Rakiura Track

Another beautiful day in paradise. Not sure where the forecasters got their info from but the 5 days of clouds, rain and wind were not really what we got. Maybe it’s all part of the plan to gear you up for dreadful weather so that when it isn’t quite so bad you feel like it’s amazing!

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Early morning at Ringaringa Beach

The Rakiura Track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.  The 32km is usually covered over 2 or 3 days but we planned just to walk out to Port William which is usually the first leg and then back again.  The walk starts at the anchor chain at Lee Bay and follows the coast line climbing up over headlands and across swing bridges at beautiful sandy bays.  There are low tide routes across some of the bays but at high tide you need to take alternative routes. At the sign at the top of the steep steps leading down to the beach at Little River on the way back we considered whether we wanted to risk going down to have to come all the way back up or whether we should just take the high tide route.  Just as well we chose the high road as the beach we had walked across on the way there was completely covered with thigh deep water!

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Crossing Little River

We stopped for a while at Maori Beach to explore the old sawmill. Logging and milling went on here until the early 1930s and it seems that a thriving community grew up around it. Today, all that is left are a few rusting hulks – the remains of the boiler and the twin-cylinder steam engine that was the heart and lungs of the enterprise – half buried in the native bush.   It always amazes me how technology and industry come and go and, in time, nature reclaims its place.  It is fascinating to think that this now tranquil place with Tui and butterflies flitting around, the sound of birdsong, cicadas and the waves lapping the golden sands was once a hive of industry with the rhythmic chugging of a steam engine and people’s voices and steam and smoke filling in the air.

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Maori Beach
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Remnants of the sawmill at Maori Beach

After reaching Maori Beach which took us just an hour, I suggested either continuing on to Port William (another 4km there and back) or going up and over Garden Mound (less distance, more climbing but supposedly a great view!) on the way back to Lee Bay.  They opted for the distance although, as they suspected from experience of taking options provided by me, there was still a fair degree of climbing to do on the coastal track!  Onwards then, across the swing bridge which crossed the river at the far end of the beach and up the steep climb into the bush.

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Swing Bridge at end of Maori Beach

The forest here was cool and dark with tall trees reaching skywards towards the light whilst those in the understorey filled the gaps . Lush ferns scattered the forest floor, splashes of bright green as they caught the sunlight.  As with lots of NZ DoC tracks, this one is well maintained with plenty of cut steps.  I don’t like steps though, as they force you to stride at a length which is not your own; I much prefer picking my own path over steep ground but I understand that providing a route helps to prevent erosion and keeps people to the path to allow vegetation and wildlife to develop.

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Walking through the Bush
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Boardwalk along the coast

We soon popped out of the bush and onto the long Port William Beach.  Another golden bay with clear blue water so enticing that I just could not resist! But not yet…. We walked through the campsite, pausing to have a chat with some folk who were just packing up to head on to North Arm. They had arrived on the island the day before and were leaving the day after, so had literally just come to walk the Rakiura Track.  It seems many people do that but it does seem, to me, a waste of the quite expensive ferry fare to only be on the island for two days and a waste of the opportunity to savour so much more of such a beautiful island.

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Port William

As well as the campsite, there is a hut just a few hundred yards further on.  We chatted to the warden, a young volunteer just there for a few weeks (maybe that could be a retirement project – volunteer for DoC and “man” huts in isolated places!) and he said that they had seen kiwi in the grounds the previous evening and penguin on the beach that morning.  For the first time in our two weeks “down south” we were pestered by the huge sand flies we had been warned about, but then it was the first day we had really got well into double figure temperatures and little wind!   Since the place was uninhabited and the tide was close in, I stripped down to my knickers (much to the embarrassment of my teenage son!) and dived into the crystal clear waters.  Sheer Bliss!

The walk back, as there, was punctuated with stops to watch the birds and admire the views.  Interestingly, there was less birdsong here than we had heard on our previous walks but still plenty of Tui, Kereru, Fantails and a host of other small birds.

