Sunday, August 6, 2017

Wonderful Winter

My lovely Mum passed away a few weeks ago at the ripe old age of 88; I missed seeing her by a handful of days and then had a weather-disrupted trip to New Plymouth in order to give her a good send-off. Big bouquets to the staff of Stewart Island Flights and Air New Zealand who rearranged flights with compassion and efficiency.

A small change to my blog; I've intercepted some malware so have now disabled comments completely. It's a shame as your legitimate comments are much valued and encourage me to continue. I've just upgraded to wireless broadband so now have enough data to update Windows AND have some left over for blogging!

While I was in New Plymouth I spent a lovely sunny afternoon in Brooklands and Pukekura Park...

Bowl of Brooklands stage

Michael Smither's sculpture 'Aotearoa' in the lily pond

Pukekura Park water wheel

Kauri walk Brooklands Park

Pukekura Park Fountain Lake
News of another storm moving up the country looked as though it could disrupt my return travel. The morning of my flight to Christchurch dawned sunny and clear but then dark clouds gathered...

Early morning with the front moving in

My flight was at 11am and although it was delayed by 10 minutes we flew over the storm front and landed in Christchurch after it had gone through - now that's one way to avoid bad weather!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Sharing my backyard

If one guest is great then three guests must be triple the fun! Claudia braved one of the roughest ferry crossings of the year, and Leslie, the Belgian tramper we met at Mason Bay, joined Kev and I for Easter. The weather for the first three days was wet and windy but that didn't stop us visiting Ulva Island, ticking off the day walks and exploring the beaches at low tide.

Claudia and Leslie on the Ryans Creek Track
One of the best things about showing visitors around is that I get to see my island again through fresh eyes; it's easy to take things for granted when you live here all the time. Their enthusiasm for the natural beauty, the birds and the laid back way of life renewed my appreciation of it too. Thanks guys!

Leaving Golden Bay and heading over to Ulva Island on the Ranui

The Ranui at Ulva Island Jetty

Bracket fungi on Ulva Island

Flagstaff Lookout on a wet and misty day

Tieke (saddleback) finding bugs on a large rimu trunk

Getting checked out by a toutouwai (Stewart Island robin)

Beautiful bush and winding tracks on Ulva Island

When they put the tracks in they didn't want to cut any
trees down so the path goes around or through!
I've discovered a few limitations of my new Olympus TG-4 camera; although it is waterproof, the lens gets wet and isn't easy to dry without smearing - it also fogged up when I took it out of its case. I'll have to work out a fix so I can get better photos on wet days!

Claudia watching the weka on Boulder Beach, Ulva Island
The Lee Bay anchor sculpture is a bit patchy during its repaint but at least it wasn't raining. The inscription reads:
Te puka - the anchorstone
Maori creation stories tell how Maui, a legendary Polynesian voyager, pulled up from the sea floor the anchor stone Te Puka a Maui (Stewart Island/Rakiura) to act as an anchor for the great ancestral canoe Te Waka o Aoraki (South Island of New Zealand).

The stylised anchor chain is secured firmly on land by a shackle but disappears beneath Foveaux Strait/Te Ara a Kewa to remind us of the physical and spiritual connections between Stewart Island/Rakiura and Bluff/Motu Pohue, the traditional taurapa or stern post of Te Waka o Aoraki.

The chain links also symbolise a history of inter-relationships tat have given the people of Stewart Island/Rakiura a strong sense of heritage and identity.

Low tide at Lee Bay
A large noble chiton (top left) measuring about 130mm
All too soon it was time for me to return to work and for Kev, Claudia and Leslie to head off on the ferry. It was a full-on 10 days leaving me with wonderful memories of their visit.

The section behind me sold in April so I had to move my 'woodpile' off the right-of-way. Thanks, Big Bro, for helping me and offering your advice on all my other questions; hope you can return sometime in the future to see how I've got on with my 'homework'.

The moved woodpile, nicely stacked up off the ground

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Mason Bay to Oban - April 2017

Tuesday morning was another gorgeous day; curls of fog lay in the valleys and after a hearty breakfast we packed and set out to walk to Freshwater Hut. A short walk from Mason Bay Hut is the Island Hill Homestead which was built in 1884 by the first run-holder, William Walker. The last leaseholder, the Te Aika Family, left in 1987 after 20 years of farming. A bit further on are the sheep yards and the historic woolshed - it still smells of wool grease and the last shearing tallies are still chalked up on the board.

Fog hanging around Big Sand Hill at Mason Bay

DOC's 20-bunk Mason Bay Trampers Hut

The Island Hill Woolshed
The track was in great condition; it's been muddy or very muddy on the other occasions I've walked it, so it was great to be walking on a surface the consistency of wet cake mix! Kev and I stopped often to take photos, to talk to the matata (fern birds) and admire the landscape.

Kev posing on the boardwalk over the Chocolate Swamp
After the swamp, the track runs alongside Scott Burn. Just after midday we heard a scuffle in the undergrowth; we froze on the spot and were rewarded with seeing two kiwi - one in hot pursuit of the other. They ran past us and veered back in to the undergrowth. We decided it was a good time to stop for lunch and we chatted about our morning's highlight.

Can you spot the two kiwi?
Just as we were packing up, I glanced between two trunks and could make out the shape of a kiwi; my eyesight's not the sharpest and I've made many a mistaken ID! I took a photo and zoomed up...

What the camera saw

Zoomed in to a sleeping kiwi - yay!
I reckon this kiwi was sleeping when the other kiwi wandered in to its territory. Once it had seen the visitor off, he/she circled back and went back to sleep again.

