Monday, 23 April 2012

Stewart Island part 9, kiwi spotting

One of the top high-lights of the whole trip for me was to see Kiwis. They are a New Zealand national symbol and everyone loves these funny little birds that can't fly. If you ask around, I'm sure only 1 in 10 kiwis (as in the people) would have seen one, and most then only in captivation. Stewart Island apparently is one of the best places to see them. Most see them on Mason Beach on the west coast, which is part of the big northern circuit tramp (or if you're rich you fly). You can also go on a tour with Bravo Adventure and see wild kiwis on Ocean Beach. Or if you're lucky enough to have sailed your own boat to Stewart Island, and are lucky to get the DOC permit visit Ocean Beach by yourself (quite a mission to get the (free) DOC permit, we were lucky to get one), you can simply go there yourself! You're allowed to go there during the day, but from 6pm to 6am you need a permit. We first went there during the day, and that itself is a lovely trip. There's a wharf in Glory Bay on the eastern side and there's a short walking track over to Ocean Beach which is on the main coast of Stewart Island, just south of the entrance to Paterson Inlet. It's quite a long and wide beach and we were quite excited when we spotted these prints.
We went back a few days later with our permit and after the tour operator had finished his tour (after 11pm), and weren't quite sure what to expect. Would we be able to spot any kiwis on the big beach? We certainly wouldn't be able to hear them beforehand, as the surf was quite noisy. Our dim lights (not to disturb the kiwis) didn't help a whole lot. But suddenly we spotted one a bit ahead of us. WAUW. I was so excited, I couldn't stop pulling at Phil's arm. The kiwi couldn't have cared less about our presence, it was very busy picking out bugs from the seaweed. It's impossible to take photos in the dark without a flash, so I only got some video of it. The photo below is a snap shop of the video, obviously very poor quality, but it's a kiwi :-) Don't worry about the light beam from our torch, it really was very weak and from a good 5 meters away. I was surprised how big it actually was, and very round (or fat?) too, kind of like a soccer ball! And a big long beak. We continued along the beach and saw several other ones, equally busy eating insect.

A couple of hunters were staying in a hut in Glory Bay, and one of them was tell us about how they sometimes track something noisy through the bush, slowly closing in on what they think is a deer. When they are really close they look all over the place and just can't spot the deer. Then they look down and there's this little kiwi clumsily walking around, making a lot of noise. Very funny and cute!

Stewart Island part 8, wildlife

Stewart Island is renowned for its wild life and it really was spectacular. Tons of birds and prolific sea life. While you may have seen the odd one during the previous posts, I have tried to gather them all in here.
Starting with the birds. Lots and lots of Bellbirds around. They sing lovely songs, ALL the time. And to each other. The one is the photo below was singing with two other bell birds nearby. I have also added a shaky video (partly the wind’s fault, not all mine...).

Next are the albatrosses, or Mollymawks to be exact. Amazing and impressive creatures. They provides hours of entertainment during watches while at sea. The way they soar over the waves, and hardly ever flap their wings make them very majestic. I think they were used to feeding from fishing boats coming into Port Pegasus, as we had several of them following us for a while, each time landing right behind Sophia. 
Oystercatcher are noisy and territorial birds hanging out on the shore. Almost all the ones we saw were black, but many are also while and black. I like their super bright orange beaks. There's a photo of a mussel covered rock further down, so there's definitely no shortage of food for them.
Little Robins were cute and quite tame, especially on Ulva Island (second photo). I'm not sure if what were saw were South Island Robins, or Stewart Island Robins, possibly both. 
The Kaka is a forest parrot, related to the Keas. There were lots and lots of them around Oban, so probably they like humans and the food that goes along with that, just like Keas.
We only ever saw a couple of Yellow-eyed Penguins in the water a distance away from Sophia. They always duck into the water right as I get my camera out, just like Little Blue Penguins. We had hoped to see them on land as well, they must have been hiding. This particular one was at our anchorage in Sailors Rest in Paterson Inlet.
Before moving on from the birds, you might wonder if we saw any kiwis! The answer is YES, but that story deserves a whole separate post (plus this post is already super long).

