Loren and I took a short walk along Fraser’s Beach at the beginning of this week, which we had seen signs for all the while we were staying in Manipouri and were glad we finally investigated. Then too we went to the local theater in Te Anau to see Fiordland on Film: Ata Whenua – Shadowland. One of our new Italian friends joined us for the 30 minute movie. It actually felt longer than a half hour with thoroughly captivating scenery, parts of which we have seen and parts seeing for the first time. That evening we had a fun BBQ with all our three Italian and one American friends here, it was a bittersweet farewell-for-now evening.
After an overnight thunderstorm we awoke to much colder weather. We still had a lovely time on the Gunn Lake Nature Walk as, after the rain, the old growth forest seemed more awash in brighter green mosses that are towered over by so many ancient Red Beech.
Loren and I have appreciated being able to discern some of the innumerable varieties of ferns and mosses from what we were taught by our day hike guide in Milford Sound last week. My favorites include Crown fern – for its grand symmetry, Button fern – which to me looks like strands of shiny pearl necklaces, and Umbrella Moss – in which I see little green sea anemone. Then there are innumerable varieties of fungi and lichen here too…
We had wanted to hike to Earland Falls on our Godson’s recommendation, but, after driving over a long stretch of gravel road, and not being sure if our maps app was accurate about the Falls, we abandoned our plan and hiked the section of the Routeburn Track called The Divide to Key Summit. I actually made it to the top because it was a gradual uphill for an hour and a half, which is my favorite type of trail next to flat or at least undulating. We later learned that Earland Falls was along the Routeburn, and that Key Summit was merely a side track. It was our loss, a reason to return here someday…
I must mention – before moving on from sharing about Fiordland – that one thing I have neglected to record thus far are what the locals call “tree avalanches.” The mountains here are mostly granite, giving the tree roots little earth to sink into. We were taught the theory that when one tree gains a little footing, the neighboring flora flourish by clinging to that one’s fragile root system. When a storm or severe winds kick up, the footing can be easily lost, causing a slide on the mountainside where tree and all the attached come crashing down to litter road, trail, or water below, that exposes the sheer rock face and leaves a sorry pile of debris at the bottom. It can take 5 years for the undergrowth to return and many years to fully fill in again. This is common throughout this region.
We left Manipouri to drive to the Southland region city of Bluff, where one end of State Highway 1 originates/terminates. We had a delightful AirBnB hostess who had alerted us beforehand to the closing hour of a restaurant where we could enjoy oysters – what this town is famous for. We stopped in, made a reservation, then hiked more than a couple of hours around Stirling Point to work up our appetites. A Tui bird stayed put long enough for me to take a photo that just barely shows the white tuft at the front of its neck but more clearly captures its beautiful blue feathers. Later that evening I enjoyed filling in the last of a jigsaw puzzle that our host had put out for us to complete if we wanted, a nice way for me to reminisce about and anticipate more what is coming on our time here.
The next day Loren and I took a boat over to Stewart Island. It was a single story seating style catamaran, meant to handle the winds and confluent swells of the Tasman Sea to the west, the Southern Ocean to the south and the Pacific Ocean to the east. As our AirBnB host had warned, it is a rough ride even in good weather – which we were grateful to have. My stomach dropped deep more than once on our hour long crossing of the Foveaux Straight. That evening Loren and I went on a guided nocturnal Kiwi Encounter outing, and, we had the privilege to find three of them active in the wild!
The next morning was overcast and the forecast on my weather app called just for wind. We proceeded with our plan to take a water taxi to Port William Hut wharf, then to hike back to Halfmoon Bay on part of the Rakiura Great Walk track. We had magnificent views along the bush covered trail, with periodic camping sites which also partially protected us from the several strong downpours that occurred during the day, and affording an opportunity for meaningful conversations with some other trampers.
After a quick change of clothes, we made it in time to the theater to see the film, A Local’s Tail, featuring true stories of Stewart Island people, history, and recent events, narrated through the eyes of a local pooch. It exemplified our experiences of what the Stewart Island Promotion Association website describes as “a simpler, slower lifestyle, in rhythm with the sea and the tides, attuned to the natural world of bush and beach.” There are an approximate 400 residents on the entire island of an approximate 1000 square miles.
The next day we took in a workshop with a master carver of jade. It was our incredible fortune to have planned to be indoors as torrential rains poured down several different times – so much so that all the three scheduled ferries to and from Bluff were canceled. In the evening we enjoyed dinner at our Backpacker lodge with our young American friend who has also made her way to Stewart Island.
In addition to enjoying her company again, we have met some wonderful, mostly younger, people on Stewart Island – other travelers whose values and philosophies in life resonate with ours, despite the differences in age.
We spent our last full day of visiting Stewart Island by taking a guided walk of nearby Ulva Island. It is a nearly 100 percent predator-free sanctuary, ensuring that the native plants and wildlife that are threatened on the North and South Islands thrive in more abundant. This Stewart Island Robin invited us to take its photo.
On the way to Ulva Island our boat had also briefly stopped for us to take in the White Capped albatross flying about, and a flock of Spoonbill on a tiny “one-tree island.” In all, this has been a lovely way to celebrate my birthday week! A special thank you to you both near and far who have helped me celebrate!