13/03/2016 - Stewart Island felt less like the last outpost before Antartica and more like a miserable British seaside resort! Be prepared for a gut wrenching bumpy boat ride. That is perhaps a bit unfair but when you are sleeping in a leaky tent completing the Rakiura Great Walk and it rains solidly for 8 hours and then all the next day, it tends to piss you off. The 3 day Rakiura Track is less interesting than some other treks in New Zealand. Day 2 of the Rakiura Track involves tramping through soggy forest for the whole day and worse, never leaving it. Do not stray from the path! In Summer, Stewart Island attracts an array of food gatherers including those hunting deer. One of the hunters I met told me two things of note: One, that they have never shot a tourist (yet!); Two, that a hunter can smell the scent of deer, particularly in mating season, which apparently whiffs of soggy carpet.
So how can you entertain yourself in a non damp, warm environment? There is fish and chips at the Kai Kart where you can grab a chippy tea but don't expect to get proper chippy chips in New Zealand! More specifically, the Kai Kart backpacker deal gets you blue cod, chips, a tempura king prawn, 3 squid rings and a drink for only $10 NZ (under a fiver!). The one pub, the South Sea Hotel which attracts a mixture of locals, fishermen and tourists and where you can get in a cheap round of two drinks for $12 NZ which roughly equates to £6.00 (bargain!). In a stupefied state, you can wander to the pier and wait for little blue penguins, the smallest of all the penguin species to come home though be warned that the moment you spot them will be just about the time that it becomes too dark to properly spot them.
Whilst sheltering from the cold, I was lucky enough to meet Chris Linton who was part way through a charity world Record Attempt to walk around the circumference of New Zealand and all of its islands. Born in New Zealand, educated in Canada and a veteran of the US army, Chris now lives in Tasmania, Australia in between setting epic world records to raise money, awareness and support for ex service people (and their families) suffering with depression and the effects of post traumatic stress disorder. This is not his first world record either. In 2015, Chris set three world records walking around Tasmania and 2017 has in store another world record attempt, this time by walking around Japan and its three main islands. Far from envious of Chris' challenging task, after my camping horror, I truly appreciate the grit and resilience required to undertake his epic journey. By day he pulls his food supplies and equipment in a gadget not dissimilar to a golf trolley. He has had his fair share of drama along the way and his blistered little toe proved to be the collateral damage on his Tasmania world record attempt in a plot line straight off 127 hours, when he had to cut it off in the field. Read Chris' story and lend your support at www.earthwalkcommunity.com.
The surrounding waters are populated by the majestic Great White Shark whilst the area is also famous for Bluff oysters. Stewart Island remains one of the few places in New Zealand where you can still spot a Kiwi whose status is unfortunately threatened with an estimated 68,000 left. The adult Kiwi is a large and flightless bird, about the size of a chicken and is the only bird in the world to have nostrils at the end of its unusual beak. Kiwi parents take turns to look over their chicks with a changing of the guard taking place in the early hours of the morning and make quite the racket when engaging in fisticuffs! The biggest threat to Kiwi chicks are stoats and cats whilst adult Kiwis are frequently attacked by dogs and ferrets. The Stewart Island Backpackers has a kiwi spotting diary where guests log the time and place of their sightings. If you are lucky enough to bump into Stewart Island's only policeman on a dark night on a quiet road, he just might take you on a bespoke kiwi spotting ride along in the comfort of his heated 4 x 4! Don't confuse the Kiwi with the cheeky Weka though as the two look similar to the untrained bird watching eye! The key differences are that the Kiwi is nocturnal and is larger. With Stewart Island you really are at the mercy of the elements however if you are lucky enough to have a nice day, take a ferry taxi to the uninhabited Ulva Island.
Birds on Ulva Island have become acquainted to life without predators and opportunistic Robins living the #thuglife will happily come right to you as they seek to get closer to the insects that you disturb in your track!