Southland, as the name suggest, is New Zealand's southernmost region, and consists mostly of untamed wilderness. With barely 100,000 people living on the 34,347km² of land here, that amounts for an average population density of 2.9 people/km². In reality, however, there are some areas, like the town of Invercargill, which have a much higher population density, while other places like Stewart Island or Fjordland are all but devoid of permanent residents. In exchange, however, Southland can boast an amazing coastline of over 3,400km. That's 200km longer than the coastline of Sweden!
I am staying on Stewart Island, which is also known as Rakiura in the Māori language - meaning "Glowing Lights". Originally, however, Rakiura was known by another name: Te Punga o Te Waka a Maui, which translates into "Anchor Stone of Maui's Canoe". Do you remember my post from Wellington, where I told you that according to Māori mythology, the South Island of New Zealand is the canoe of Maui, while the North Island is a huge fish he pulled up. Well, Stewart Island also has a place in that mythology: Before Maui began fishing, he pulled up Rakiura from the depths of the ocean to tie his canoe onto it. Hence "Anchor Stone of Maui's Canoe". It's also the third-biggest island of New Zealand, although it naturally pales in comparison with the North and South Islands. At approximately 1,800km², it's halfway between Gran Canaria and Tenerife in size.
There's only one town on Rakiura: The small village of Halfmoon Bay, which is also known as Oban. For once, this isn't a Māori name, but rather the name of a place in Scotland. Almost all of the 400 permanent residents of Rakiura live in this idyllic coastal village, stretching from bay to bay and up into the forested valleys.
It is in one of the houses here that I begin the next episode of my trip:
Steward of the Island
My host this time is a Liz, a single mom of three energetic children. And since she works hard all day cleaning houses to keep her family fed, she can need all the help she can get in order to keep her household together. Naturally, I'm more than willing to lend a paw.
Her children are twelve year old Iain, who is presently entering his teenage phase...
...energetic Zachary, aka Zachie, who, like me, is hyperactive...
...and moody Victoria, aka Vicki, who absolutely hates everything I cook. Except cookies. Everyone loves cookies.
Liz and her kids live in a nice little house on one of the many hills surrounding the Halfmoon Bay, close to the pass over to the nearby Golden Bay.
Apart from the humans, this place is also home to two fuzzy guinea pigs, which are normally kept in a pen in the garden, but are occasionally invited into the house as well.
Much to my delight, the place also comes equipped with its own fully functional fireplace, which certainly comes in handy this close to Antarctica.
Needless to mention that with three active kids who sometimes bring their friends over and a hard-working single mother, the place can get ore than just a bit homely, but that's what I'm here to help with.
As for the township of Oban, it's a veritable jewel box stretching along the shore of Halfmoon Bay, as well as various of the surrounding bays.
And even the immediate surroundings are quite idyllic, featuring serene walkways...
...and scenic lookout points, all mere minutes away from Liz's place.
Of course, it's not all sunshine and rainbows. More often than not, the weather is quite rainy and stormy here, providing a good incentive for me to stay inside and work on my blog or the Chronicles of Ceal.
And don't let yourself be fooled by the "tropical island" flair of some of these pictures. Down here it's cold enough that I don't even think about wearing anything short of a sweater.
With the Antarctic circumpolar current running literally just south of Rakiura, the temperatures here usually don't climb above 18°C even during the summer months, with the absolute record high of 40 years being a whooping 29°C. So even though Rakiura is geographically almost directly opposite of Brittany, it's still a whole lot colder.
As I already mentioned before, part of my job is cleaning up after the three munchkins every day...
...and after that, I get to tackle the mountain of dishes which they miraculously seem to produce. Regrettably, Liz' dishwasher recently exploded (now why does that sound familiar?), so I have to do them all by hand.
Next, there's the vault of unrelenting laundry, which needs to be cleaned...
...and subsequently hung out in the garden while its sunny (or at the very least not raining). Hanging up huge baskets of laundry, subsequently taking them in, and finally folding them and pputting them away sure takes a lot of time, and makes me appreciate how much time I save using my dryer back home.
I also manage some of Liz' shopping for her, and while the store is close enough to walk to on fine days, I'm grateful that Liz lets me use her Jeep Cherokee when its pouring down rain again.
Finally, I also take over cooking duty on some of the evenings, and while the kids (who mostly look after themselves despite their young age) rarely appreciate my dinners, at the very least Liz is happy that she doesn't have to spend time in the kitchen after a long day at work.
Interlude: Acker's Point
During my stay on Rakiura, I should eventually complete three strays, exploring quite a good part of the unnamed peninsula on which Oban is located. The first of these strays should take me along the southern coast of Halfmoon Bay all the way to Acker's Point, and back along the coasts of Deep Bay and Golden Bay.
My way there leads me past the Scollay Rocks, which are a favourite resting spot for some of the sea birds here...
...up the road, past some houses with very creative name signs...
...and eventually down a picturesque path through the unspoiled wilderness.