The plaques in the ground at the start of the track by the anchor chain carry thoughtful quotations. Interesting that Leonard Cockayne‘s message  “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, then, is Stewart Island’s prime advantage, and one hard to overestimate. It is an actual piece of the primeval world.” suggests that the natural environment in 1909 was already under threat, if not gone altogether.  A hundred years on and Stewart Island is still relatively unspoilt and, according to Neville Peat  in 1992 holds the “hopes of generations unborn that places like this will always exist”.

It certainly is a beautiful, unspoilt place. A haven of tranquility, a chance to get back to nature.

Just pottering around

Gale force winds and rain were forecast for the rest of our time on Stewart Island. But we had cagoules and merinos and we grew up in the north of England and Scotland so we are no strangers to adverse weather conditions. There is some mileage in the notion that when you are expecting the worst anything else feels like a bonus.  So a day spent dodging showers, with the wind in our hair and plenty of sunshine in between times made us feel very fortunate! After our long day on Ulva Island we had a lazy start to Sunday.  The conservatory was a beautiful place to sit and read, it absorbed the sun and afforded us a stunning view over Ringaringa Bay.  But after an hour or so the heat became unbearable and Chris and I decided that it was time to make the most of the sunshine and headed out to explore leaving Nigel and Aonghas in bed.

20160110_132522The cottage we were renting came with a little 4wd which was a real boon. According to the DOC information it was a 40 minute walk from Ringaringa into Oban Township – what a delightful name – but it was quite hilly and by car was just 5 minutes which meant we could cover more ground and stay dry!

20160110_112751.jpgOur destination was Moturau Moana a public garden gifted to the NZ Government by Miss Noeline Baker in 1940.  It houses a collection of NZ native plants and we spent half an hour or so wandering around.  The rain held off and we had a great view across to Oban.  We both agreed that although it was a pleasant spot, had we made the effort to walk all the way from Oban we would have been a little disappointed.

Back into Oban, there was great tumult. At first we thought the new arrivals from the recently docked ferry were just taking photos but as we drove past we saw the object of the excitement – a sealion casually phalumping up the street.  He was a real celebrity, stalked by townsfolk and visitors alike as he made his way up the road.  A sharp, sudden downpour sent everyone scurrying for shelter and having snapped our shots of him we went home.

Sealion ObanA quick lunch and we were off again to walk along to Horseshoe Point. The path leads unpromisingly to start with through the refuse station but soon onto a dry, dusty track lined with old, twisted pine trees which cracked and groaned in the wind. A rope swing strung from high up in one of them entertained Aonghas for a short while. Then the pines gave way to shorter shrubs and bracken and the track narrowed and meandered up and down.  Out of the trees we were less sheltered from the wind but the sun was out and it was not too cold.  We didn’t see or hear a lot of birds but we were graced with the presence of kereru which turned up just as the sun did – just look at the iridescence of its beautiful green head and shoulders!kereru Horseshoe Bay

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The end of the peninsula is marked by an old, metal trig point and another spectacular view out across azure blue sea to more of the islands that scatter the Stewart Island coastline.  It seemed a perfect place to continue a tradition of mine to do a handstand on trig points around the world. So I did!

“Stewart Island anchors more than Maui’s canoe. It anchors in its rocks, rivers, and rugged shores and in its garnishment of plants and animals, the hope of generations unborn that places like this will always exist.”      Neville Peat, 1992

Te Punga o Te Waka a Maui, the original Maori name of Stewart Island, positions it firmly at the heart of Maori mythology. Translated as “The Anchor Stone of Maui’s Canoe“, it refers to the part played by this Island in the legend of Maui and his crew, who from their canoe (the South Island) caught and raised the great fish, (the North Island).  The more commonly known and used name however is Rakiura. Translated as “The great and deep blushing of Te Rakitamau” an early Maori Chief, seen today as the glowing sunrises, sunsets and the Aurora Australis or Southern Lights.” We weren’t fortunate enough to see the Aurora but we did see the anchor chain that connects Rakiura to the mainland.  It is a sculpture designed by local artist Russell Beck and is located at Lee Bay at the start of the Rakiura track, a 32km three day tramping track. Controversial when first installed it now appears to have acquired an iconic status. Its large, rusty red chain links are quite impressive and certainly provide a great photo opportunity for the young and young at heart!20160110_152907.jpg

