story and photos by Peter Hicklenton and Joyce Kublin
New Zealand is not one of the world’s ‘vast’ countries, but there are a surprising number of regions, remote from the beaten tourist path, that are well-worth a visit. For many, the NZ experience stops at Queenstown, the South Island Mecca for adventure travel, within easy reach of the beautiful, but sadly over-visited Milford Sound. On our recent NZ holiday (reported in TTS last issue) we were determined to see the deep south, and the following is a brief report of two regions that are gems for those seeking the ‘road less travelled’.
Stewart Island (Rakiura in Maori) lies directly off the South Coast of NZ’s South Island, and there’s something about the place that induces an immediate sense of relaxation and inner calm. The journey starts in the small, seaside town of Bluff from where the efficient Stewart Island Ferry will whisk you across Foveaux Strait to Oban, the only real settlement on the island. The ferry is ‘passengers and freight only’ and carries no cars for good reason – there are only 25 km of roads on the entire island! We had arranged two nights’ accommodation with Lorraine Kelly, owner of Rakiura Retreat (www.stewartislandmotels.com). Lorraine picked us up at the dock and gave us an impromptu tour of Oban before heading uphill to the hotel. We found the accommodation adequate, but a rather musty smell in the room spoilt the otherwise positive experience. Lorraine provides a complimentary car or mountain bikes to get to and from the town. People come to Stewart Island for one main reason – to enjoy the unspoiled wilderness, coastal forest and shoreline. Some 85% of the island is protected as the Rakiura National Park and many visitors come to walk one of NZ’s easier Great Walks – the 29 km, two-to-three-day Rakiura track. For a shorter visit, however, we can highly recommend two excursions, one during daylight and the other at night.
You would have to look long and hard to find a better tour company than Ruggedy Range Wilderness Experience www.ruggedyrange.com, or a better guide than owner Furhana Ahmad. Her guided afternoon walk on protected Ulva Island introduced us to a range of rare and endangered NZ birds including the very rare yellowhead, and the saddleback, species that have become almost extinct on mainland NZ, but survive on offshore islands that have been cleared of rats and other predators. Stewart Island is also a great place to spot kiwis (the feathered variety!). The southern brown kiwi is sometimes seen during daylight, but for a truly memorable experience we recommend Bravo Adventures, www.kiwispotting.co.nz. Their nighttime kiwi-spotting trek takes you on a magical evening boat trip to a remote beach where these reclusive birds forage for sandhoppers beneath the beached kelp. Bravo owner Philip Smith makes no guarantees of sightings, but visitors are rarely disappointed. True to form, we enjoyed observing the unconcerned feeding of a mature female, and a rather more skittish young male before the evening was done.