New Zealand’s Third Island: Visiting Stewart Island

Author: , July 27th, 2010
by Bruce Morrison, Christchurch Gaystay, Christchurch, New Zealand
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New Zealand is generally thought of as two islands , the North and the South , but there are many more . The third biggest island, Stewart , is to the south of the South Island.

Flight to Stewart IslandA Tahitian friend and I recently flew to Stewart Island, just a 10 minute flight in a 6-seater aircraft from Invercargill, the most southerly city on the South Island.

The stretch of water we flew over is known as Foveaux Strait. It is the home to the famous Bluff oyster beds, crayfish and blue cod.

The airstrip was just like a road in the middle of the bush. No terminal, just a strip of tarmac. A bus appeared to drop off the next passengers and to pick up those arriving. Gerard and I had hiked a lot of NZ famous walks but neither of us had been to Stewart Island.

Stewart Island FlightI found non-gay accommodation in Lonnekers Bay, 10 minutes walk from “downtown” Oban. The whole island has a population of 390.

We hiked every day and visited Ulva Island, the predator-free island. New Zealand has no native mammals, just birds, a bat and one reptile. But people have brought rats, mice, stoats, weasels, cats, possums and dogs and all have upset the ecological balance, decimating the native bird population.

The magnificent native forest is alive with the birdsong of the New Zealand of yesteryear; saddle-backs, kereru, tomtit, robin, tui, bellbird, kaka and parakeet.

Foliage, Stewart IslandWe did a kiwi-spotting trip late at night, so we watched kiwi, a most unusual bird, feeding on worms and sand-hoppers on the beach and in the forest.

The kiwi is the only bird in the world without a tail and lays the biggest egg of any bird in relation to body size. It will not survive on the mainland and so efforts are being made now to transfer the kiwi to predator-frree islands. It is the country’s national symbol and New Zealanders are often known as “kiwis”.

Stewart Island PlaneWe flew to Mason Bay in a tiny plane, where the terminal was a log on the beach. A lonely hunter sat on the log waiting to be picked up, while we were dropped off and had a 25 km beach to ourselves. We swam on what must be one of the southern-most beaches in the world.

We walked for 4 hours to a tramping hut and were picked up by a water taxi and endured the roughest boat ride I have ever had back to Oban.

We ate Titi or mutton bird in a restaurant after having watched them flying.

They are unusual in that they burrow underground to form nests and fly to Siberia for the winter. 200,000 to 300,000 are caught by the native people, the Maori, for food every year, so we convinced ourselves they are not endangered.

We ate blue-cod and crayfish in the few eating places. The South Seas Hotel, the only pub, is a reminder of the pubs of yesteryear, and they sell a T-shirt with the logo “Stewart Island – where men are men and fish are nervous”. We bought more conservative ones.

On the Beach, Stewart Island, New ZealandWe hiked every day on well maintained tracks often with board walks across wet areas. There are 3-day or 10-day hikes where you carry your food and sleeping bags and stay in huts provided by a Government department, the Department of Conservation.

Our accommodation was never locked for the 5 nights we were there, and a van was provided for our use. There are a total of 12km of roads on the island. Other forms of transport are mountain bikes, vespas, walking, water taxis and a “tuk tuk”.

We had 5 nights on the island, and we managed to find plenty of hiking tracks to walk and beaches to enjoy. Apart from a couple of restaurants and a pub there is little else to do in the evenings other than a kiwi-spotting night time adventure or DVD watching in your room. But there is daylight till late in the evening, much later than the rest of the country.

I have a B&B in Christchurch , Christchurch Gaystay, catering just to the gay/lesbian community. www.gaystay.co.nz/chchgaystay. Christchurch is the biggest city on the South island of New Zealand, and is famous for its gardens. It is a gateway for people to start their holiday. From here people generally hire a car and spend a week to 10 days driving around the south Island visiting the jewels of the south, Queenstown and Milford Sound. There are glaciers to walk on and be helicoptered onto. Cyclists are catered for with 3 day cycle trips in Central Otago and there are many 3 day hikes, some with full catering and pack-carrying service.

I am happy to help people plan their NZ holiday , and know of a lot of gay B&Bs in NZ. The first ever gay cruise around our shores happened in February 2010 and will be repeated next year with cruisers disembarking at Mardi Gras in Sydney. Wellington, the capital city of NZ will host the OutGames in March 2011 . So a trip “downunder” could combine Mardi Gras, OutGames, and Kiwi-spotting… the feathered variety and the lycra-clad variety.