Stewart Island: A little further south but without the car

It was a relatively short drive from ‘The Catlins’ to Bluff where we were scheduled catch the 11am ferry for the 1-hour trip across Foveaux Strait to Stewart Island (Rakiura).

In true Cliff and Ruth fashion, we arrived in Bluff early. We agreed that we had plenty of time to relax and enjoy a coffee but that was a case of ‘easier said than done’ as there was not a lot of choice in New Zealand’s southern-most town. We settled for a gallery come coffee shop which was the only place that looked as though they may serve a passable coffee. While Ruth was looking at the gallery I popped around ‘café-side’ to order a flat white and English breakfast tea. It was 9:30am and the only two patrons in sight were just leaving. When I ordered my flat white I immediately threw the poor proprietor into a ‘state of flux’. She opened the fridge door to find that she had no milk. “Are you in a hurry love?”. “Um, no not really, my wife is looking through the gallery and that usually takes a while”. “Oh good! I just need to pop down to the supermarket to get some milk”.

Making the most of what was left of the best day of summer on the day we arrived – heading back into Oban after our first walk

I sat down and started to read the newspaper, Ruth joined me and shortly afterwards the proprietor also joined us at the table. “Mind if I sit down?”, “it has been bedlam here this morning”. We decided that we were lucky and must have missed the rush. Confusion then rained as our order was interpreted as an English breakfast and two coffees, fortunately we sorted it before the cooking started. The proprietor was clearly relieved when she learned that the cooked breakfast was not required. It turned out to be pleasant coffee stop, the pricing indicated a lack of competition, the coffee suggested that the nice lady was still ‘getting the hang of it’ but you did get very personal service.

Golden Bay on the Paterson Inlet, a short haul over the hill from Oban (Half Moon Bay).

On the ferry, the captain told us how lucky we were! It was going to be calm crossing. I thought for a moment that Ruth was going to rush up and give him a hug but the movement I detected was simply her placing the ‘sick bag’ back in its pocket, with a flourish.

The Stewart Island Robins on Ulva Island were fearless. This one pecked Ruth’s boot before darting between her legs

It is the first time on the trip where we had to actually put some gear into a bag. The car and bikes were left in secure storage at the port in Bluff and given the weather since hitting the far south, we just carried every scrap of warm and waterproof clothing that we could fit into the day packs.

Rakiura is the anchor in the Maui legend – this is the anchor chain at the beginning of the Great Walk around the northwest of the Island. We walked as far as Maori Beach – the feeling was of remoteness.
Maori Beach – Ruth went to use the ‘ladies room’ at the beach only to find it full of bumble bees
A grand arch of young beech trees

We are staying in the exotic sounding South Sea Hotel here in Oban, the only town (village) on the Island. It’s a busy little hotel that keeps the locals ‘watered’ and has a very brisk trade in accommodation and food. It does a pretty good job at all of those and for a very reasonable cost. I had expected goods to be far more expensive than they are.

The two key businesses in Oban – the South Sea Hotel (left) and the four square (right)

There are plenty of short and longer walks around Oban, in addition to the great walk.  Tackling these walks does require you to be either; lucky, prepared to get wet or prepared to monitor the weather forecast very carefully in order to time your activities to coincide with the breaks in the weather. We opted for the latter and planned our longest walk for the only dry day expected during our five-day stay. The day we arrived was apparently the best day they have had all summer, needless to say that we are pleased we have not been here to ‘enjoy’ the rest of their summer.

Most of the tracks were excellent but we did get a liberal costing of mud on the Ryans Creek circuit – Ruth negotiating a slightly puggy section

We headed to Ulva Island on the earliest ferry to avoid the scheduled afternoon rain. Today we walked early morning and yesterday late morning largely avoiding the scheduled rain on both days. It looks as though it is business as usual for our return ferry crossing so we stocked up on some appropriate medication for Ruth (and possibly the writer). So despite the fairly inclement weather we have managed to squeeze 53km of walkways into our 4.5 days on the Island. Had we just ‘played it by ear’ I suspect we would have only walked the one day. Lesson learned.

There are actually quite a few motor vehicles on the island even though there is not a lot of road to drive on – we walked pretty much all of the roads – the longest section was 4km out to Lee Bay. This truck has had it’s day of trying to negotiate peak hour Island traffic
Boat sheds are to be found in most of the many bays close to Oban

We have to remind ourselves that Stewart Island is located well into the Roaring Forties. At latitude 47 south, it actually sits closer to the equator than Lands’ End in England but the lack of a land mass to break the relentless westerly weather means that the climate is very fickle. Having said all of that, it looks as though a high pressure system is finally going to do the summery thing and settle over the south of the country. We are very very excited.

We have loved the remote feel to the place, the bush and beaches are superb but a wet-suit is strongly recommended if you want to take a dip (unless you are a visitor from The Antarctic). If you believe that current events in the World have the feel that they could get apocalyptic sometime soon, Stewart Island is probably a pretty good ‘bolt-hole’.

Heading towards Ringringa beach on the day we arrived – that was the last day we saw blue sky.


  1. Wow, this post sure brought back a lot of good memories of our trip there: the little robins pecking at our shoes on Ulva Island; the South Seas which we also found better than expected; and the walking trails close to town with hardly a person and definitely no cars in sight. Lovely and remote.


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