In the Magog tramp post I mentioned we saw sharks. Sophia was anchored just inside Seal Creek (also called Cook's Arm) behind a little island. The water wasn't quite as clear as some the other anchorages, but you could still see the bottom when it was about 4 meters deep. Anyway, when dinghing along further into the creek, looking for the start of the track, we suddenly saw a big shark-looking fish near the shore. We turned the dinghy around and tried to see it again. We were wondering what it was. A little further along we saw another big something , and agreed it sure did look like a shark. Pretty cool! Then suddenly there were at least 10 of them swimming around on the bottom, just 3-4 meters deep! Wowsa. The bigger ones looked bigger than Cherry (our dinghy, 2 meters long)! They were greyish with white spots and a broad nose and only a very small dorsal fin. We both got very excited and tried to turn around and spot more and get photos, and we did see a few more, but not the same amount. It's also really hard to get a photo through the water. But you can definitely see a grey something in the photo. We later found out they are Broadnose Sevengill Sharks.

Seafood lovers would love Stewart Island. Tons of mussels everywhere, as well as paua (abalone) and scallops if you know where to look. Unfortunately Phil and I aren't big fans (read what crime we did here).
 Stewart Island also has lots of Sea Lions and Seals (bit tricky to tell the difference, but apparently sea lions have ear flaps which seals don't). This one below was really cute, super curious, he (or she?) slowly came closer and closer, popping its head up every so often to look again. By then we had come ashore and he was halfway out of the water thoroughly checking us out.

However, our first experience with seal (lions) at Waterlily Bay wasn't quite as cute and fuzzy. When Phil got in the dinghy to get the stern line set up, this big sea lion came charging out from the beach. Phil quickly retreated back to Sophia and he (gotta be a he :-) ) swam right out to us and underneath the dinghy. He then went into the other beach and Phil tried again, but with the same result! It was pretty obvious that this was his bay and we were not welcome. Finally he left the bay and we could get our stern line set up. After this experience we always carried our fog horn with us when we went ashore, but luckily we never needed it.

If we're not seafood lovers, but we love fish, and especially Blue Cod. Yummy yum. And they were so easy to catch! Definitely not like the Marlborough Sounds. I had to restrict Phil when he went fishing, only one or two. We had fish as much as we wanted, pretty much every second day, or more even. The limit on Stewart Island is 30 a day per person! According to Phil, the fisherman on Sophia, they live on rock, so often you just got to dinghy a bit away from your anchorage (usually sand) to a rocky outcrop and you'll be able to see them, the water is that clear and there are that many. Phil would usually use some soft bait and catch a Spotty and use that as bait for the Blue Cod.

We had thought we'd snorkel more than we did. We only went once together, and Phil once by himself. We had lots of excuses though: cold water (brrrr!), angry sea lions, swarms of red jelly fish with tentacles and sharks :-) We eventually did go and it was actually really nice (albeit a bit cold), heaps of little fish, and lots of big kelpies and spotties. Phil also speared a delicious butterfish (and I cut his hair immediately after taking this photo!).

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Stewart Island part 7, dinghy expeditions

One of our favourite things to do in Stewart Island was dinghy exploring. There are tons of rivers, creeks, bays and the like that are just waiting to be explored. I often wished we had a kayak, as that would be the ideal way to explore, but Cherry and the two horse powered outboard do the job, just a bit more noisy than a paddle would.

Some of the rivers are huge and would take whole days to fully explore, like the Lords River on the map below. We only explored a small part of it, as indicated by the arrows and it still took us a couple of hours.  Rivers and creeks are by nature very protected, so the water is often mirror like. Add super clear water and lots of fish and seaweed, it was just so pretty. 

Other times it wasn’t just for fun, but we actually had to find fresh water. A good way is to look at the topo map, as that has all creeks on it. Stewart Island's water has a brown taint (varying how much), but apparently that doesn’t matter and we must admit it tasted fine. Only once (typically the only time we didn’t taste the water beforehand) did we get some weird tasting water which we filled it into one of the tanks, ups. It took over an hour to pump it out again through our only foot pump! Good lesson.

The next three photos are from the same spot where we filled water. First me catching the water, then Phil with the dinghy, and the last one is just above the ‘water fall’. It was like magic there, green and lush and beautiful drinking water!

This bay is Glory Bay in Paterson Inlet. It’s a huge bay with good protection. The two boats just visible are the American boat we met in Port Pegasus and a Swedish boat. Sophia is further back in the anchorage, out of sight. It therefore made it the most crowded anchorage we had the whole time in Stewart Island.  Not bad going. 

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Stewart Island part 6, Bald Cone tramp

Our last big tramp in Port Pegasus was Bald Cone (229 m), so compared to the other two we had done, it was just a wee one. And we did it even faster than the guidebook indicated, as it only took us about 2 1/2 hours in total.

We anchored Sophia near Billy’s Cove, and trusted our good 45 lb Mason anchor to keep her safe as it was blowing quite a fresh easterly that day.  It held, as always (so far anyway, touch wood!).

