Stewart Island Bus Tour
Our Stewart Island Bus Tour with Kylie
We joined Kylie at the Red Hut and loaded into the minibus, only four passengers – in the summer bigger busses, on board Kylie gave us the formal Māori welcome. We looked at a map of the island as Kylie explained that the island has just twenty four kilometres of road and most visitors think the island is tiny, it is in fact twice the size of Singapore with just two per cent of the island lived on, the rest is given over to National Park. The island is in fact, forty five by seventy five kilometres. Off we went to our first stop a few minutes away.
The first islanders were Māori in the 13th Century, Kylies people came in the 1700’s. The first Europeans to arrive in the 1800’s were a hardy lot from the Shetland and Orkney Islands. They tried sealing, whaling, tin mining, merino sheep farming, fishing and logging. In its heyday there were seventeen mills sites on the island. Mill Creek was used to float the miru tree planks out to waiting vessels to ship them over to the mainland. The water is red, peaty coloured with tannin, at low tide you can see planks that failed quality control, lain here for over a hundred years. The ducks here are all protected, as are most of the birds we have seen.
Sawmilling families created a small community at Māori Beach, including a school which operated between 1920 and 1935.
Our next stop was at Butterfields Beach, popular with locals and visitors, some thirty thousand tourists come to the island every year, mostly between December and March. Four ferries a day bring one hundred people at a time. South westerlies are the prevailing winds straight off Antarctica, this particular beach is nice and sheltered, but not for me, as in the height of summer the water temperature only rises to between twelve and thirteen degrees Centigrade – now a bone chilling six or seven. Visitors can come for the day or stay in backpacker, bed & breakfast, self-catering accomodation right up to luxury and pamper lodges.
In 1902 party line telephones came to the island connecting the locals to each other and Bluff. One was put on this rimu tree so trampers could speak to people and not feel isolated. In 1970 party lines ended with Telecom and later Vodaphone. To age a rimu tree, non destructively is to hug it, if your fingers touch at full stretch in the hug it will be around two hundred years old. This one takes three men putting it at around six hundred years old. They are slow growing here near the coast as the soil is of poor quality but the tree could live until it reaches a thousand years.
We stopped beside the massive Horseshoe Bay. On the far side Kylie pointed out the crayfish holding building. The crayfisherman here go out in some of the roughest seas in the world to lift their pots, strict rules apply on size. Two and a half to three tons of crayfish can be delivered to the building from one boat. The creatures are held in swim tanks to destress, if they stay upset they begin to lose their limbs and antenna which renders them no good to go to market. To comply to standards set for the mostly Asian – but some European markets, they have to be exported within seventy two hours. Blue cod is the common fish to be caught here. There are extensive oyster beds and the island is famous for its clam chowder and green-lipped mussel dishes.
Our next stop took us down a short path to a curious object. The first telephone line exhibit.
Until 1902 Stewart Island/Rakiura depended upon small sailing vessels for communication with the mainland. That year, Member of Parliament for Awarua Sir Joseph Ward was appointed Acting Prime Minister and he grasped the opportunity to fulfil a long held promise to his island constituents. He secured sufficient submarine cable to link Bluff and Lee Bay – and allowed just seven days to complete the project. This included the challenging task of laying five kilometres of line over bush-clad hills between here and the telephone exchange at Halfmoon Bay.
The security that telephone communication brought to the island was expensive. The initial cost of four thousand pounds was hardly balanced by an estimated revenue of twenty five pounds per annum. Repairing frequent breaks, especially where the cable came ashore over rocks at Bluff’s Ocean Beach, was also frustrating and costly. In 1947 the submarine cable was replaced by microwave radio.
Officers and guests on the bridge of the SS Tutanekai.
Approximately thirty two kilometres of cable was paid out over the bows of SS Tutanekai, weighing six tons to the mile. A six kilometre detour skirted around the oyster beds.
Looking down to Lee Bay was enough for us. It had come over very grey with a freezing cold wind and the big raindrops were not conducive for a stroll along the beach. What was interesting was the very formal fence seen as a line to the right of the bay. This is the two point one kilometre long, state-of-the-art, ecologically engineered fence belonging to the Dancing Star Foundation. This fully enclosed reserve belongs to this privately owned charity , which has several reserves around the world. They have made this area pest free and are maintaining a watchful eye as to how quickly they can render this land, as was, the project here began in 2004. There are currently one hundred and twenty six native plants and trees, seven invertebrates and eleven native birds, the Stewart Island Robin and Rifleman are just two of the success stories. There are between eighteen and twenty thousand Stewart Island kiwis – Tokoeka, on the island, many islanders have never seen one in the flesh.........
The information board here showed us what we were looking out at. Also the Deed of Recognition that has “swept away from the island any old niggles about the history of the ownership of the island and its spiritual importance to the Māori people. The line in the sand was drawn with parties and each year a friendly game of rugby takes place between the natives and the whities........” Sounds like a lot of fun.
