to get in the lifeboat – now I have been on a number of boat trips in recent years and although we have had safety drills, actually getting in the lifeboat was a first for me! It looks like it would be a cramped few hours or days …. if we ever actually had to use them!!!
Just over 2 hours sailing and we were anchored in Paterson Bay, Stewart Island. Where we were treated to a great 3 course dinner, followed by champagne on the deck to toast the first expedition of the season. It was a beautiful and warm evening as the sun set, and we could hear bird song from nearby Ulva Island. The ship was also surrounded by jellyfish, so many jellyfish – no one knew why?? Unfortunately, I could not get any good photos as trying to focus through water and at almost transparent jellyfish is challenging lol.
And we finished the first day on the boat being lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the ship in the sheltered waters.
Just before I finish of this first blog, let me show you around the boat and show you how things work ….
The Spirit of Enderby is a fully ice-strengthened expedition vessel that started life as the Professor Khromov in Vladivostok, Russia in 1984. Despite the name change, the Professor’s photo still has pride of place on the wall. I had hoped to find out who Professor Khromov actually was, but I have had no luck with my internet searches.
The ship only takes 50 passengers in a variety of cabins (and it was full, including a two man film crew from TVNZ who would be filming a number of articles for the TV news later in the week), but I had opted for the el cheapo (who am I fooling, none of the cabins were cheap!) triple cabin with shared bathroom facilities. With the poor ship plumbing, it was back to no toilet paper in the toilet but in a bin next to it (like in much of South America). Annoyingly it takes me a week to get used to but I did my best lol. Thankfully the room did have a small porthole so at least we could assess the weather in the morning before heading upstairs.
Except for when we were going in and out of port, the bridge was open for us to visit. Most of the crew were Russian and did not speak English so there was not much conversation to be had but there was a great view from the elevated vantage point.
There was a small bar/library area where you could get coffee/tea/biscuits all day, and more importantly a sneaky gin and tonic in the evening before dinner. It was here we would meet to recap on the day and for the expedition staff (and the keen birders among us) to make note of the species they spotted during the day. As a side note, if you get a chance to try this Black Robin gin – do it, it was amazing!
Another important room is of course the dining room, split in to two parts, each side of the small galley. Here we had a buffet breakfast, a two course lunch and a three course dinner – of which we could choose the main (which we did at lunchtime). The food was great and there was always plenty of it. Definitely nothing to complain about, although sometimes the meal times could drag on a bit, though it was a nice opportunity to socialise and chat with fellow travellers about the day.
As part of their commitment to ensuring the ship was Covid free, we had to have our temperature taken before every meal. Basically, you just had to stand in front of a camera attached to a TV screen which would take your temperature and advise if you were in the normal range. I must admit I am not sure how effective it was, but no one ever tested in the red zone (which meant they needed to go and see the onboard doctor – who gets to come along for free in return for performing any medical duties required).
Finally, on the lower level we had the small lecture room where, not surprisingly we had lectures, not that there was a lot of opportunity on this trip as we were normally out and about.
The procedure for excursions was similar to that of my Antarctic cruise a few years ago. We had been lent gumboots (or muck boats as they are called on the ship) and we would get dressed in them, waterproof pants and jackets for our zodiac trips (all trips, whether than were land or zodiac, started with a ride in a zodiac as we never stopped anywhere with a wharf or jetty we could use).
Once dressed in our Zodiac gear (and seriously over heating lol) we had to put on our life jackets and turn our personal tag on a board (everyone was allocated a number) to show that we had left the boat. The final step was boot/shoe washing (to avoid any biodiversity hazards which was not so important on this trip but a big deal in the sub-Antarctic islands and Antarctica).
Once all that was done, we had to wait on either port or starboard side (the corridors and areas along the side of the boat on the outside were very narrow so you needed to go out the opposite door to where we were boarding, around the stern (and the boat washing station) to get to the gang plank queue. And of course, we had to do all of that in reverse when coming back on to the boat!
Unfortunately, with such a short trip some people are only just getting use to procedure lol.
