Monday, 25 January 2010

The hills are alive with the sound of music

Stewart Island totally rocks... with birdsong. Not to mention some awesome (and deserted) walks through glorious scenery. This is New Zealand's third largest island, but comparatively little visited, with the result that it's wonderfully unspoilt. There are about 300 hardy souls living there full-time, and the township has one hotel/pub, one restaurant and one fish-and-chip van. Oh, and a boutique selling high-quality merino wool goods (I know, surreal!). The rest of the island, apart from fishing, is taken up with birds and walking.

I went to see the birds on Ulva Island, on a guided trip with a botanist/biologist who could actually tell me what I was looking at (like cars, I pretty much tell them apart by colour and size alone). There was a dedicated twitcher on the trip (carrying a camera as big as my head), and he seemed pretty impressed so I think we got our money's worth! We saw Stewart Island robins (white-breasted instead of red, but just as cheeky and inquisitive), saddlebacks (incredibly rare) and weka (about the size of a large pigeon, flightless, and, now that they've rid it of stoats and weasels, the island's most dangerous predator; this could perhaps explain why so many of New Zealand's bird species are extinct or nearly extinct - they're frankly weedy, as they had nothing to defend themselves against until the Europeans brought all sorts of mammals over. First it was rabbits, to hunt, then stoats and weasels to contain the pestilential population explosion of rabbits; possums for their fur, mice who hitchhiked across, then cats to catch the mice... It's like the old woman who swallowed a fly, with about as much success.) There were numerous others too - but my favourite of all (apart from the weka, who came over right to our feet to find out what we were and what we had to offer!) was the yellow-eyed penguin, which we spotted on the boat ride over - he hung around for ages right next to the boat, preening and diving and posing for photos. And these are supposed to be shy birds, the tart!

The walking was fabulous, too - most of the trails were deserted, and around almost every corner you could stop at an empty and picturesque beach or bay. I wish I could capture the sounds for you as well as the sights - part of the glory of the experience is not just what you see, but the gentle lapping of the waves on the sand, or the buzzing of bumblebees, or the wind in the trees. It was all good training for my ultimate walk too - I've booked a multi-day tramp through Queen Charlotte Sound (it's the only New Zealand Great Walk where you can have your luggage transported to the next night's accommodation, rather than carrying tent, gas stove and all on your back. Vital for me, particularly when some days there are 23km sections and 1000m ascents!

Tomorrow I rejoin the Flying Kiwi bus, so I'll be out of range till the end of January - it's all tents and patchy phone connections as we head into the wilds of Fjordland. But I'll have much more to tell you then - so au revoir for now!

1 comment:

  1. Today's the 27th, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!! Hope you're having a good one. Thanks for the lovely email, will reply VERY soon.