South of New Zealand’s South Island is the third largest, Stewart Island. It is off the beaten path because reaching the only town of Oban requires either a really expensive, bumpy flight on a small plane or an expensive, bumpy ferry ride across a rough expanse of sea. The stars aligned for us a to spend a week there on our most recent visit to New Zealand, and it was well worth the extra effort to get there.
We had three goals on Stewart Island. 1- see live, wild crinoids; 2- take Joey on his first overnight tramping experience; and 3- see live, wild kiwi (birds).
1- Crinoids. Also known as sea lilies, these ancient creatures are of particular interest to Lauren because of their prevalence in the Paleozoic fossil record. They appear in the Ordovician, and show up in marine limestones from then onwards. As fossils generally only the circular disks of the stem are preserved. These were a common feature in the rocks that Lauren explored on her geology field school in Newfoundland back in the day. Although we’ve been snorkeling and diving in many places, we’ve never seen live crinoids before. Lauren was audibly excited to discover immediately upon disembarking from the ferry that crinoids could be readily viewed in Stewart Island’s clear waters attached to rocks and pilings in the shallows. She didn’t even need a dive mask or to brave the 14 degree C water! This was the easiest by far of the three goals to tick off of our list.
2- Joey’s first tramping trip. See this post for more details, but in short this was the first time we combined hiking and camping with Joey and he loved it! We have always gone on at least one backpacking trip when we visited NZ and decided to continue the tradition with the babs on board. We walked the Rakiura Track great walk which makes a small loop along the coast and through the jungle of the northwest corner of Stewart Island. We could hear kiwis in the late night/early morning from our tent, but we didn’t see any. Simon particularly enjoyed staying at the Port William hut, where he collected cockles and mussels from the intertidal for breakfast.
3- We had heard from various sources to be sure to make a side trip to Ulva Island from Stewart Island. Ulva is a predator-free, uninhabited (by people) island just a five minute boat ride from Oban. Upon arriving at very low tide, we were excited to see more crinoids growing on the rocks and pier. Walking around was truly delightful because we were constantly serenaded by birds! We became excited when we spotted some small, brown birds picking at bugs on the beach! They turned out to be weka, which are quite a treat to see, but not the same as the elusive kiwi. As we quietly wandered along a path through the bush (Joey was napping on the ergo carrier), we heard a rustle in the leaves. Lauren stopped and pointed towards the sound and Simon pulled out the camera – it was a kiwi! In the daytime no less, which is extraordinary for these rare, nocturnal birds.
Overall we had an amazing week on Stewart Island. The seafood was outstanding, the people interesting, and the birds fantastic. While the ferry ride to Stewart Island pushed the limit of the sea legs of even our hardiest soul (Joey), the ferry ride back to the mainland was extremely pleasant. We were regularly surprised at how much we could enjoy an adventure trip with no scuba diving whatsoever.