This trip was first planned for August, but an Auckland lockdown meant it was delayed until November as most flights to Auckland were cancelled. (As I write this I have just had another trip cancelled because of another Auckland lockdown – probably something we need to get used to!) It was disappointing to have to delay the trip but my first trip to the North Island since I got back to New Zealand was not to disappoint. Starting with the flight up and the AMAZING view of Mt Taranaki. As always, I was grateful for my window seat.
I picked up my rental car (currently it seems rental cars out of Auckland are pretty cheap which is great) and had decided to do a bit of a ‘tiki tour’ – that is, taking the long way round to my destination. This route took me along the coast of the Hauraki Gulf and through cute coastal towns like Kawakawa Bay and Miranda.
By this point I was long overdue a break and something to eat so I stopped at the Buggar Café in Pipiroa, just outside Thames – yes, you read me right, the Buggar Café! Its philosophy is “Laugh a little” and the bathroom in particular had a number of amusing posters and photos. My favourite was detailing “Useful Bugger sayings” (just in case we could not think of any ourselves lol).
Refreshed from my stop, I next drove over the ranges which border the Coromandel Forest Park where I stopped briefly for a quick walk up to a viewpoint, before heading down the other side to the east coast and the small but perfectly formed beachside town of Whangamata. (Small and perfectly formed towns was a bit of a theme to this weekend lol.)
Whangamata has a perfect combination of sand, surf and native bush which the population of around 5,000 can enjoy year round – in the summer holidays the population can swell to over 20,000!! I decided it must be time for another break and a quick walk on the beach and look around the shops. There is something about being on holiday that means I am always eager to buy things that I might not even consider when I am at home – not that they are bad purchase lol!
The final leg of my journey for the day took me through Waihi (where I would return to the next day) and on to Waikino and the rural log cabin that was to be my home for the next couple of nights. It was a beautiful place, set in a beautiful rural outlook – fields, an orchard full of olive trees and a babbling brook … ok, it was a river but babbling brook sounds so much more literary right? One of the best (or perhaps the worst) things about the place was that there was no phone reception – total peace.
Despite the sun earlier in the day it was fairly overcast, and the rain set in during the afternoon – I have probably mentioned it somewhere else in a blog, just how much I love rain on a tin roof! I could listen to it for hours (and I did lol). When the rain stopped, I went for a short walk down to the river – the fresh, wet farm smell was just so good! I know it is not everyone’s cup of tea but I love it.
I spent the rest of the afternoon chatting with the other ladies on the retreat (did I mention it was a retreat – not that I know what a retreat actually is!) making homemade pizza and mulled wine. Although we are now well into spring, remember this trip was original planned for mid-winter so mulled wine made sense then. Both were delicious.
The next morning, I woke early (as I do) so I got up and went out for a short walk along the road just outside the house and passed the Waitawheta Valley tram track walk (the tram track used to provide the gold mining industry with timber). It was so peaceful and still – only the sound of the river and birds. I had hoped the river crossing on the map (yay for maps.me and their offline maps again) was a bridge, but it was actually a ford and I was not prepared to get my feed wet at this time of the day 😂. Instead I spent far too long taking close up photos of plants with the morning dew on, as the sun came up over the hills. It could not have been a more perfect time to be out and about.
After breakfast we headed into Waihi, a small town founded around the gold mining industry – it actually won New Zealand’s most beautiful small town in 2019. The gold and silver mining industry still exists today with both open cast and underground mining – giving Waihi the nickname of New Zealand’s “Heart of Gold”. The Waihi goldmine is actually New Zealand’s richest gold mine!
We started by having a walk around the town centre (it did not take long), starting at the old Cornish Pumphouse. It was built in 1904, based on the ones used in the tin mines in Cornwall (hence the name) and at the time it was built, it was the pride of the New Zealand mining industry ensuring the nearby mine had sufficient water, providing up to 7000 litres per minute!!
Despite its success, it was used for less than 10 years as in 1913 the Waihi Goldmining Company built the first hydro electric power station on the Waikato river and pumped the water 80kms to the mine. At the time, the miners did not trust electricity so kept the pumphouse in working order until 1929 just in case it was needed.
