"New Zealand doesn't get much more south than this..."
20.03.2011 - 24.03.2011
Rakiura - Land of the Glowing Skies. Latitude 47 degrees south. Since 1987, with passage of the Maori Language Act, many geographic features of the New Zealand landscape have been renamed to include the original Maori title. For instance, what was once Aoraki, later Mount Cook, is now Aoraki/Mount Cook. So it is with Rakiura/Stewart Island, a fairly large island about 30km south of the South Island. We were warned that crossing the Foveaux Straight on a small ferry is a bit rough, storm and all, and it was. But the parade of wildlife began almost immediately with sightings of Royal Northern and Royal Southern Albatross, Mollymawk, Sooty Sheerwater, petrels... The rain stopped as the ferry docked but we were treated to gale force winds and some cheeky showers for the next couple days. The storm blew out on Tuesday morning with one last shower and I was off on my adventure.
Royal Southern Albartoss from the ferry.
That's Mt. Anglem (980m), Rakiura's tallest point, hiding behind that cloud.
Halfmoon Bay from Oban, Rakiura's only village.
Fishing shacks on Halfmoon Bay. Fishing is far and away the primary source of income on the island. Well, fishing and tourism. Anyway, it reminded me a lot of the small towns on the Washington and Oregon coasts.
Rakiura's oldest structure, Lewis Acker's stone house, built in 1836.
I took a water taxi down the Paterson Inlet and up the Freshwater River to Freshwater Landing. There's a Department of Conservation hut situated here, along the Northern Circuit, a three- to five-day trek around the northern half of the island. I set up camp that morning and went off on a day hike - a 37km day hike... That's about 23 miles for you gringos. I knew it would be long but it wasn't until after I got back that night and added it all up that I realized what I had done. It's 15.5km southwest to the Mason Bay hut and another 2km to the bay itself, a long sandy beach with nothing between it and South America but the ocean. Throw in a couple kms along the beach and do it all over again on the way back and you get sore feet. I walked down the beach for an hour and came to the first dead whale. Apparently it's fairly common for whales to beach themselves in New Zealand. Not sure why, but I've also read that there have been significantly more incidents the past couple years where entire pods will beach themselves for no apparent reason. There is speculation, of course, that it's related to environmental conditions but as far as I've read there are no definitive answers. Either way there were still 109 beached pilot whales, all dead and rotting in the sun. The DOC recommends people refrain from swimming here because the whales have attracted sharks (did you know that Stewart Island hosts the world's third largest population of great whites?), and these sharks probably don't discriminate too much in what they eat. It was sad, all these whales, but a fascinating phenomena nonetheless.
Swing bridge over the Freshwater River.
Much of the trail followed Duck Creek, so full of tannins it looks like tea.
Four hours hiking finally brings me to Mason Bay.
Back to the camp I went, another eleven and a half miles. There were three kids who worked with the Department of Conservation at the hut when I got back. They had been removing invasive weeds and it got too late for them to get back down the river - low tide is just too low - so they were in for the night. Turns out one of the three was on my team a couple nights before at the Sunday night pub quiz. We did moderately well, placing smack dab in the middle of the pack. I was the only one who recognized a picture of Annie Oakley and I'm damn proud! Anyway, I crashed out and in the morning continued my hunt for kiwi. Because New Zealand separated from the larger land mass so early it developed a very unique biodiversity. A lack of predatory mammals (in fact, the only mammals at all were two species of bat) a number of creatures evolved that never would have made it anywhere else. Giant flightless birds called moa for one, small flightless birds like the kiwi for another. Rakiura has a rather large population of rather large kiwi, a subspecies called Apteryx australis lawryi, or the Stewart Island Tokoeka. It's the largest of the kiwi species and sports long legs and quite a long beak. Their other unique trait is that, while other kiwi are strictly nocturnal, the Stewart Island Tokoeka forages both at night and during the day. I woke up at dawn and walked out into the woods along a path until the mud stopped me from going further. There I sat and waited for almost two hours when I heard a massive animal crashing through the bush. That's gotta be a deer, I thought. But soon enough a kiwi popped out of the bush, looked around and started running up the path towards me. It jumped back on the other side of the trail just as a second kiwi popped out and began chasing the first. They pursued each other around me for a minute or so until bam!, the second one pounced. They squawked and jumped out right on top of me, ran over my feet and down the path, back into the bush again. I came here to spot a kiwi and, of course, I wasn't disappointed.
Stewart Island Kiwi, best photo I could take given the conditions. Mission accomplished.