Ulva Island / Te Wharawhara

20160109_110203.jpgUlva Island is an unmissable trip if you are on Stewart Island.  We crossed from Golden Bay on the Ulva Island Ferry – a small 8 seater motor boat, fortunately with a zip up canopy to protect us from the wind and spray. We were handed our boarding passes by Anita – an elegant, tall lady wearing a long, flowing, green coat and wooden clogs; Mutton Scrub Leaves with the words Ulva Island Ferry handwritten on them. Mutton Scrub leaves were used as postcards and could legally be sent by mail until the 1970s in New Zealand. 20160109_111020

The crossing only takes 5 minutes and going over was a bit bumpy but by the time we came back at 4.30pm the wind had got up and there was a two metre swell and 85kmp winds! Quite exciting and just a little scary!

20160109_113528We landed at Post Office Bay, site of the first Post Office in the Stewart Island region established in 1872 by Charles Traill and immediately saw the flash of green Kakariki fly across the bay and into the bush.  The trail from there to Sydney Cove, to Boulder Bay and then back to the wharf is only 4km and we did initially wonder how we would make it last four hours!   No need to have worried, we even ended up rushing the last section to get back to the wharf in time for the ferry.

20160109_120912I think what struck us most was the richness of the birdsong; there was rarely a time when the forest was silent.  The glossy green and black plumage of the Tui as they swooped across the path was a constant.  One of my favourite birds it was wonderful to be able to watch them and listen to their songs. We were very excited when a wee grey bird hopped fearlessly on the path when we sat down on a bench to have a biscuit.  It posed happily for us as we took photos and identified it as a Stewart Island Robin.   Aonghas decided it looked like a Brutus and so the game of naming Stewart Island Robins began!  There were plenty more – cheeky little things, they followed us along the path and every time we sat down they would come begging for crumbs.

The bush too was lush and green. Bright green ferns, spiky Lancewood, droopy Rimu, Manuka and so many more plants and trees of every shade of green, brown and yellow camouflaged the birds which we could hear but not see.  Bright red Rata flowers carpeted the forest floor at times and lichens and cushiony mosses enriched the fallen logs and leaves. 20160109_125529.jpg

As well as the Robins, Tomtits, Bellbirds and Yellow Heads stayed around long enough and close enough as they flitted around in the trees for us to see them and positively identify them.  We may have seen Grey Warblers and Brown Creepers but can’t be sure as they move so fast through the leafy branches in the bush.

20160109_141508The telltale soft thudding of Kereru as they fly through the bush was also a constant and we saw them often perched statue-like on branches.  Their white “apron” and metallic green head makes them easy to pick out.

We heard the noisy chattering of more Kakariki but didn’t see any more but we did see several Kaka majestically seated on high branches carrying on their conversations.  I love the way that their claws are almost prehensile as they walk along the branches and then hang upside down to reach food.  Their habit of stretching a leg and a wing out fascinated us too. 20160109_132147

The sections of the walk are punctuated with visits to the bays.  Here we were subject to the onslaught of the burgeoning wind from which we were sheltered in the forest. An incoming tide stymied our plan to have our picnic lunch at West End Beach although it is unlikely we would have found a spot out of the wind anyway.  As on other beaches we visited around Stewart Island, the Oyster Catchers were fiercely guarding their nests in the sand and I, for one, would not like to be on the receiving end of those long pointy beaks! So we took photos, marvelled at the wild beauty of the coastline and the crashing waves and retreated to the forest and the waiting Robins.

20160109_132523As we walked back along the track I paused to look at a bird that flew across in front of me and landed in the bush to my side. It was clearly a Bellbird and was chatting away as I tried to turn my camera on to take a photo, it flew to the next branch frantically calling. I turned around to see a Weka run out of the bush and across the path. It almost seemed as if the one was following the other as they made their way noisily through the trees, the Bellbird flying and the Weka running. Later on we saw more Weka foraging in the leafy undergrowth, and wandering across our path, seemingly unperturbed by humans.  Eagle-eyed Aonghas also spotted a baby Weka which was quickly joined by its Mum although she didn’t seem bothered about us watching.

We really were sheltered in the bush and even on the beach at Sydney Cove where we sat watching the curious, comical, synchronised dance of the Oyster Catchers we were unaware of just how strong the wind was.  20160109_152921

The steep walk up to Flagstaff Point was done rather faster than we had planned but, amazingly, time was running out!  It was here that we were hit by the gale force of the wind – quite exhilarating. The view was spectacular out to Rakiura with white clouds scudding across the blue sky.

We had to wait at Post Office Bay – Ulva Island Ferries had clearly had a busy afternoon navigating the short stretch of water from Golden Bay as there were twenty or so people waiting to be taken home.  It was an interesting 5 minutes back with the waves, at times, coming right over the top of the plastic awning on the tiny boat! 

It was a fabulous day!

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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!