From 1930, the pumphouse was stripped of machinery and left as it was until the 1960s when one of the underground shafts collapsed, leaving the pumphouse on unstable land. It was fenced off due to the danger but in 2006, it was decided to preserve it and therefore it needed to be moved. The move of only 300m was an engineering feat in itself. Today the pumphouse is an icon of the town’s mining heritage.
If you walk up the small hill next to the pumphouse you can look down on the vast Martha open cast mine. You really can only tell the vastness of it when you see a truck halfway down which looks absolutely tiny. There is also underground mining that tunnels underneath the town, which have caused some concern to the people who live above it.
After our short history lesson, we headed to ‘Laughing Pottery’, where we were to learn how to ‘pot’ lol. Andrew, chief potter (not sure if that is actually a thing) taught us all about the origins of his clay and the process it goes through to get from the clay you dig out of the ground to the clay your make things out off – it was a surprising long process that I won’t bore you with!
Next up was learning how to make things. I can firmly state it is definitely not as easy as the pros make it look!! Nevertheless I managed to make 2 pretty decent looking bowls and a mug which will be fired and glazed (in a colour of my choice) over the next couple of weeks and sent on to me. It was a fun experience, and I can’t wait to see the finished products (Finished product is included in the photos above – not to shabby if I do say so myself lol.
We had time for a walk around some of the cute shops in the busy little town before we were back on the road and into the nearby Karangahake Gorge and the quirky Talisman café for lunch.
Just across the busy road from the café is the start of a number of walks around the Karangahake Gorge itself. These days the gorge is mostly a thoroughfare to get from Paeroa to Waihi, or perhaps somewhere to stop for a short walk, but it was once a bustling gold mining town. The walks take you past some of the remains of buildings, along the old mining tram ways and through some of the old tunnels. We did the short Windows Walk which is one of the favourites, not only because it is an easy 2.5km loop, but because of the wonderful views of the gorge through the ‘windows’.
Having had a bit of walk, we were ready for the next stop at the Karangahake Winery Estate. A lovely winery set just up the hill from the river. Despite the forecast, it had turned in to a lovely warm day, so we sat outside in the sun enjoying some lovely nibbles and a freshly brewed Mead – “Session” Mead as opposed to “Sack” Mead which I had sampled in Kyrgyzstan (feel free to check out that blog – All things Kyrgyz 101). Chantelle, the owner and brewer of the mead explained that “sack” mead is what you drink before you go and sack a village (going back to its Viking roots). It is very strong and very alcoholic 😂!! “Session” mead on the other hand is something you could drink for a “session” – so it tends to be much lower in alcohol, lighter and fizzier – it was delicious and refreshing and definitely more drinkable than the Kyrgyz sack mead!
Chantelle said it was her best batch yet!!
Our final stop for the afternoon was at the beautiful Owharoa Falls, in the Kaimai Mamaku Conservation Park and just off State Highway 2. From the road it is just a short walk to the waterfall’s base were you get a view of the small but perfectly formed falls. Now I mentioned previously that it was much warmer than I had expected it to be, but it was definitely not warm enough for swimming as a couple of people were doing lol. I was definitely not inclined to join them.
It had been a busy day and we had a couple of hours downtime before we headed back to Waihi, this time to Waihi Beach for dinner at the beachside Flatwhite Waihi Beach. It overlooked the beautiful long stretch of Waihi Beach, despite the overcast weather it was still beautiful.
The rain set in during the evening and back at the log cabin, I fell asleep to the wonderful sound of rain on the tin roof (again).
The following morning was the last of my short getaway and we were back at Waihi Beach for a morning Yoga session at The Nest. Now, I am not really a yoga person, but the yoga tent was in such beautiful gardens and it was so peaceful I found it all very relaxing … until the ducklings started running around the deck around the tent 😂 the pitter patter of their little feet round and round just made me laugh. 😂
After yoga I had time for a coffee and a short walk on the beach – after the rainy night, it was a beautiful day, and you could see as my Mt Manganui … I just wished I could stay longer, but sadly no. I had to get back to the house to get packed up and head back to Auckland. Thankfully I did have time for a quick stop in Paeroa, the home to the ‘world famous in New Zealand’ Lemon & Paeroa and get a mandatory photo of the giant L&P bottle.
