Skip to content

On Stewart Island and over to Balclutha

2010 August 6
by rob


March 4, 2009

I woke up and had breakfast by myself. This hostel was so quiet. It was great. I’m glad I stayed up here in the hostel on the hill rather than the grubby one down in the village. Rumour had it that it wasn’t that good. The weather looked brilliant: so sunny and warm! I felt some stirrings of ambition towards activity. With a couple of quick phone calls I arranged a sea kayak trip for that evening and a water taxi pickup from a jetty near the Port William Hut for 2:30 PM.

I wasn’t mentally or physically prepared to execute and properly enjoy another three day Great Walk with two more nights in huts, but I could, in theory, enjoy a simple day hike along the first segment of the trail and take a water taxi back. The walk was about four hours long, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have hoped. Sure, there were pretty beaches, bays, trees, lush forest, huge ferns, birds, creeks, and mini-waterfalls but there was some mud and some hills, too. I had conquered bigger patches of mud and bigger hills on other treks, but wasn’t good at the ones on Stewart Island. I guess I hadn’t fully recovered from the Kepler Track yet. It took a lot out of me.

I did get some great pictures of kelp, shells, and other shoreline features.

Beach on Stewart Island

Beach on Stewart Island

Forest on Stewart Island

Forest on Stewart Island

I was very happy, though, that I had decided to skip this Great Walk. There were several groups of people walking with big packs that I passed on the track — implying that the huts would be quite busy. I was quite confident that I’d have a quieter and more solitary time hanging out at the backpackers and in the village than out in the wilderness. What a paradox!

Hey! Enough angst and self loathing! The water taxi picked me up and the appointed hour and conveyed me on a very bumpy and spray-filled ride across the sea back to the village of Oban. I had lunch at the backpackers in silence and read for several hours.

At 6:15 PM, I put on my board shorts and rash guard and walked over the hill behind the village to the Watercress Bay on Paterson Inlet for my twilight sea kayaking expedition. I decided to be bold and take a solo kayak, rather than pairing with a stranger. Kayaking was fun and I wanted to get better at it. I did get tossed around by the waves a bit and had a bit of a hard time keeping the thing going straight, but I think I did okay. The one-person kayaks certainly have a lot of pick-up! We saw some Little Blue penguins bobbing in the waves in the inlet, some Sooty Shearwaters (cousins of the albatross), some Oyster Catcher birds, and a weka bird poking among the rocks on the shore of Native Island.

We had a break and snack on the beach of Native Island. The island is interesting since all of the people that got sick from contagious diseases in the colony’s early days were sent to the island to either die or recover. Most of the people were Māoris and the island is littered with graves. It’s still a sacred place and visitors like us were only permitted to walk on the beach itself.

The trip back was magic since we paddled directly towards the setting sun and got back shortly after it disappeared.

On Native Island

On Native Island

On the way back to my backpacker’s I stopped at the takeaway van and got some battered blue cod and chips. Mmmmm…. blue cod is definitely a tasty fish.

My four-share dorm was full that night, but the people were quiet and there were no issues. Despite my recent psychological stress, it ended up being a good day. The issues and daemons I had to battle with were really all inside my head and I just needed some time to get through it.

March 5, 2009

Yesterday, during my stressy walk, I had decided that today must be a NOTHING DAY. And so it would (nearly) be. The agenda for the day would be very light: reading books, reading the Jargon File (which I was keeping on my iPod), writing, and finishing all my postcards.

I spent much time sitting in the cute Just Café. When I had completed the postcards, some other people said I was a “legend!” I had completed 45 postcards for New Zealand and had posted them from the farthest south ever.

After finishing the postcards, I went for a short walk to Acker’s Point to see the lighthouse. The walk started off by passing a great “penguin crossing” sign:

Penguin Crossing

Penguin Crossing

The walk was supposed to take three hours with return, but it only took me two hours. I walked past some nice beaches, coves, and baches (what the Kiwis call their summer beach houses). The lighthouse itself was somewhat disappointing since it wasn’t one of those classic towers but instead it was a short stumpy mechanical box.

I went back to The View and talked to Garth (from Denver, USA). He had been on a fishing trip that day and caught a large amount of blue cod. He said the fish were practically lining up to jump on his hook and be caught. He was considering taking them to the takeaway van to get them battered and deep-fried. I told him, however, that his hard-earned prizes deserved better than that. My recommendation was that he take them to the Harfside Café (I think the “W” fell off the sign) and get them to prepare the fish better. He said that it was a good idea and suggested that I come and help, too. We then proceeded to drink the last of my two beers. It was funny since my Lonely Planet guidebook suggested that you could occasionally barter fish from random fisherman at the Port William jetty, but I had just bartered beer for fish in my very own room.

We went to the Harfside Café and asked them if they could prepare the fish nicely — maybe with some salad and veggies. They seemed taken back (I’m not sure why) and said, yes, but not for free. Clearly we didn’t expect to get it for free. They were astonished by the amount of fish. Even the cook came out of the kitchen to check if we were really sure. She said it was 1.5 kg of fish (!!!!!). What else were we supposed to do? We were both leaving the island tomorrow and couldn’t bring the fish with us!

The plates that served the fish were large, indeed. We each had like eight fillets of fish. This meal would truly be an epic one. Photos were taken!

Epic Fish Meal

Epic Fish Meal

We discussed manly things like brewing beers and catching fish while we did manly things like drinking beers and eating fish. It was a struggle, but we both completed our dual mountains of fish… and all of our veggies and salad, to boot!

March 6, 2009

My ferry out of Stewart Island today wasn’t until 3:30 PM so I had lots of time to do absolutely nothing. I went to the post office to put stamps on and mail my pile of postcards. I read some of the National Geographic magazines there for a while before returning to the Just Café for some more of their great coffee and a piece of carrot cake. I spent like two or three hours there writing in my journal and watching people go in and out.

The weather continued to be fantastic. It was the fourth warm and sunny glorious day in a row. My spirits had been greatly lifted. Around 2 PM I walked back up the hill to The View for a last time to eat my lunch, read a bit more and get my stuff. My pack was so heavy! I was greatly looking forward to my big mailing day in Dunedin when I could get rid of a bunch of stuff.

My Ferry ride back to Bluff was less bumpy than before. From there, it was a short coach ride up to Invercargill. I had hoped to buy dinner and use the potties during my 45 minute wait there, but they closed at 5 PM. I was 20 minutes late! Instead, I sat on the concrete sidewalk outside the museum and finished reading my book. I needed to find new reading material badly. This book, “Whatever Happened to Margo?” was funny and silly, but not exactly a work of classic literature. Finally a bus came, picked me up, and two hours later I was in Balclutha. It was an amusing ride since the highway went through the villages of Gore and Clinton and was called the “Presidential Highway”. Oops.

Balclutha was a small place, far from typical tourist stomping grounds. Why had I come here? A friend of mine from high school, Ben Crawford, was living here. I had come for a visit. He picked me up at 8:30 PM in his dusty and cob web covered Nissan Familia car with awesome flip-up head lights. Very retro. He had been in New Zealand for about four years. He did teacher’s college in Christchurch and was teaching mathematics at the high school in Balclutha the rest of the time. Since he had been here for three years, it was entertaining to go to the supermarket and petrol station and hearing all the random local kids saying, “Hi Mister Crawford!”. Meanwhile, I just said, “Craaaaaaaaawford,” for old times’ sake.

Ben made hamburgers from scratch. They were quite good. We both stayed up late, talking about my travels, computer stuff, and teaching. I got to sleep on an inflatable mattress on the floor. Excellent!

Rob Szumlakowski
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.