I’m writing this from Stewart Island, the most southerly part of NZ. In Maori lore, Maui, a demigod (I’ve already mentioned his sticky demise in a previous blog entry) caught a huge fish, which led to the creation of Aotearoa (Maori name for New Zealand). The North Island represents the fish, the South Island represents the canoe he caught it from, and Stewart Island represents the anchor holding the canoe in place.
It feels great to be here, after having been in cities for the last few days. I immediately relaxed as I disembarked the ferry and entered a world where the local store has a board outside announcing locals’ birthdays and the hostel doesn’t even have a front door key for guests, yet alone room keys – instead, honesty prevails.
The island has a resident population of only 400 people, and the majority of these are male, which was very apparent when trying to wrestle my way to the bar in the island’s one pub this evening – I think practically the whole population was in there to participate in the ‘meat raffle’ (I kid you not) and partake of one of the many ales on draught.
I met a couple of friendly girls at the hostel and we decided to trek through ancient tropical rainforest, dripping with moisture, to Maori beach, around 10km away. Stewart Island is notable for being the only place left in NZ where a semblance of the original native flora still exists, without having been invaded by the pesky grasses and trees that the Europeans brought with them. It does have a very primeval feel, and the birds seem to realise they’re living the dream too, and are much more vocal than those on the mainland, although I never thought that could be possible.
The walk was longer than we thought and, under the direction of an American girl I was with, who is an old hand, I had my first successful hitch-hiking experience out here on the way back. My thumb was a bit tremulous, but it did the trick, and the woman that stopped for us turned out to be the mum of the owner of our hostel. It’s definitely that kind of place. Weirdly, I used to hitch-hike all the time with another girl when I was in Kenya as a nineteen year old, and thought nothing of it – but that highlights the difference that a decade can make to the brain’s risk analysis process.
The best blue cod fish and chips (or ‘fush and chups’, as the kiwis say) that I’ve ever had, eaten on the sea front with the gulls scrabbling at our feet, then washed down with some fine ales at the pub with the locals, was the perfect end to the day. We even had sunshine all day – not bad for a place that has rainfall around 265 days a year.
The stunning Stewart Island coastline.
I swam in the sea in my underwear because it looked so inviting, despite warnings that it was too cold. Too cold? I’m a Brit who went on holiday to Cornwall every year of my youth and swam in the sea everyday come rain and shine – it was like a bath! (Kind of.)
I’ll hopefully be seeing one of these tomorrow as I’ve booked onto an evening kiwi-spotting trip…
There was a wind-up phone on a tree – I couldn’t resist! You know you would have done the same…
The best ending to any walk.