Yet another great long weekend, exploring my big back yard.
After a late night, we were up early for our visit to nearby Ulva Island. A must do when visiting Rakiura and again, this is something you can easily do without a guide but I always like to know about what I am seeing and of course they know where to look for things lol. We met our guide, Leah, (again we used Ulva Guided Walks) at the small wharf in Golden Bay and the caught the water taxi across Paterson Inlet to the island (passing a few Little blue penguins bobbing around in water) – just a 7 minute journey.
Today, Ulva Island (named after an island in the Scottish Hebrides islands) is a predator free sanctuary just off the coast of the Stewart Island mainland. It became predator free in 1997 and is one of the few sanctuaries in New Zealand that has undisturbed podocarp forest – it really is like stepping back in time.
Visited occasionally by the local Ngāi Tahu Māori, the island was occupied in 1872 by Charles Traill (from the Orkney Islands) who established the first post office in the region – he called the bay he lived in Post Office Bay and this is where we arrived on the island. When the mail boat arrived, he would raise a flag and the locals would put on their finest clothes and make their way to the island to collect their mail and catch up on the local gossip.
Charles was a keen botanist and conservationist and established extensive gardens in the area around his house and the post office/shop. Some of these exotic tree species still remain and are the only non-native trees on the island. In 1922 the island became the first scenic reserve in New Zealand, and he post office operated until 1923. Today, the island is managed by the Department of Conservation, except for the 7 hectares of privately owned land where the homestead still remains (256 hectares in total).
We were greeted by some very early blooming rata trees (apparently is a sign of a long, hot summer) and a very inquisitive Kaka who got so close I thought it was going to take my phone (which I was videoing it on) right out of my hands! According to Leah, the Stewart Island Kaka have their own dialect, distinct from those on the mainland – of course, I do not speak Kaka so cannot confirm or deny this but what I can say is they like to make their presence known!!
As the island is now pest free (no stoats, mice, rabbits etc.) it has a great population of many of New Zealand native birds that are struggling elsewhere. Kākāriki, kererū (wood pigeon), korimako (bellbird), pīpipi (brown creeper), miromiro (tomtit), pīwakawaka (fantail), tūī, Stewart Island tokoeka (brown kiwi), Tīeke (saddleback), mohua (yellowhead), toutouwai (Stewart Island robin) and tītitipounamu (rifleman) can all be found on the island.
The current population of robins were founded by 20 individuals released in the late 90’s – today they are thriving and on almost every walk on the island you will be visited by at least one robin. They are incredibly confident and appear to have no fear as they dance around, trying to mimic rain on the earth to disturb the insects which they feed on. They are also a fan of you scuffing up some of the earth with your foot to help them out.
Another fun fact about the birds of the island, Tieke (or Saddleback) here are unique as they do not develop their ‘saddle’ until adulthood, the North Island species on the other hand are born with it. Also, relatively unique in the bird world, the juvenile will stay with their parents for a year and will help gather food for the following years chicks before leaving the family.
Ulva is so small it is easy to cover most of the island in a day, depending on how much time you want to spend watching and listening to the birds and studying the plant life. I like to spend a lot of time doing that and therefore we only waked a couple of the tracks. And there was a bird symphony – Leah could identify Mohua (sometimes called a bush canary), brown creeper and grey warbler – unfortunately we could not see them all as they were high in the canopy.
We saw Red crowned kakariki ❤️❤️ eating last summer’s berries off grown, Tuis feeding on tree fuchsia (the largest species of fuchsia in the world). We had a brief glimpse of a Yellow crowned kakariki and a Mohua (Yellow head) who apparently are often seen together (perhaps all the yellow headed birds stick together lol). And we spotted another juvenile saddleback which had its wattles and saddle just coming through.
