Friday, June 9, 2017

Coast to Coast - from Oban to Mason Bay Hut via Invercargill

I'm back!! Thank you for your patience and my apologies for taking time out; I'm now on holiday and looking forward to sharing my Rakiura life with you again.

The contract for two of my summer jobs ended 31 May after a very busy season; it was great to meet visitors from all over the world and to share my backyard with them. I never tire of talking about this patch of Paradise and it's a real thrill when others have the same feelings as me about it. I now have two months off before a new contract kicks in so have time to get up to mischief and new stories to tell next season.

Challenge #1: Walk from the west coast to the east coast
Stewart Island Flight's Coast to Coast involves a flight and beach landing at Mason Bay, a 4hr hike across to Freshwater River and a 45 minute water-taxi ride out to Oban. There are DOC backcountry huts both Mason Bay and Freshwater River; great for staying a night or two with kiwi-spotting a regular occurrence. I've been over to Mason Bay three times but have always got a water taxi out, thus avoiding Thomson Ridge - a steep and challenging 6-7hr tramp around to North Arm Hut, with a further 4-5hr walking back out to Oban. I've heard a lot of horror stories about Thomson Ridge but felt I had to do it myself so I knew what it was like.

Thanks to Google for the maps - Codfish Island/Whenua Hou
is the large bump in the top left hand corner of Stewart Island
No work, a settled patch of weather and a spur of the moment decision saw me waiting down at Stewart Island Flights after a hurried pack for my big adventure. My first surprise was an unplanned flight to Invercargill - the low cloud and drizzle had settled in and could have prevented the plane coming back to pick me up. After picking up three more passengers we headed back across Foveaux Strait and around the north/west coasts down to Mason Bay.

Rather murky conditions but nice and calm

I think this is West Ruggedy Beach

Flying past Red Head Peak and the Ruggedy Mountains range

Our Piper Cherokee Six preparing for take off from Mason Bay
I love exploring at Mason Bay so meandered up to the hut via the dunes rather than the track; still lots of feral cat tracks, hopefully the harsher weather will reduce numbers right down over the winter. I followed kiwi and deer prints and hunkered down in the lee of a ring of dunes to have my lunch.

My lunch spot - a ring of dunes around a flattened area
about the size of a tennis court

Kiwi probe holes all over the place
Lots of amazing plants in the dunes, too - I could easily spend a week there!!

Gunnera hamiltonii

Deer prints - probably whitetail although I think there are red deer
over here too

Earina autumnalis (Easter orchid) ripening seed head

Late-flowering Earina autumnalis native orchid

Another shower as the sun sets

Native pingao, Desmoschoenus spiralis, coming back after a
concerted effort to eradicate exotic marram grass

Raoulia sp aff hookeri - a native mat daisy growing in the sand
Back to the hut for dinner - it gets dark early now so I needed my head torch inside. I hope I have enough battery power, especially seeing how we're leaving early the next morning to walk over to Freshwater Landing - my new friends that I flew in with have to meet the water-taxi at 10.15am for their ride back to Oban. I sat outside for a while watching the stars get covered briefly by clouds and listening to kiwi call, then curled up in my sleeping bag and waited for the 5am alarm.