Stewart Island

[Photos in this entry ARE NOW WORKING (all 1 of them hehe) thanks to Mike who provided a link to which I can use to upload my files to my webspace now, getting around this annoying proxy deal at my university.]

Last week Andrew, Tom and I went to Stewart Island.

Day 1:

We awoke early (we were soon to discover that 8am would no longer be considered ‘early’ for us) in the morning and went to the local tramping (hiking is called tramping in New Zealand) store for some last minute purchases. We then returned to our flats and packed our bags. At 2pm, we drove to the grocery store and loaded up on food. By 3pm we were on the road in Tom’s car.

We drove to the Catlins, a really neat area of the south coast between Dunedin and Invercargill full of unique landscapes, wildlife, and very windy (often gravel) roads. We spent some time meandering around, then decided to drive down to the beach at Tautuku Bay where we found a spot to camp. While there were no signs banning camping there, I doubt many people do so. The car got stuck in the sand a couple times and Andrew and I had to get out and push. Being from snowy Minnesota, Andrew is well acquainted with pushing vehicles out of snow.

Our tent was the oddest one I’ve ever come across. A rental tent from the university’s rec services, it had no instructions. While this would usually be no problem, this tent was rather ‘unique’ to say the least. With many years experience of setting up different tents between the three of us, none of us could quite figure it out. It was not only an assymetrical design, but also had a seemingly mismatched rain fly. After about an hour of trying to get it right, we settled for something close to functional, cooked up some spaghetti with 400ml of sauce and 1kg of ground beef, and went to bed.

Day 2:

Our sleep had not been very good, as the 3 person tent seemed smaller than the 2 person tent I had rented a few weeks earlier in which we had 4 people. Andrew and Tom both snored and there were quite a few mosquitoes and sandflies in the tent. However, we rose early and in high spirits nonetheless. After eating a breakfast of leftover spaghetti, bread, and honey, we were once again on our way.

We reached Invercargill fairly early, then drove down to Bluff, from where the ferry to Stewart Island departs. After driving around looking for parking, we were told we could park in the 5 minute parking. We had 2 hours left before check-in, so we drove to a nearby coastal trail and spent an hour and a half walking down and back. On our return we parked in the 5 minute parking and got ready to board the ferry.

The 1230pm ferry left at 1245pm, and arrived exactly an hour later in Halfmoon Bay, Stewart Island. As we disembarked ahead of most of the crowd, a man from the ferry company standing on the wharf asked us if we were looking for Barry (or maybe it was Kevin? I don’t remember his name) and we had no clue. He said we were though, so we followed him around the corner and there was a stout mariner in knee high rubber boots yelling to us to run and jump in his car. We ran, threw our big backpacks in the back and leapt into the 4×4 with speed. He drove as fast as he could to a different little cove where his water taxi was waiting and we jumped in.

In a matter of seconds, the engine was started and we were speeding through the water. We were barely on time, and with the water only at 1-2 metres deep the mariner and his boat would become grounded if the tide caught him. We sped up a waterway that reminded me of the mangrove inlets on Langkawi, and got dropped off at a Dept of Conservation (DoC, pronounced ‘dock,’ not D.O.C.) hut, “Freshwater Inlet Hut.”

We put our gaiters on, and began our trek.

Within literally 2 minutes on this first day, we jumped over our first stream. Four hours and ten minutes later, we had completed our first day of tramping, a tramp suggested to take five hours. We had crossed small streams, larger creeks, bogs, marshes, one or two mountains, and in total 10 kilometres.

I never knew walking could be such a mental exercise. We had to watch every step we took to avoid tripping or sinking waist deep into mud, both of which would happen regardless on occasion. In the marshes, we constantly had to make our own detours from the path as waist deep cold muddy water separated one floe of land from another. It felt like jumping from one piece of floating ice to another, except with grass instead of ice. We’d often sink up to the knees on landing a jump, and several times one of us needed another person to pull us out of the mud.

We ended the day’s walk in the dark on a steep downhill track covered in slippery roots. We had our headlamps on and arrived successfully at Fred’s Camp Hut, where we met a pair of hunters. They were quite rough around the edges but great characters nonetheless for a night’s conversation. Their two younger friends came in after we had arrived. They had spent the day fishing and shellfish hunting and had brought back many huge mussels and abalone. Outside the hut there was a deer carcass hanging in the trees for the blood to drain. We cooked some rice and vegetables and they offered us mussels and abalone, which Andrew and Tom enjoyed thoroughly. I’m not a fan of seafood, especially shellfish, so I declined the offer. They also offered us a leg of venison which we accepted, but we left in the morning before they had really prepared themselves for the day, so we didn’t end up taking them up on the offer. It was raining in the morning, so we waited until 1130am to leave when the weather improved.

Day 3:

The day’s walk was filled with mud, mud, and more mud. The photo of me thigh deep, stuck and fallen over in the mud with my backpack on, was lost as it was on Andrew’s camera. More on that later. We definitely got tired this day and were relieved to arrive at Rakeahua Hut after five and a half hours of walking. We had covered 12 kilometres of marshes, rainforest, mountains, and many a creek once again.

At some of the larger creeks, which could even be called rivers, there were no ways to cross with dry feet without great feats of balance. On one particular crossing, we had to walk along a wet log, swing around a smaller tree that was sticking up diagonally over it (this is not so easy with a large backpack weighing 40+ pounds), then slowly lower ourselves to a sitting position, straddling the log, and shimmy along the log in this position to where one section had broken off. This ‘splinter’ was lower, and we had to lower ourselves into a standing position on this splinter, then walk along it for a couple steps, and then step onto a small but living tree and pull ourselves up onto the other riverbank. It was an interesting process for me, and I was happy to go last, so that Andrew and Tom could advise me. This was one of many examples of clever thinking and entertaining crossings.

The log, looking from the start toward the other side:

The hut was not unoccupied as we had hoped; there were four people already there, and only six bunks. Tom volunteered to sleep on the floor with our three ground mats stacked as a makeshift mattress. However, it turned out that two of the people were actually sleeping in a tent outside to hear the birds at night, so we each got a bunk. The four people were in their sixties I’d say, two from Kaikoura who slept in the tent and two from Tasmania who had come to visit their friends. The gentleman from Kaikoura was quite arrogant it seemed, and his wife was one of those people who has to offer her advice on how to do everything to every stranger she meets. Luckily, the two Tasmanian friends of theirs who slept in the hut were quite nice people and I had a lengthy conversation with them as they had spent a few years in BC (Queen Charlotte Islands and Kimberley) and the Yukon in the seventies.

To be continued…