The bush is stunning, and as I previously mentioned, a perfect example of an ancient podocarp forest (one of the best in the country as it has never been cleared or milled). There are towering Rimu and totaras – apparently if a grown man can reach their arms around the Rimu and touch it is around 250 years old. The ground was full of beautiful umbrella mosses ❤️and Leah pointed out a so called dinosaur plant – a fern ally which is 400 million years old (perhaps not that exact plant, but the species itself)! We saw Spider Orchids, just starting to flower and bamboo orchids, not quite in flower yet and beautiful crown ferns with their connected root system. And don’t forget the cute Hen & Chicken fern whose spores grow as miniature ferns on its fronds before they drop off to set out into the world on their own lol. We were grateful to have Leah tell us lots of wonderful stories about the trees and plants – some fact, some a little more mythical.
One of the most fascinating stories was that of the Ulva Island postcard tree – which despite its name, has had numerous uses. Not surprisingly, its broad leaves used to be used as postcards. They could be written on and posted (even internationally) until the 1970s!! Other uses include toilet paper (as good as 3 ply apparently) and a crash pad for Sooty Shearwaters who are not great at landing to use these trees to soften the blow so to speak. lol
One of tracks took us out on to Boulder Beach, where we watched Weka feeding on crabs (sometimes with a little assistance by lifting rocks to expose the crabs). As typical with Wekas, they had little fear of us, and just carried on their own business.
Further on we came to Sydney Cove, a stunning tropical looking beach of golden sand and turquoise water. Here we were greeted by a huge sea lion, who had just hauled himself up the beach. He was the biggest I had seen and even the biggest Leah (our guide had seen) so we had to be careful to get past him. The rule is to never cross between a sea lion and the sea, effectively cutting off their escape route, however this guy left us no option, so we moved quickly and quietly around him.
Our final stop on Ulva was at Flagstaff Point, not surprisingly, the point where Charles Traill use to raise his flag to advertise that the post had arrived. Today it is a lovely lookout over Paterson Inlet.
It was a wonderful morning spent on Ulva Island and we were so happy we had Leah to guide us around – we would have missed out on so much had we gone on our own.
Back in Oban, we decided to hire a couple of e-bikes to explore a little further. First, we headed one way out of town and at the end of road we found ourselves in Lee Bay, the starting point for the Rakiura Track (one of New Zealand’s Great Walks). It is also the site of a huge chain that goes into the sea –Te Puka, the anchor stone. As the Maori legend of creation has it, Maui (now of Moana fame) used Rakiura as an anchor for the great ancestral canoe (Te Waka o Aoraki – the South Island). (FYI – the North Island is the fish he and his brothers caught.)
As it turned out, we were actually not far from where we were kiwi spotting the night before and could see the predator proof fence as it went up from the sea. It was so peaceful to just sit on a beach for a bit, taking in the sun and listening to the bird song.
Back on the bikes and we head back through town, out the other side and along to the end of the bay to visit Ackers Stone House. Lewis Ackers was an American whaler who settled on the island in 1836, before Oban was established. He built the house himself to house his Maori wife and their 9 children. Apparently, they had bunk beds stacked 5 high to sleep everyone in the small house! They certainly had an amazing view (on a nice day)!
We zoomed back into town using the throttle and hardly pedaling at all – it was my first time on an e-bike, and I do not think it will be my last lol.
For our final morning, we had thought about doing another walk but decided just to relax. After dropping off our bags at the plane ‘depot’ (a small office in town), we wandered around the shops (all 3 of them lol). We walked up the hill by the church and over the small headland to a view over bathing beach -it was a beautiful golden beach though you must have to be careful not to be caught at high tide!!
Back to town and we went back to the DoC office to watch some of the videos about the island history that they play on loop until it was ready to board our flight back to the mainland.
What a wonderful place Rakiura/Stewart Island is. Oddly, it is somewhere they New Zealanders don’t tend to go, and the vast majority of their visitors are passengers on cruise ships. Of course, 2020 changed all that and they are one of the few places in New Zealand that have managed to sustain their tourism industry with New Zealanders who are exploring home more rather than going overseas. Even the flight in and out is worth the visit.
I will leave you with a quote from Leonard Cockayne (considered New Zealand’s greatest botanist and a founder of modern science in New Zealand) in 1909 “The face of the earth is changing so rapidly that soon there will be little of primitive nature left. In the Old World, it is practically gone forever. Here, there is Stewart Island’s prime advantage, and one hard to overestimate. It is an actual piece of the primeval world.” He was not wrong!
