Day 27: An island off an island off an island

This morning is like many other mornings, but unlike quite a few others.
The weather is dark and wet yet again, but this time is different: we are about to get on a plane. A plane not back home, but a plane to an island.

Flying from Invercargill usually means one thing, we are going to Stewart Island! This is an island off the coast of the South Island and is for about 85% National Park. The other parts are Maori land and the township of Oban. With about 400 permanent residents it’s not what you would call a big place.

Our plane is kind of small, with only 8 spots for passengers. It does have twin engines and one pilot, meaning we could safely cross the strait between the South Island and Stewart Island. After a smooth 20 minute flight we touched down on the nearly predator free Stewart Island and were swiftly trucked away fro the air strip to the Depot building. Here, we had a 45 second bus drive to the Stewart Island Lodge (the love their descriptive names over here!) and so we checked in at the place where we would spend the night around 9am. That is by far the earliest check in for us!
We were even offered a second breakfast by the host Sue, an offer we couldn’t refuse.

We had time to spare until 1 that afternoon, and we killed it by strolling alongside the harbour and taking pictures of the resident Kaka at the lodge. Also, we booked a Kiwi spotting tour for the night. We are pretty happy with that, as seeing a Kiwi in the wild is quite exciting! Most New Zealanders have not seen one themselves!

Around 1 we arrived at the rendezvous point for our tour to Ulva Island. This is a small predator free island off the coast of Stewart Island, hence the title of this blog. Ulva is a bird sanctuary and can only be visited by boat.
The guide just came off the previous tour and was saying goodbye to the 08:30 tour when we asked him about the 13:00 tour. He pretty much told us there was none. Ouch.

Luckily, after a quick phone call to the company HQ, it appeared there had been a mixup and everything was solved by Matt (the guide) who offered to do the tour just for the two of us. Sweet!

On the island, he tried to show us all the native birds, like the Rifleman, Kaka, Robin, Weka, Kiwi, Yellowhead and Saddleback. The last three didn’t show themselves, but the Weka proved to be wonderful as we encountered a full family feeding on the beach!
With the parents happily chucking away the kelp which got washed ashore to feed on the bugs that live on it, the chicks were imitating the behaviour all the while squeaking and chattering away. That was a great sighting!

Tonight, we ate Fish & Chips with the freshest Blue Cod we’ve had over here, after which we went over to the wharf to embark on the Kiwi spotting trip. The guy who organises it has done so for the last 20 years and he has had a 100% success rate for about 5 years in a row. That is 100% of the trips with at least one sighting per trip for 100 trips per year for 5 years in a row. Wow!

To make a long story short: we also spotted a Brown Stewart Island Kiwi as it was happily pecking away at the insects on the beach. This is incredible! A live Kiwi, seen in the wild. A truly amazing experience!

Tomorrow, we are leaving Stewart Island already and are heading further north to an area called The Catlins.
The B&B is not in a town, and all we got is an address on a road somewhere off the highway, so let’s hope we get there. 😉