Primeval Paradise

I am totally in the swing of the sloooow pace of life on Stewart Island now – it’s the third place I’ve been to here where I could quite happily settle for a while (the other two being the chilled out surf town of Raglan and the very mellow Waiheke Island). Although I suspect that the novelty would probably wear off after a while, once I realised that 400 people knew my exact movements each day in intimate detail.

Myself and three other girls from the hostel took the early morning ferry across to the nature reserve of Ulva Island, which was described in the marketing as a ‘primeval forest’ by, bizarrely, David Bellamy. What is he doing being quoted this far from home? Especially when he’s lost a lot of credibility amongst environmental circles in the UK for holding a disbeliever’s view on global warming.

Anyway, beards and speech impediments aside, the island did indeed feel primeval, to an even greater degree than mainland Stewart Island. A complete lack of predators (controversially eradicated by a comprehensive poisoning programme) has led to the forest floor being covered in a dense carpet of ferns, mosses, liverworts and tree saplings, as well as other intriguing plants such as the spiky lancewort and ancient species such as punui (looks like rhubarb) and tmesipteris (a waxy plant that has remained unchanged for 400 million years).

It also means that birds spend much more time than usual hopping around the forest floor, as they don’t need to worry about being eaten. As such, they are generally really tame, and we had lots of close encounters with a number of species such as the very inquisitive NZ robin (as cheeky as our own red-breasted chappie), the gigantic kaka, the cute tomtit, melodious bellbird and tui, blunderous wood pigeon (much larger than our own version), grunting weka, colourful NZ parakeet, screaming oystercatcher and fluttering fantail. I also saw one of the rare South Island saddlebacks on one of the deserted fine-sand beaches, which were reintroduced to the island in 2000 – go me! No kiwis though… 😦

The island delivered on its rainy promise towards the end of the walk, and we finished up walking through steamy undergrowth, with the birds muted by moisture. It was so, so quiet. No traffic, no aeroplanes, just the steady drip of water and our own breathing.

The ferry driver welcomed us back into the boat with the hail, ‘Oh, wise ones,’ as he dropped off the next group at the island in the now pouring rain, looking rather dejected in their sodden raincoats and shooting hopeless glances at the thick cloud above, which didn’t look like it was going anywhere fast. Our driver wore the Stewart Island uniform of white fisherman wellies, coarse brown trousers, a thick cable-knit jumper and greying dreadlocks.

The heavy rain this afternoon was a perfect excuse to stay indoors and do nothing for a while. However, a few DVDs and some blue sky later, and I’m once again ready to head out and follow in the footsteps of the other ‘David’ of conservation, Sir Attenborough, no less (whose credibility, in contrast to Bellamy’s, has rocketed exponentially throughout his career such that he now appears to enjoy universal reverence), in order to join the only tour company permitted to seek out the elusive kiwi on one of the smaller island reserves nearby. Hopefully tales of a positive sighting tomorrow, but I’ll leave you now with a few photos of today’s walk on the enchanting Ulva Island.

The ticket for the ferry to Ulva Island – sums up the natural simplicity and practical resourcefulness of life on Stewart Island.

Boulder Beach – one of the many peaceful deserted coves on Ulva Island.

A cocky New Zealand robin that came to check us out at particularly close quarters.

A couple of squawking oystercatchers playing chase – they had a comical way of running through the water as they’re doing above, rather than swimming.

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