After we left Scott Burn we walked past a lily pond; from what I gather there used to be a summer house here and the lilies were planted by the leaseholder family. Opposite the pond is an abandoned motor bike, now in serious disrepair. Keeping an eye on both are toutouwai (Stewart Island robins).

Freshwater lily pond

Freshwater toutouwai
Just before Freshwater Hut is a gorgeous sphagnum bog; the colours are amazing and the thick gloop looks like primordial soup from the beginning of time. If you are interested in the plants between here and Mason Bay then check out this Theobrominated' blog. Another NZ Geographic article on the west coast of Stewart Island is a cracking read too.

Freshwater Landing was a welcome sight and we soon had the billy boiled and sat down to an afternoon tea of muesli bars and chocolate. We had thought of climbing up Rocky Mountain, a 3hr return trip from Freshwater Hut, but we opted instead for chatting to the other trampers in the hut that were on their final night of the North West Circuit tramp.

Heavy rain overnight gave us a good excuse to give the hut a good clean so we were right on hand to see a pair of kiwi just behind the hut around 9am. Our tramping friend, Leslie, was hiking back to Oban via Thomson Ridge and North Arm Hut but Kev and I took the easier option and caught the water-taxi back in choppy conditions, then a half hour walk back home. A great outing!

Kev and Leslie at Freshwater Hut

Rakiura Charters water-taxi at Freshwater Landing

Mason Bay - April 2017 (part 2)

The coast line is pretty rugged on the southern side of The Gutter and had some spectacular views. The track down to Doughboy Bay is one I haven't done yet - will save that for another adventure.

Google map of the Ernest Islands with the lagoon at its southern tip
- the red X marks our lunch spot
Kev's photo of one of the miniature trees at our lunch spot

Looking inland

Steep cliffs and blue water

Kev wading out into the lagoon toward the hill we climbed
Enough exploring! It was time to head back to Mason Bay Hut but not without a small detour to see the Kilbride Homestead. Initially made a township reserve in the 1870s, it became a run of about 7,000 acres first leased in 1902 and running as a sheep farm until 1995. Around 100 years earlier it was the site of a traditional Māori settlement led by the Bluff chief, Te Wera. The two-bedroom Kilbride Homestead was built in 1927 by George and Stanford Leask, and is now owned by a family trust.

Kev outside Kilbride
The weather was on the change as we walked back up the beach giving some great photo opportunities. The fore dune (the dune closest to the beach) changes considerably along the length of the bay - DOC has an extensive marram-eradication programme underway - read a comprehensive article by NZ Geographic here if you are interested.

Outgoing tide and lovely clouds as we walked back up the beach

Rainbows hinting that rain might be on the way

Dramatic rays as the cloud thickened
Getting back to Duck Creek was welcome - the walk back seemed twice as long as the walk down! Great to get back to the hut for a very welcome cuppa.

Mason Bay - April 2017 (part 1)

My long break from blogging means I have lots of stories from the past. Do I put them up or write them off? Hmm, perhaps a compromise and I hope you don't mind a bit of time travel!

Another highlight from this year also involved Mason Bay so let's go back a couple of months and spend a bit longer on the West Coast of Rakiura. In April my brother, Kev, visited Stewart Island for the first time. He was in the 'area' after tramping the Routeburn and Greenstone/Caples Tracks and thought he'd pop down to see where I lived. It was lovely to share this special island with him, and with 10 full days up our sleeves it was a no-brainer to do the Coast to Coast. Tides and day-length dictate the plane drop-off (lands on Mason Bay at low tide) and the water-taxi pickup (high tide); in-between are two DOC back-country huts (Mason Bay and Freshwater) and 15km of almost flat and generally muddy, tramping track.

It's always a gamble with weather but we struck it perfectly with fine and calm conditions over at Mason Bay. The plane landed at Duck Creek (called after putangitangi, the Paradise duck) late afternoon, giving us enough time to wander up to the DOC hut (about a 20 min walk), unpack our gear and head out to the sand dunes to watch the sun set into the sea. Later on that evening we slow-walked in the moonlight up to the Homestead and saw two kiwi - magic!!

Watching the sun go down from the Mason Bay sand dunes

Worrying to see more cat prints in the dunes than kiwi prints

Sand cosprosma berries - aren't they pretty

We had two nights at Mason Bay Hut and on our second day we walked down to the Gutter at the southern end of the beach. It's about an 8km beach walk; just perfect with the sound of the breakers and watching the dotterels with their distinctive walk. The following description is from Olga Sansom's 1970 book 'The Stewart Islanders'...
"These birds don't seem too concerned about intruders on their beach. They hurry along at a quick walk just ahead of you, stop to allow you to catch up, then put on the pace again"

The Ernest Islands in the distance - photo taken from Duck Creek

The Ernest Islands - getting closer

Down at The Gutter

Looking north along the sweep of Mason Bay

On the way down the beach we crossed several streams - Martins Creek, Double Creek, Wreck Creek, Cavalier Creek, and Home Creek (also known as Leask Creek). Finally we reached the Gutter and a cluster of high outcrops called the Ernest Islands. We climbed up the hill behind the lagoon to have lunch with a stunning view.

Kev overlooking the lagoon and Ernest Islands
I could have spent all afternoon exploring down here; it's very different to the east coast, is steeped in history and deserves its own post - watch this space!

Trying out 'microscope mode' on my Olympus TG4 camera

A fly with damaged wings

Tētēaweka - Olearia angustifolia

Celmisia rigida - thick leathery leaves on top

Underside of the leaf is soft and furry to absorb moisture

A thin bony disc identified on NatureWatch as part of a vertebra of a
long-finned pilot whale Globicephala melas