Somehow, I had not been to Stewart Island before, despite it being New Zealand’s 3rd largest island – and then I manage to go twice in one year lol. There will be more about my second trip in another blog post (something to look forward to lol). I had also intended this to be one post, but after writing it, it seems better suited to two – I don’t want to bore you more than necessary lol.
For the first time since I returned to New Zealand in February as the world shut down, I was back at the airport and on a plane (I must admit I missed it) and it was a beautiful day for flying. Firstly a flight from Christchurch to Invercargill (around 1 hour 20 minutes), New Zealand’s most southerly city, and then the short hop from Invercargill to Oban, the only town on Rakiura (only 10-20 minutes depending on the wind). The beautiful day lead to some lovely areial photos (I must always have the window seat for this reason!)
Invercargill is truly a small city airport and Stewart Island Flights is most definitely a small town airline. They fly only between Stewart Island and Invercargill on their two Britten Norman Islanders which take just 10 passengers (including the pilot) – they also have a Piper Cherokee which is even smaller. The pilots end up doing much of the work, including taking the passengers to the plane (we had to walk through the baggage area to get to the plane 😂), loading the baggage and of course do the inflight safety briefing.
The flight was a little bumpy and we did not seem to be very high above the ocean …. but why would you go high when you are landing in 15 minutes! It took us out over the small town of Bluff as we said goodbye to the mainland (as we South Islanders like to call the South Island) and across Foveaux Strait on to the first amazing views of Stewart Island with its bush covered hills, perfect half- moon bays with clear turquoise water.
We landed on the airstrip just outside of Oban and the plane was quickly unloaded (and reloaded for its quick turnaround and flight back to Invercargill) and we were bused in to the depot, a short walk from the South Sea Hotel where we were staying. If you get the opportunity to travel to Stewart Island, I would highly recommend the flight – not only is it quick, you get amazing views and avoid having to travel to Bluff and then ferry (a far longer journey).
Stewart Island or Rakiura (meaning ‘glowing skies’ after the Aurora Australis you can sometimes see from the island) has a long history of Māori habitation (around the 13th century) and was then settled by European sealers and whalers from around 1800 and subsequently loggers who set up a number of large timber mills on the island. It got its name Stewart Island from William Stewart, the first mate on one of the early sealer ships. Thankfully in the 1890’s a large part of the island was protected from milling or development which leaves us with the beautiful bush covered island we see today.
Oban itself, is named after Oban in Scotland (which means little bay) and is based around Halfmoon Bay and has around 380 permanent inhabitants and as we wandered around the town (it does not take long) it was filled with bird song. Although it was a beautiful sunny day, this gave an impression of a much warmer day than it was, and the wind was bitterly cold. Despite this, the local children from the school (just across the road from the waterfront) were wearing shorts and t-shirts and playing in the water!!
We stopped by the Department of Conservation (DoC) office to check out the local walking tracks and I was drawn to the beautiful carving they have outside. It tells the tale of Kewa, a great whale who chewed through the South Island, separating Stewart Island/Rakiura and creating Te Ara a Kewa or the pathway of Kewa, also known as Foveaux Strait.
We had overheard an a conversation in a shop (there aren’t many of them) where a couple of the locals discussed how lovely the day was and that it didn’t happen very often! Upon hearing that, we were determined to make the most of it and headed out on a couple of the short walks around the town. They were lovely walks and I was amazed with the amount of tuis were saw. As usually, I spent far too long taking photos in the hope of that perfect shot. I think I did ok lol
For dinner we headed to the local pub, one of the few places there is to eat outside of peak season (although there are not many more options in high season), and it was very busy. We were lucky to get a table (as we had not booked) but managed to enjoy a good meal. Not only was a good meal but it was a big one and we struggled with our full bellies up the hill behind the town to Observation Point to see the sunset over Paterson Inlet. It was so beautiful and peaceful (except for the occasional tui or kereru) and well worth the struggle. By this time, the wind has also dropped so it was significantly warmer.