Sadly, the only way to see this picture ‘in the flesh’ over Mount Anglem, is from the air or after some serious tramping. The mountain’s English name honours Captain William Andrew Robert Anglem, who lived at the Neck with his high-born Māori wife Te Anau. The accuracy of Anglem’s 1846 Foveaux Strait chart made a valuable contribution to Captain John L. Stokes’ survey of southern coastal waters on HMS Acheron. Stokes named the mountain “in memorial of great assistance” from the captain.
Tramping map and shorter route times.
Lee Bay is where the road ends and the track to New Zealand’s southernmost national park begins. Access to Rakiura National Park – 140,000 hectares or 80% of the total land area, is on foot or by boat. Lee Bay is the entry point to more than 200 kilometres of walking tracks, including the rugged wilderness experience of the ten to twelve day North West Circuit and the easier, three day Rakiura Track.
An example of a trampers hut, this one we saw at the Visitors Centre is a replica of one found on Codfish Island – Sealers Bay Hut. Some huts are for one, two and up to eight, they can be pre-booked if have researched your route and know a bit about what you are doing. There are some areas in the country, as in Fiordland, where you have to let the authorities know and get permission – from a safety point of view. Happily we won’t become trampers anytime soon. Neither of us are built for some of the humungous backpacks we’ve seen and all those dangly bits, shoes, boots, washing, bed rolls......... ugh. It’s wonderful for the young and fit.
We walked a couple of minutes out of sight and there was the anchorstone and anchor, the other end of which we had seen on Bluff. Kylie made a formal gesture to Bear as a pākehā or British European, he had to be her “handsome Scottish man being welcomed by a native island girl.”
Back in the van, we journeyed to the other side of the bay, all of ten minutes at slow speed........ we stopped to look out over Halfmoon Bay.
Kylie swung the minibus around to visit this pretty little, simple new build. Anyone can buy land here, but even the plainest of houses have noughts added to the estimate. Shipping, hiring the car recovery unit to unload the delivery boat, shifting the raw materials, laying the electricity supply to the site and building costs. Nothing here gets wasted as everything is seen as a precious commodity. It costs two hundred and thirty dollars to get a car delivered, extra to have it off-loaded. The car will run until it dies, each year having to pass its MOT. At the end of its life a notice will go up that the owners will take it to the tip. All islanders then a week of amnesty where they can go and strip it bare of useful items. It is then sold to a scrap man on the mainland, this recoups the cost of getting it here in the first place. At the tip is a bottle crusher, when crushed the glass is then added the gravel that is laid on driveways. Twelve hundred tons of re-cycling is managed at the tip every year. There is even a worm farm.
We saw all kinds of poultry, chicken, ducks, quail, however pigs are banned and no-one can keep a rabbit. There are white-tailed deer on the island, which although seen partly as a pest, are what brings hunters to the island, thereby helping the economy. Each household collects rainwater. Everyone here seems to honour mother nature in the right way.
Mail is flown in on a daily basis, the ‘Post Office’ – one of the Council buildings, needs an hour to load everyone's post boxes ready for collection.
There are two paramedics nurses that tend to the day to day needs of the islanders in the clinic, open two hours every day. Emergencies are dealt with in the home, if need be, air transport is arranged for the twenty minute flight to Invercargill.
Back through Oban, we pass Halfmoon Bay School, twenty three pupils to two full-time teachers with two classroom support staff. On their thirteenth birthday, these youngsters will then go to the mainland for senior school and university, most return for school holidays, some not at all. Female working opportunities has opened up dramatically with science and research based degrees working for the Department of Conservation. Many traditional homes, such as Kylie’s sees her work all summer and her husband all winter.
We drove past St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, the first church on the island. Whilst the Presbyterian Church dominates on the other side of Halfmoon Bay, we thought this little church was very sweet indeed.
Our last stop was at the lookout over Ulva Island.
A few minutes walk took us to the lookout over Golden Bay, Iona Island, clearly named for my lovely cousin and then to her right, the last house in New Zealand.
Wonderful tour over, nothing for it but to settle in the South Seas Hotel for me to sample blue cod and chips with lashings of vinegar and Bear to enjoy the ‘famous’ clam chowder before getting on the ferry for our lively trip back to Bluff.
To end our visit to Stewart Island are the words we saw on a plaque by Leonard Cockayne in 1908:- “The face of the earth is changing so rapidly that soon there will be little of primitive nature left. In the Old World, it is practically gone forever. Here there is Stewart Island’s prime advantage, and one hard to overestimate. It is an actual piece of the primeval world.”
ALL IN ALL AN ISLAND COMMITTED TO THE BEST OF ‘THE OLD WAYS’
VERY INTERESTING CULTURAL EXPERIENCE