20160110_152640.jpgThere is not a lot in Oban but it boasts three restaurants for the many tourists that visit.  “The French Crepery” (I have to cringe at the incorrect spelling, sorry!) was very high on Aonghas’ list of places to go so we decided to have an early tea (it closed at 5pm).  One bonus was the range of vegetarian options for Nigel and the savoury crepes were very good and came with a wholesome, comprehensive salad not just a limp lettuce leaf and a few  bits of chopped tomatoes and cucumber.  Aonghas, of course, went for a sweet pancake too but was disappointed when his favourite traditional lemon and sugar pancake came with icing sugar and not castor sugar. Nevertheless, he made a valiant effort but had to be helped to finish the huge dollop of ice-cream that came with it…!crepe

All good, because he worked off the sugar keeping warm whilst playing Nigel at giant chess in the freezing cold wind that whipped the sea front.

chess.jpgBack home to our little piece of paradise for a game of cards – we taught Chris how to play “Hearts” – before an evening walk down to the beach to go penguin spotting.

ringaringa beach.jpgOn arrival we saw some tracks which we thought might be penguin tracks leading from the sea across the sand to the bush line.  Not sure how many pairs might nest in the same vicinity we thought it was worth hanging out. It was a beautiful evening down there, the sea was calm and the light breeze wasn’t too cold and we were well rugged up.

We kept vigil for an hour and a half and, although we saw a penguin swimming in the sea, it dived beneath the waves and must have headed to a different beach as we never saw it resurface. Reluctantly, we headed back up the steep, narrow but short path in semi-darkness to our home for the week to round a great day off with a wee dram.20160111_210907.jpg

Rakiura – land of wind and birdsong

January 8th was Nigel’s birthday so a lazy late start to the day and a birthday visit from a cheeky Kākā.
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We headed off to Ackers Point dodging the rain showers. First stop brought us to Harold Bay and Acker’s House which was the first European house on the island.  Lewis Acker, an American, came to New Zealand as a whaler but turned his hand to boat building. He, his wife and their nine children lived in the two roomed stone house he built in what is now known as Harold Bay.  Apparently they had a 5 storey bunkbed! 
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We continued on the undulating track which follows the headland dropping down a couple of times to sea level just for the fun of it and managing to shelter from the squally showers in the bush.  image
Little Blue penguins nest in this area although we wouldn’t expect to spot any in the middle of the day.  It amazes me that such tiny birds hop up such steep terrain to  build their nests.  Mutton Birds also nest here although mostly they are  across the sea on the Tītī islands but it seems that they pretty much slide in to land on chutes that lead to their nests.  After missing albatross in flight on Otago Peninsular, we were keen to spot them here and we were excited when we did.  Strictly speaking they are Mollymocks which are slightly smaller but they belong to the albatross family and are just as elegant and majestic in flight.
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At the end of the headland is a stunning view straight across to the Tītī islands and to the right is The Neck.  An unmanned solar panelled lighthouse stands above the information boards where once there was a gas powered lighthouse.  The lighthouse was moved to Acker’s Point in 1927 when the main population moved to Halfmoon Bay from The Neck. 
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In the afternoon we persuaded Aonghas to take Nigel out whilst Chris and I feigned tiredness so that we could make birthday cake.  Once it was in the oven we battled the wind and rain and walked up to Wohler’s Monument.  The constantly changing light that comes with the switch from sun to rain and back again is magical. I love the wind and how exhilarated it makes me feel. A wonderful result of sunshine and rain are rainbows and we have not been disappointed. We watched this one ‘grow’ from out at the island.
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After birthday cake afternoon tea we headed to the South Sea Hotel for tea.  Not ideal for vegetarians since pizzas were not available and the onion soup was made with chicken stock so Nigel had a choice of Nachos, veggie burger or salad but the Blue Cod and chips was pretty good!

We ended the evening playing cards and with a wee dram of Drambuie!  Good first day on Rakiura!