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New Zealand - Stewart Island and Invercargill

It was the end of August - mid-winter and we were at the bottom of the South Island. We arrived in Invercargill,dubbed "city of water and light".....the water may refer to the frequent driving rain. We stayed with Cali and Chris, who kindly lent us their rucksacks for our upcoming trip to Stewart Island.

We arrived early on a blustery winter morning for the passenger ferry from Bluff to Stewart Island. Tickets collected and we were informed that the ferry was delayed. The Captain had jumped in a car and driven over the hill to check the sea state and assess whether he could make it out of the harbour - yes, the conditions were that gnarly.

A little delayed, we set off. All passengers were restricted to the rear seats and sick bags were on stand-by. It was a very rough and slow going crossing. In quick time a few poor souls started to suffer.

Once we were in the lee of the island things calmed down in time for our arrival in Oban. This small port community has a small supermarket, a hotel/restaurant/pub, a cafe and two backpackers hostels. We headed straight to the backpackers. As a mark of things to come, that 600 metre walk started sunny, changed to windy and ended with torrential rain. Weather changes suddenly in Oban and the general forecast for our stay wasn't good.

We had a spare day to wander around the area, before the main event, a three day hike. We spent our time with a few short hikes to nearby bays and savoured the delicious fish and chips in the local pub.

Although we had been on plenty of one day hikes, we had never experienced hiking with full backpacks (food, water, stove and sleeping bag) over a period of days. We were off on the Rakiura Track, one of New Zealand's great walks, with overnight stays at two DOC huts. (Department of Conservation)

Without giving a day by day blow of the hike, I will say we had sun and rain and in places it was hard going - but it was a great experience. Days later, we were researching 3 & 4 day hikes elsewhere and still have plans to achieve that!

Back at the backpackers, we had to wait a few days for a break in foul weather, so we could take a water taxi to Ulva Island, a predator-free bird sanctuary. We delayed our return to the mainland, managed to do a few more walks, watched the blue penguins return to their nesting sites within metres of the Oban ferry wharf at night, ate more fish and chips and eventually made it to Ulva Island. It was certainly worth the wait.

Stewart Island has plenty of Kiwis and although we had heard their calls, we hadn't managed to see any, despite heading out in search of this elusive bird. At one hut we had a pretty sleepless night as we kept jumping out of bed every time we heard them. As our trip came to an end, the owner of the backpackers took pity and took us on a Kiwi hunt. Happily, we saw a pair, albeit very briefly.

Mission accomplished - time to head back to the mainland and see a little bit of Invercargill.


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