With Covid still curtailing international travel, I’m loving exploring my own back yard. I’ve had a number of New Zealand adventures lately, my latest being Stewart Island. It exceeded my expectations on so many levels, from friendly locals, delicious food, brilliant fishing, Kiwis roaming freely, and the natural beauty.
We originally planned to take the ferry from Bluff but thought the better of the six-metre swells in Foveaux Strait. The ferry crossing is only an hour, but a swell that size would have triggered an acute reaction to my flight, fight response so we opted to fly.
Leaving Invercargill Airport in a small twin-engine aircraft, it was a more civilized and pleasant way to travel. Although the plane was small, with a capacity for nine people, the front four seats were airy with large windows for claustrophobic passengers. The 20-minute flight took us into Oban, the biggest community on the island.
Our home for the next couple of nights was The Stewart Island Lodge, set in the bush overlooking Half Moon Bay. The view of the village, wharf, and fishing boats was very quaint. The lodge had five ensuited bedrooms, common areas, with a delicious breakfast included. Each morning we were greeted by birds including Kereru and Kaka feeding on the berries outside our bedroom.
Everything in the town is within walking distance so we headed to the pub for Sunday night dinner and quiz. It is undoubtedly the community hub, with little else except a Four Square grocery store, Fish and Chip Caravan and Kai Cart, and a café. We were told to get to the pub by 4 pm if we wanted a table as it’s a big night for the locals. Packed to the gunnels, the atmosphere was electric as the local teams competed for the big prize, a $60 bar tab. We were ousted by their inspiring general knowledge, but we had a great night and enjoyed our fresh battered Blue Cod and chips.
It’s no surprise fishing plays a major part in the island’s economy, but recently tourism has become the main source of income for its 450 inhabitants. We couldn’t leave the island without having a fish so up early, we headed to the wharf to be greeted by Fluff, an old salty seadog. Fluff’s boat was built in the early 1990s and had its last fit-out in the 70s. Filled with an eclectic array of bits and bobs I wondered about its seaworthiness, but with Fluff’s knowledge of the sea and area he had fished in all his life, I soon relaxed.
After several hours of fishing and observing the majestic Mollymawks, a type of albatross, our fish bucket was full. Fluff filleted our haul of blue cod and trevally, throwing the remains to the Mollywawks. With half a pound of butter in an old tin dish on the fire, Fluff added the pearly white flesh. Minutes later, the flaking fillets were slapped between slices of white bread and we hastily devoured it. Never before have I tasted such fresh and beautifully cooked fish.
Back in Oban, we visited the Bunkhouse Theatre and watched a short movie ‘A Local’s Tail.’ It’s a quirky 40-minute film about Stewart Island. It’s delightful and answers a myriad of questions visitors have about Stewart Island, from the most reliable of all sources, the pub. Or more accurately, the yarns overheard at the pub by a local dog, Lola.
After a busy day, we meandered off to dinner at Church Hill Restaurant. It was incredible to find such an outstanding local restaurant. They source their produce as locally as possible and utilize their own garden. For $95 each, we had a memorable three-course dinner. I had the best-cooked cray I have ever eaten, as well as delicious paua ravioli. I savored each mouthwatering morsel.
They also have accommodation. I can only imagine if it’s anything like their food it will be wonderful.
After dinner, we headed out to find a Kiwi. There are over 20,000 Brown Kiwi on the islands and they’re active day and night. We bought torches from the local Four Square and secured red cellophane over the bulb to create a red filter. Kiwis are frightened of white light, but cannot detect red light. We climbed a path to the local rugby field, a well-known spot for seeing a kiwi. We were surprised didn’t see one, but we will next time. And there will definitely be a next time.
We were told by friends two days on the island would be enough, but we feel we’ve barely scratched the surface. We want to see Ulva Island and all the birds and walk the Rakiura Track. The circular track is one of New Zealand’s great walks and is 32 kilometres. Hikers usually take three-days, but it can be completed in fewer. We’re also keen to see Matheson Bay on the other side of the island.
And, it’ll be hard not to go on another fishing expedition with Fluff.