Day 28: Back to the mainland

Another early morning today, as we had to catch our flight back to the main island from Stewart Island to Invercargill. The commute in Oban was not too bad, but as the weather had clearly changed the flight would be a little different from the previous one.

The plane showed up, but it was not the same as yesterday, it is even smaller.
With room for only 4 passengers, they crammed in a fifth as he sat next to the pilot. The plane also only had one front mounted propellor. The wind had picked up considerable over the night, so the flight to Invercargill was quite interesting, to say the least. We shook, shuddered, waived, tilted, rolled and then some and even the short 15 minutes were a little bit too long. It was like a giant roller coaster ride!

After collecting our luggage directly from the pilot of the plane our voyage to the Caitlin’s was underway. We took the Coastal Southern Scenic Route which takes you almost directly alongside the ocean in the direction of Dunedin. Along the way, we visited many coves, bays and the likes, among which were two adjacent bays: Porpoise Bay and Curio Bay. The latter is most well know for the Yellow-eyed Penguin, and the first for the smallest species of Dolphin: Hector’s Dolphin.
At Curio bay we were instructed by the friendly volunteer to come back around 7pm, as the parents would come back from the sea to feed the chicks. At Porpoise Bay, the dolphins can be spotted just walking on the beach. We did just that, it was amazing!

As we arrived at the B&B quite early in the day, we asked for some more small things to see and do in the. I invite, and out of the options offered we chose 2.
The first thing we did was visit McLean Falls, which is a three stage waterfall just a few kilometres from where we stay. The second was to visit Cathedral Caves, which are 1 sea cave in the cliff a few kilometres from the falls. This cave is huge! Only accessible 2 hours around low tide, we were lucky to be able to just go there and get in.
Unfortunately though, our way back from the caves featured quite a steep hill to climb, and a pretty heavy rainfall.
Oh well. It was not the first time we’ve gotten wet, and luckily all important things stayed dry.

That night, after dinner in the restaurant of an Olympic Champion (Paralympic, but still) we went back to Curio Bay to see the Yellow-eyed Penguins. This is the rarest species of all 7 types of Penguin, and can only be found in a few places in New Zealand. Only in the last few years have the New Zealanders become pretty protective of these animals, but now they are catching up in their methods, and the species is slowly making its way back from the status of Critically Endangered. All is not well though, as there are about 2000 penguins left. We were on a beach with 9 breeding pairs, which would mean there are between 30 and 35 penguins present at the most. Not a lot!
We were lucky enough to see a parent feeding the chicks, that was an awesome sight!

Tomorrow, we are leaving the Caitlin’s again, this time for Dunedin and more specifically the Otago Peninsula. The say it is really lovely up there!

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. 😉

Day 26: Spending the day in Invercargill

After a good night of sleep, we woke up to a silent and rainy world. Not the perpetual type of rain, but more like a drizzle which turns into rain now and then and sometimes even dies down completely.
This weather is not too bad for driving and so we took off.

Before we went to Invercargill, we had already decided yesterday that we would visit the local wildlife sanctuary. They have a few native species of birds in pens amongst which the very rare Takahe. This is a chicken sized Pukeko. For those not familiar with New Zealand wildlife: a Takeha is like a fat, flightless black chicken with a very large slightly rounded beak. It is nearly extinct and there are about 300 birds in captivity or managed wildlife on predator free locations. There are a few still in the wild, but they don’t know the exact numbers of those populations.

At 09:15 the Takahe are fed, and a small introductory talk is given. After this we quickly were on our way further south to Invercargill.

Here, we spent the day walking in the park, which had a small museum, an aviary with lots of birds, a small zoo with local and native species of animals like feral goats and Kunekune pigs, rose gardens, a Japanese garden and quite a lot more.
What a wonderful way to spend the day over here!

Tomorrow, we are crossing the strait to Stewart Island, and this time not by boat.
We spent the evening repacking our bags, as we are only allowed 1 piece of baggage with a weight of 15kg per person on the plane. Let’s just say we carry quite a lot more on a daily basis!
It is a small plane, but I guess you’ll see more tomorrow!