Saturday, March 14, 2009

Stewart Island, New Zealand

3rd - 4th Feb

Stewart Island was another of my ‘must see’ destinations in New Zealand and one of the reasons why I opted for a car rather than a bus pass.

I drove from Queenstown to Invercargill in time for lunch and after much flapping around eventually managed to find the local Information office where I was able to book the ferry, accommodation and an evening guided tour on the island all for later on that day.

I actually had a whole afternoon to kill in Invercargill which from what was available is a lot of time!

I found the obligatory Irish pub and had my obligatory bangers and mash. In my time of travelling around Australia and New Zealand I was starting to become an expert on Irish pubs and their bangers and mash (I have never found proper champ). This was by far the worst I had ever tasted. The sausages tasted awful – I wasn’t sure if they were actually supposed to taste like that and was pretty sure they were off. Being a true softy I did not complain and tried to stomach as much as I could before leaving half of it (had to finish the pint however!)

I was at a lose for something to do in the afternoon then I remembered that the Information centre was actually part of a museum complex so I went back and asked how much it cost to go in. Nothing was the reply – you can leave a donation at the end of your visit.. Exactly what a backpacker wants to hear.

As well as being a museum and art gallery they also house a rather impressive tuatara exhibit.

Featured Animal: Tuatara

The tuatara is a reptile which has been around for over 150m years. It may look like a lizard but the two species are in fact the only remaining members of a very old line of reptiles and they only exist in New Zealand. The Invercargill museum has been successfully breeding the commoner species Sphenodon punctatus (don’t ask me how to pronounce it!) and have over 50 specimens. It has also been trying to breed the much rarer Sphenodon guntheri which only exists on one off shore island. All remaining wild tuatara from both species are confined to off shore islands due to introduced pests killing off all the mainland animals.

Heres more info from Wikipedia.

As well as the tuataras the museum houses an art exhibitions (mostly modern art and not really my cup of tea) and a rather good exhibition on Maori culture. There were also ones on local history including one about the ‘Worlds Fastest Indian’ which at the time I skipped over but now wish I hadn’t. Two weeks later I happened to watch a movie staring Anthony Hopkins which was called the same name. Its about Burt Munro who successfully set the world speed record for motorcycles (under 1000cc) in the 60’s using a vey old make of motor bike called Indian.

Again more info from wikipedia (hey I’m lazy!)

For the entrance fee of nothing (I did pop $2 into the donation box) it’s a very good museum and deceptively large as I ran out of time walking round it and had to motor down to the Stewart Island Ferry.

The trip over to stewart island took about an hour and was pretty choppy. It also has the distinction of being one of the most expensive foot passenger ferries I have ever been on - $120 return which is scandalous! Once on the island I quickly made my way to the backpackers and booked into a rather small 3 bed cabin – which luckily I had all to myself.

So whats so special about Stewart island? 26,000 Kiwis that’s what (The bird not the people) Stewart island does not have any stoats (it does, however, have rats and possum) this has meant that kiwis do rather well on the island. In fact it is only place in New Zealand where it is possible to see them during the day.

I thought all I had to do was arrive on the island, go on the evening tour and I would see loads of the wee critters. As per usual I had not done my homework. When I went on the evening tour (with an Irish couple from Cork/Kerry and an old American couple) I quickly realised that we were not going to see any kiwis and in fact in order to have a good chance of seeing them you had to go to the other side of the island which takes two days hiking!

Because of that I was slightly disappointed with the evening tour as our guide only managed to show us 1 possum! In fairness the tour does not claim that you will see kiwis or any other wildlife and is more geared towards history and flora – I should have looked more closely before I booked it.

The next morning I had to make the decision to either stay longer on the island or get the ferry back that day. After the disappointment of the previous night I decided to get off the island that afternoon but before going I booked a return boat trip to Ulva island which the Irish couple recommended – and I am so glad I did.

Ulva island is a small island in one of the bays of Stewart island and has been irradicated of all intoduced pests including rats and possums. This means that only birds exist on the island.

The ferry over was actually just a small boat which a local guy charged $20 return for the 5-10 minute trip to the island (again a bit of a rip off but I didn’t care) It went from a bay just over the hill from Oban, the main (only!) settlement . Once on the island you can walk around marked trails searching for the elusive wildlife.

The 3 hours I spent on Ulva made the trip to Stewart Island all worthwhile. It was full of birds which seemed to have no fear of humans at all. I seen loads of Tuis but also some birds I had not encountered before such as the saddleback which does not exist on the mainland and red and yellow crowned parakeets. The Stewart island robins were especially easy to get close to – one hopped right next to my leg at one point.

The only down side to the trip was that as well as the other people who came on the ferry with me there was also another boat with a guided tour and three further lots of middle aged american tourists from a cruise ship anchored in the bay. I kept bumping into at least one of these groups – complete with their state of the art headsets so that everyone could hear their guide. As well as the headsets they all seemed to wear brightly coloured raincoats, walking poles and stupid leggings. I just thought that it would be a nightmare to be on that cruise ship surrounded by such people!

Once back from Ulva I made my way back to the hostel via a marked track around the coast and then headed back on the 3pm ferry to the mainland.

3 hours later I was in my next hostel up the east coast in the heart of the catlins area of New Zealand..

Animals I have seen:
Stewart Island Robin (subspecies of New Zealand Robin)
Yellow crowed Parekeet
Red crowned Parakeet
Kaka (smaller relative of the kea)

Animals I HAVE NOT seen
Kiwi – any species!

facebook photos

1 comment:


12.3.09 UEFA Cup Man City 2 Aalborg 0

15.3.09 Chelsea 1 Man City 0