Arriving at Acker's Point, I can see all the way to Ruapuke Island, which is located approximately 20km away from Rakiura.
My next stop is Wohler's Rest, the final resting place of a Christian missionary who lived among the Māori in the 19th century.
I have to say, they picked a nice spot for him on the hill next to Deep Bay, from which you have a marvellous view of nearby Native Island.
From there, I take a stairy track through the bush...
...along the coast of Deep Bay...
...all the way over to Golden Bay, from where it's only a short walk back to Liz' place.
It would appear I've taken a sincere liking to müsli with yoghurt by now, since that's how I generally start my days off at Liz' place.
And while I usually contend myself with warmed up meals from last night's leftovers or bread with jam for lunch, dinner consist of a varied diet of Liz' home-made meals...
...my home-made meals...
... or something from Kai Kart, the one local resource for take-out food. Incidentally, Kai Kart was also one of the places looking for helpers, but Liz replied to my query before I could even contact them.
Sometimes we also have dinner on the beach, eating exotic food such as deep-fried hot-dogs on a stick.
Much to the children's delight, I eventually find the time to bake a big batch of chocolate chip cookies...
...which are gone faster than you can say "Hey, I wanted some too!"
Finally, even though it's not exactly food, I am positively delighted to find a device here, which I haven't seen for half a year now. Using this I can make myself all the sparkling water I need, which is a nice change from drinking tap water all the time.
Interlude: Garden Mound
My second stray takes me past Butterfield Beach, onto Horseshoe Point, along the coast of Horseshoe Bay, all the way up to the northern Lee Bay, up Garden Mound, and finally back via the Back Track.
It's a long, yet beautiful walk that takes me past a number of idyllic beaches...
...and allows me to glimpse some pointy-beaked birds.
On the way, I also come past a hidden, overgrown cemetery...
...not far from Dead Man Beach.
There's also some arcadian inlets...
...and almost perfect ferns to be found on the way. Did you know that the fern is one of the national symbols of New Zealand? Looking at its fractal elegance, I can understand why.
As I approach Horseshoe Point, I get a great view of Acker's Point, which is just across the bay. If you look closely, you can even see the lighthouse erected there to guide ships.
This all-but untouched wilderness seems like the perfect spot for a holiday retreat, and true enough, as I wander down the track I eventually come across a house in the middle of nowhere, far off from the rush of modern life.
Eventually, I hear the song of the synthesizer bird, and looking around, I can actually make it out in the branches close to the path, singing its peculiar song.
And then, I arrive at Horseshoe Point, from where I get a wonderful panorama view of Halfmoon Bay to my right and Horseshoe Bay to my left.
From here, it's a walk along the shore under some spectacular tree branches...
...and along the kilometer-long beach of Horseshoe Bay.
It's still some time until I reach Lee Bay...
...and after arriving there, I find myself walking through a giant chain erected to represent the anchorstone from Māroi legend, and into the Rakiura National Park.
A stiff breeze blows inwards from the Foveaux Strait here - which separates Rakiura from the mainland - and judging by the shape of the trees, this northerly wind is probably typical for this area.
What follows is a short walk along the coast, followed by the ascent up Garden Mound along paths which more often than not are a happy, slippery mud-slide party.
But I prevail, and eventually reach the summit of Garden Mount at 162m above sea level...
...from where I can see all the way over to the mainland. The mountain on the right marks the Bluff peninsula, from whence I departed a week ago.
The view to the south is also quite remarkable, since a band of clouds drapes the island in ribbons of light and dark just as I watch.
As I make my way down the mound again, I notice a plane flying overhead. Landing on a small airfield not far from town, this little plane is the single alternative to the ferry for reaching Rakiura.
Also, I come across some wild bamboo, and find that unlike the common notion existing in people's heads, the tell-tale segmented shafts of the bamboo plants here grow in a jumbled heap in all directions, and are not even remotely green.
Fittingly, the way back home takes me along the back track, which is marked as a valid road in some maps, although I really wouldn't recommend driving a vehicle down this overgrown route.
Along that track, I come across a bush populated by laughing birds that are really good at hiding...
...the mysterious cascade of bathroom sinks at the feet of the mound of toilet bowls turned flowerpots...
...a sword in a stone in a swamp (King Arthur: "So that's where I left the thing!")...
...the gate with idols spelling certain death to anyone who enters (probably proto-Germanic in origin)...
...followed by the gate with the sign spelling certain death to anyone who enters (probably pro-American in origin).
With that, my bizarreness-buffer is official full, so all that's left for me from there is to scurry back to Liz' place, and prepare for another busy day on Rakiura.
Even (or maybe especially) on a small island such as Rakiura, there are a number of things that are quite curious, droll, or otherwise interesting (we already covered bizarre). For example, the garbage collection trucks around here are outright cute.
Well, I suppose for a small village such as Oban, that's really all you need. And speaking of which, with nobody using their cars much in this small community, the township has only a single gas station, with a single pump.