It was pretty easy to find the ‘track’ (cairns most of the way) and relatively easy walking, definitely not bush bashing like the Magog tramp. The main features of Bald Cone are all the cool rock formation. The last bit up to the top was very steep and some nice people (probably other sailors) have left guide ropes. 

Nice little tramp = little blog post… 

Friday, 13 April 2012

Stewart Island part 5, Magog tramp

After a few days’ rest for our sore feet after the Tin Range tramp, our next big tramp was to Magog. Gog and Magog are two twin peaks visible from most of Port Pegasus. Gog is the more southern one with the bigger and more rounded top. When you look at topo maps and the likes of the whole of the south Stewart Island, there’s just nothing there! No tracks, nothing. But the sailing guide has three tramps in it with little hand drawn drawings: the Tin Range (which we already did, read this post), Magog, and Bold Cone (post coming up). However, the guide book is 16 years old, so we weren’t quite sure what track (if any) to expect. We actually tried to find the start of two tracks both leading to Magog from Seal Creek  (also named Cooks Arm) which would have shortened the tramp, but we couldn’t find either (instead we spotted sharks, very exciting, another post about that).
The next day we changed anchorage to Evening Cove and easily found the start of the track there. The first bit of the track trough the bush up to the open ridge landscape was easy to follow, but after that we were struggling to find the track and if we did, we’d lose it again quickly. That meant heaps of bush bashing through the landscape and looking at the map every 5 minutes. You can kind of get an idea of what it was like in the first photo. It varied from ankle high to over-your-head high bush. The most annoying height is when it’s just about your head height and it’s too high to push your way through but too low to go under. A good thing was we could see Magog almost the whole way, so at least we weren’t losing our bearings. 

The last stretch up through the bush (above photo) to the very top was quite steep and it was a nice warm day, especially out of the wind, so Phil found a nice little rainwater pool to cool himself of with.
 It was a hard tramp, but the view from the top made it all worth it, it was absolutely breathtaking. The guidebook indicated it was 2.5-3 hours to the top of Magog, but it took us closer to 4. Probably because of the elusive track... Phil looks like he's wearing a bathing suit in the photo below and has wet hair from the photo above, but I still love it.
 Panorama view of the west coast. The lovely bay with the beach is Easy Harbour.
You kind of get an idea how big Port Pegasus is from this panorama view looking north and east. In the middle are a couple of entrances, and it then stretches both north and south (hence North and South Arm).

Coming back to Sophia someone had kindly left us a gift on the transom. We never found out who, must have been some fishermen or hunters in the area. We know it’s almost criminal, but unfortunately neither of us are big seafood lovers (we love fish though), so we donated the scallops back to the sea!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Stewart Island part 4, Disappointment Cove

Disappointment Cove, also known as Peacehaven, is in the South Arm of Port Pegasus. It’s very protected and snug. True to the ambiguous name(s) the water was full big red jelly fish with long tentacles, very pretty, but also very nasty looking. Wouldn’t be fun meeting one of them while swimming! But otherwise it was quite idyllic and pretty. There is a 10 minutes' walk over to Broad Bay, which is on the coast south of Port Pegasus. Here you can be lucky to spot Yellow Eyed Penguins (we didn’t see any, but saw them in the water elsewhere), but there were plenty of sea lions lounging in the sun on the beach. We also dinghied to Boat Harbour Cove and found the track (track started in the creek, not to the east of it as indicated in the guide book) and walked over to another beautiful bay (Boat Harbour Bay) in Broad Bay. In the evening we again walked over the track from Disappointment Cove to the beach around sunset hoping we’d see kiwis (or penguins), but with no luck. Instead we were rewarded by a beautiful sunset.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Stewart Island part 3, Tin Range tramp

In the North Arm there are only few sign left of an old settlement. There was a bit of a tin mining rush around 1890, but it only lasted a few years.  A track follows part of the old tram lines up to an old dam. From there you can go up to the Tin Range ridge (peak at 637 m) and enjoy the view. A sign at the beginning of the track says that DOC (Department of Conversation) hasn’t maintained the track since 2004, but it was surprisingly easy to follow and did seem somewhat maintained. We later learned googled that DOC indeed is just starting to maintain the old track again. Some hunters we spoke with later on also had been there, but went a different way, and didn’t see the dam, but saw evidence of the DOC maintenance, so we’re not sure which part is a proper track and which isn’t. We just followed the Stewart Island Cruising Guide’s suggested track and guidelines and it took us 7.5 hours as indicated as well. It was pretty wet and boggy in many places, which made for lots of cool and very green mosses and muddy boots. Overall a great tramp.