On the way back to town it was clear the South Island Kaka (one of New Zealand’s native parrots) were out living it up for the evening. 1,2,3,4 on the trees … and lots flying around. It was amazing to see. And to round off the day – we headed to the wharf to spot a few little blue penguins coming in for the night. Sadly, it was too dark for decent photos, but it was great to see them.
We were actually staying in the accommodation attached to the hotel (just across the road from the wharf) – we were in a motel style room out the back, but there are also options to stay in the pub building itself which might be a little noisy if you were not planning on joining the drinking in the pub just below you – that said, you would get to enjoy the sea view.
Our first morning on the island and we up to what looked like some amazing light. Never one to miss out on a photo opportunity, I threw on my shoes and coat over my Pajamas and quickly walked the short walk to the water front and it was well worth it, the sunrise was beautiful – so moody and colourful. The forecast was for rain and it looked like it might be coming later in the day but not yet, so we definitely wanted to get out early.
We did two 2 walks – Fern Gully and Ryan’s Creek. Both walks you can do from Oban and about 10 km in total. The tracks were good with just a few small some muddy areas, thankfully nowhere near as bad as it was for some friends who had been here just a couple weeks before. There were not so many birds on these walks, but we did spot a bellbird and some oyster catchers when we made it down to the sea…
At one point it appeared to be raining bark on the track, we looked up to see a Kaka ripping apart a branch and throwing the discarded bits to the ground. Typical Kaka (and their cousin Kea) behavior and they are well known for their destructive nature! Again, it was a bit dark for any decent photos but amazing to stand and watch for a while.
Back in town and we had lunch at the small café – as I mentioned before, at this time of year there are only 3 places to ‘dine out’ and the small supermarket where you can buy sandwiches and groceries etc. We were sure to spend money at each of them.
We had been lucky to avoid rain so far (although the photo taken just after lunch certainly looks like the calm before the storm) but our luck ran out when we decided to check out the small souvenir shop – just as we got there, the rain started and it got heavier and heavier so we decided to make a run for it and get back to the room😂. I won’t lie, the rain was a good excuse to relax for the afternoon.
Thankfully the rain cleared in time for our evening Kiwi spotting tour. I know a few people who have been lucky to see a kiwi walking around the roads just out of town, but as we did not have a car and wanted to have a higher change of spotting the elusive national bird of New Zealand we booked a tour with Ulva’s Guided Walks. We did not regret it.
As you may know, Kiwis are nocturnal and so our tour started at 9pm (of course the time varies depending on the time of the sunset throughout the year). It’s worth noting that despite being nocturnal, it is actually possible to have a kiwi encounter in broad daylight, if you are incredibly lucky. Some say this is because there are fewer predators here, but it may also be due to the fact that in mid-summer (their breeding season), there are very few hours of darkness this far south so they need to feed during the day as well.
There is a population of around 13,000 Stewart Island kiwi (a sub species of Tokoeka, one of the five species of Kiwi), found only on Stewart Island and are considered a threatened species. Thankfully the island is currently free from possums, stoats and ferrets which is vital to the health of the population.
We met up with our guide and where driven only a short distance out of town, where we parked up and walked into a grassy area, just off the road. Not far away we came across our first pair of kiwi (kiwis are generally monogamous and pair for long lengths of time). We had red light torches to light the way – interesting it is the same technical we had used in Zimbabwe when hunting with lions, as the red light does not startle the game (and in this case the kiwi) like white light does. And with this light we had a great view of the kiwi who do not seem particularly by our presence as they when on their way feeding, as some point coming quite close to us.
After this first encounter, we headed inside a predator proof fence (oddly set up the US based Dancing Star Foundation – Dancing Star Foundation – Biodiversity Conservation – Translocations) were we came across another pair of kiwi. Interesting, the kiwi inside the fence where more skittish than the ones outside. Apparently because they have less predators … and visitors in general and are therefore less habituated.
It was a beautiful evening, after the afternoon rain. The sky was full of stars (including shooting stars) and the calls of morepork and kiwi filled the air. I cannot recommend the experience enough, and the chance to see our elusive national bird is one not to be missed.