Continuing my series of unusual road signs, this is probably one of the few places on earth where you can see this particular warning sign...
...or this other sign, for that matter.
By the way, what's there better to put on your bread than a scoop of good old "No Added Sugar or Salt"?
Looks like we're one step closer to Randall's vision of all-adjective foods.
Also, why do I get the impression that the guy making this guidepost was drunk?
Now, here's a deep metal plate I found in one of the walks at Lee Bay.
By the way, I don't think I've yet shown you one of New Zealand's colourful police cars yet. Normally, you don't see a lot of them outside the big cities since the population density is just so low, but here on Rakiura, the one police car of the island is a frequent sight since the place doesn't have a lot of roads where it can hide away to avoid detection.
I also purchase a Stewart Island passport for $3, which goes towards a fundraiser to expand the island's medical centre. Does that make me an official Stewart Islander?
And regrettably, even Rakiura has been invaded by neozoons such as deer and possums. One time, I even encounter a young fawn on my walks only a few meters ahead of me, but the lithe creature disappears into the bushes before I can even reach for my camera. As for the possums... they and the rodents are the main reason for the traps that can be found all over the island.
And finally, one evening as Zacchie and I head down to the beach for dinner, I find a kākā bird prancing around on the Jeep, completely unafraid of me and letting me approach up to a few centimetres. The kākā is an endangered species of parrots whose name comes from the Māori language, where "kā" means "to screech". The kākās suffered greatly from the introduction of predatory mammals such as stoats, possums and even rats, but curiously also from competition from introduced bees and wasp, which compete with the kākā for its primary source of nutrition: Honeydew.
Interlude: Kaipipi Bay
My final long stray on Rakiura should take me all the way to the Fern Gully, Kaipipi Bay, and from there on back over Vaila Voe Bay to Golden Bay.
It starts off along the Main Road, which used to run all the way to Kaipipi Bay, where a large lumberjack industry was located. However, these times are long past, and as such the track nowadays is only used by hikers like me, the only reminder of the olden times being the subtle lack of large trees on either side of the road.
Along the road, a slightly more precarious side track branches of to the Fern Gully, which is one of my goals for the day.
It leads me over narrow bridges...
...and green canyons...
...right to the Fern Gully at the end of the track.
From there, I have to backtrack all the way to the Kaipipi track, and continue on my way. The track leads me past the hill on which the island's airfield is located, traversing miles and miles of forested woodland, until I eventually arrive at the scenic Kaipipi Bay.
However, I can't enjoy the scenery for to long, since I'm assaulted by a swarm of sandflies. What are sandflies? Imagine mosquitoes the size of fruit flies which are active during the day and assault you in swarms, not caring how much you try to get rid of them, or how many of their numbers die by your hand. I've first encountered these pests in Oakura, and have continued to run into them all over New Zealand. According to Māori legend, they were created by the goddess Hine-nui-te-pō who was outraged because after the god Tu-te-raki-whanoa had finished creating the landscape of Fjordland, the people would just stand around all day marvelling at its splendour. So, Hine-nui-te-pō created sandflies to bite people and get them moving again. Damn you, Hine-nui-te-pō, damn you!
After that, I am on my way back to Oban. However, soon enough, I have to make a decision.
Well, I believe you all know me well enough by now to know which one of these I chose. This new track is significantly smaller than the old Main Road, and leads me through the green bush...
...all the way back to the coast, with all its idyllic islands...
...until I eventually arrive at Vaila Voe Bay, the southeasternmost outskirt of Oban.
From here, it's only a short walk back to Liz' house, along which a friendly local cat welcomes me back.
I'm really grateful to Liz for letting me stay with her and her kids on this Island she loves so much. Her place was a little bit cold for my taste, but I had my own bedroom inside the house with snuggly warm blankets. The food was okay, and having kids around was nice - even if they could get noisy now and then. Taking care of the housework (after the kids were at school and thus out of the way) was a relaxing change of pace - especially since the workload was not too taxing - and the facilities were acceptable as well, even though the internet out here is understandably a bit lacking. Overall, I'd say this is as good a place to stay in as any, and Liz sure appreciated my help.
As is tradition by now, I also prepared a gift artwork for Liz and her three munchkins, featuring Liz as a patient elephant, Iain as a snake, hyperactive Zacchie as a fox, and Vickie as a rat, and as usualy, they are quite happy to receive it.
Unexpectedly, however, this time I also get something back. It may not be quite as artisan, yet it still touches my heart.
The Road Ahead
My next destination is a place on the West Coast by the name of Hokitika...
...which is a mega-freacking LONG trip. It's so long that it takes not one, not two, but three days to complete (and even that is only possible through skilful planning). Hence, I shall not compress this amazing journey to fit into this sub-section, but rather dedicate a full chapter to it so that I might fully elaborate on all the individual trips and places I visit along the way, so stay tuned for more tales from the Once & Future Travelling Fox!