Thursday, February 28, 2008

Goodbye Old Friend

I kept it as long as it was still socially responsible to have it but, like the hike, all great things must end. Yesterday morning I shaved my beard into a few funny face styles, well, funny to me. This beard was the result of 159 days of growth. I didn’t trim it except for the area above my mouth. Definitely a successful experiment, my first ever venture into facial hair. It took at least ten years off my life, I am back to looking like a 12 year old. I have blown the dust of my license in preparation for trips to the bar. Here are a few photos of my transformation; I was tempted to stop at the handlebar, but Alice wasn’t in to it.



Just before heading off to Stewart Island I stopped off at a sports store to inquire about fishing. I heard it could be good if you could find a deep pool off the rocks that was kelp free. I ended up purchasing a hand line; fishing line wrapped around a plastic disk. We headed across on the ferry and I was so excited I tried fishing off the wharf in Golden Bay the night we got there; I didn’t catch anything. On the track I did have a bit of success, I caught two striped parrot fish and a spotty. Almost had a nice blue cod, but it got off near the rocks. I did my best to fillet the two parrot fish which proved to be difficult with our tiny knife but they were a nice addition to the dehydrated meals we were eating.

On our last day on Stewart Island we had a special treat, Jim, a Stewart Island local, took us out to his mussel farm to go cod fishing. We’d met Jim and his friend Phil while they were hunting at Rakeahua Hut a few days earlier. I was after local fishing knowledge so was grilling them about good spots near Oban. Turns out the fishing isn’t any good there without a boat. Jim said if the weather was nice he’d take us out. Despite the gloomy forecast, we had perfect sunny skies and no wind so off we went. It was really interesting checking out the farms, mussel farms are something neither of us have had any experience with so it was cool to see the whole process. Jim also knew the spots to find cod, they started biting straight away. Between us we caught 6 huge blue cod, the largest being about 50cm. Very impressive.

On the topic of fish, if you are after the best fish and chips ever you must go to the Kai Kart in Oban. Jim’s wife, Hilly, cooks up fresh blue cod and the crispiest chips. So delicious. Thanks to Jim and Hilly for your generosity, we really enjoyed meeting you both.


Dennis with his first parrot fish
Dennis filleting the fish
Kai Kart – best fish and chips you can get
Hilly and Vanessa running the Kai Kart
Alice with the biggest blue cod of the day

Stewart Island 3

Dennis on the muddy track to Doughboy Bay
Us on Mt Rakeahua
Another kiwi
The wharf at Fred's Camp Hut
Enjoying a frosty cold beverage at the end

Stewart Island 2

Smoky Beach x3
Long Harry Beach
Alice watching one the five kiwi we saw

Stewart Island

Wow, what an ending. Stewart Island was amazing, definitely one of our favourite sections. We didn’t want to come home. It was everything we had expected and more.

Once again we got lucky with the weather. We left the DOC office on our first day to a forecast that predicted rain for the next 9 days. The information brochure about the island said that it rained 275 days a year. Seeing as it hadn’t rained properly in over a month, we figured it was overdue and our luck with good weather had run out. Not so. We ended up having rain a couple of nights but other than that it was fine, just a bit overcast. We couldn’t complain, it made for a nice hiking temperature.

We walked for 13 days over the North West and Southern Circuit tracks that go in a loop around the top half of the island, following the coastline. We walked through bush every day, with the track dipping down to amazing beaches. Each one was different. The thick bush went right down to the coastline, with the only bad part being the hook grass that lined parts of the track. I had shaved my legs in Invercargill so didn’t have too bad a time with it. Dennis was another story. The nasty hooks would rip at his leg hairs as they gripped on, then rip again as he pulled them off. There’d be times when he’d spent five minutes de-hooking himself, only to be covered again straight away.

The track was what you would call undulating. Up, then down, up, then down… When we left Halfmoon Bay at the start my pack weighed 18kg, Dennis’ weighed 22kg. These were our heaviest packs. We did our best to pack light food but there’s only so much you can cut out and still survive for 13 days. My pack didn’t make me a happy tramper on the first few days, those hills were hard. Normally I like hills – they give challenge and rewarding views, but adding a third of my body weight to my back slowed me down. Dennis, of course, was fine so we ate out of my pack for the first couple of days then I was fine. Back to loving the hills again.

As I mentioned in our last post, Stewart Island is renowned for it’s mud. The mud was great for us, you could avoid or walk over it, although even after over a month without rain the ground was definitely still very squishy in parts. There were sections on the Southern Circuit that required some innovative manoeuvring to get around the mud. And this wasn’t your typical, squelchy mud. This was bog. Big black holes of unknown depth, strange smell and a weird film covering the top. What you would call a ‘no fall zone’, as we teetered over the top on precariously placed branches and tree stumps. We were dirty enough after 2 weeks without showering without falling into something like that.

We had a much more social time on Stewart Island than we’d had the opportunity to have during the rest of our trip. For the first time we stayed with the same people in the huts over multiple nights. We met groups of hunters who showed us penguins, trampers from all over Europe and America, and Stewart Island locals. This really made our trip more memorable.

One of the biggest highlights of the island was seeing kiwi! Most people hardly ever get the opportunity to see these flightless, nocturnal birds that form a key part of our national identity, but down here they’re not nocturnal. We saw 5 of them, at various times during the day as we were walking along the track. We were determined to see at least one, getting up early one morning to hunt around East Ruggedy Hut where there had been sightings. But the easiest thing was just to stumble across them. You can definitely tell there isn’t much survival instinct going on with these birds, although their legs are really strong to fight off other animals. We were able to watch one bird for 40 minutes as it fossicked around in the undergrowth. We were able to get within a few metres of it, creeping quietly on the moss. It’s response to hearing us would be to put it’s head up for 2 seconds, look around, then go back to eating. We’d just freeze, then keep moving when it had forgotten about the noise. They were a very cool sight, and we feel privileged to have seen them in such close range. We also saw the endangered Yellow Eyed Penguin, White Tailed Deer, Shags and countless other native birds.

But now we’re finished for good and back in Auckland which feels a little weird. We’re left with a feeling of ‘now what?’, plan the next adventure I guess! I’m not happy with the idea that from now on, tramping is just a recreational activity, like it is for everyone else. It’s not what we ‘do’. But it all had to come to an end at some point, we had an amazing time. We’ll be putting more detailed route information on our website soon for anyone who is planning on doing this trip in the future. We’re open to ideas for interesting, challenging adventures if anyone has any ideas.


The chain link sculpture at the start of Rakiura National Park
Coastal outlook
Yellow Crested Penguin
Dividing up the cheese - making sure we have enough for 12 lunches
View from Mt Anglem, the highest point on Stewart Island