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Going to Stewart Island

2010 July 30
by rob

March 3, 2009

I did, eventually, get a few hours of sleep, but was groggily woken up from some dream by my alarm at 6:10 AM. I skipped having a shower and had cottage cheese and muesli for breaky with some instant espresso coffee. I packed up the last of my stuff (with a much lighter load now!) and got a lift with Bob (a true fellow Robert!) to the bus stop. Sadly, it seems that I had forgotten to pack that jar of instant espresso. Maybe it’s a sign? Even though I had learned to tolerate instant coffee, it was still officially a foul concoction. Losing my supply of instant coffee was a good excuse to drink real coffee for a while.

The bus ride was easy. For a while, I was the only passenger, and so I sat in the front and talked to the driver. Even though I loathed to talk to actual tourists, I didn’t have any problem talking with the Kiwis.

I was nervous about my accommodation on Stewart Island. I desperately wanted a private room. I needed to escape crowded share rooms and bunks for a while. I had called a few places before, but there weren’t any places with free private rooms. The island was heavily booked. I finally decided to book into the share room at a place called The View. Somehow, I would have to survive.

My bus dropped me off at the museum and ISite in Invercargill, the largest city at the south end of the South Island (though, still not that big, of course!), where I enjoyed a blueberry and cream cheese muffin and hot chocolate at the café before catching my next bus to nearby Bluff, at the extreme southern tip of the island. On the way, we drove past a circus and I saw an elephant!

Stewart Island is the island located off the southern end of the South Island of New Zealand. This island is one of the most southerly inhabited places on Earth. It’s farther south than anywhere in Australia or Africa. Patagonia and the Falkland Islands are farther south, though. For me, it’s an extreme point: I’ve never been anywhere further south (until I go to Patagonia, of course).

The island is small and has only one settlement, Oban, and is separated from the rest of New Zealand by the Foveaux Strait. It took my small ferry about an hour to cross the choppy waters of the strait. The highlight of the ride was spotting albatrosses hanging out on on the sea’s surface. Albatrosses seem to look like sea gulls, but with huge wing spans. I would never call such a bird a rat (which I often call sea gulls):

Albatross in the Foveaux Strait

Albatross in the Foveaux Strait

As the boat pulled into Halfmoon Bay and into the dock at Oban I got rather excited. The place was pretty. There were little houses perched on various tree covered hills. A tiny white church steeple punctuated the skyline of the village. It reminded me a lot of Atlantic Canada. I can see why tourists come here. The weather is warm and sunny the whole time I was there.

After the boat docked, I collected my backpack and marched up a steep hill to The View. I was not surprised, in the least, that a place called “The View” was located on top of a steep hill. The owner, Joye, showed me the share room: four beds, no bunks. Each bed had its own end table. The only other room in the place was a private double room. The kitchen was on the top floor. There was a living room and balcony with a grand sight of Halfmoon Bay below. At sunset, you were treated with this glorious view:

The View from The View

The View from The View

The place was quiet and the owner didn’t bother her guests very much. I was going to stay here three days and I knew it was the right place for me to be. I could have a quiet vacation from traveling here and build up my spirits again.

Although I didn’t have any motivation to hike the nearby Rakiura Track (a three day hike through parts of Stewart Island), I still needed to partake in some kind of activity otherwise I would get really bored. The island offered guided walks to see kiwi birds in the wild (one of the only places in New Zealand this activity was available), but the tours weren’t running this week. There was a popular bird sanctuary at tiny Ulva Island, but it seemed touristy and I had no intention in going. There were also kayak tours and fishing trips, too.

In the meanwhile, I took myself on a simple walk through the village and down to Horseshoe Bay and back. Mostly I sat at the backpackers and relaxed. For dinner, I prepared some sweet corn-on-the-cob and canned chili. The backpackers didn’t have a stove, but I was astonished that you could prepare corn-on-the-cob in the microwave!

I briefly talked with my two Israeli roomates that evening. It was hard to believe how many of them I kept running into lately. They were everywhere. During most of my travels, I didn’t encounter very many of them. Apparently, it was common for Israelis to go traveling after their mandatory military service, so they many of them go out at the same time.

I had to pay NZ$5 to get linens and blankets for the bed since I didn’t have my own stinky sleeping bag anymore. That was okay. It was a small price to pay to actually get three nights under actual blankets for once. Now I know why blankets like that are called “comforters”.

Rob Szumlakowski
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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