Sunday, February 6, 2011

Kayaking Stewart Island

After spending the evening wandering the village of Oban in gale force winds, we snuggled into our beds and wished for calm winds the next day. We were lucky enough to get our wish, so we headed over the hill to Watercress Bay and found someone with boats.

[Watercress Bay in the sunshine]

[Kayaks for rent]

[Getting all geared up]

Once we were all set up with boats and paddles and maps and stuff, we pushed out into the calm waters of Paterson Inlet. We paddled up the inlet to a spot where our kayak outfitter had suggested we might find some penguins. After a good half hour paddle we were rewarded not only with some Little Blue penguins looking for lunch, but a rare Yellow-Eye.

[Yellow-Eyed penguin]

We watched him paddle around, checking under water every so often to find a fish and then dive. We paddled on along the bushy coast towards a slew of little beaches tucked away from the waves and pulled out on one of them. With our lunch in hand, we settled on some rocks and enjoyed the lovely weather.

[Lunch on the rocks]

After lunch, we pushed back out to a somewhat choppier sea. Within a few minutes though we had found our rhythm and decided to head on over to Ulva Island, a nearby, predator free island which promises some unique bird viewing opportunities.

[The Weka Welcoming Committee]

Upon our arrival we were met by the Weka Welcoming committee. These forward and very cheeky little birds surprised Stephen by stealing a cracker from his hand. The momma bird then proceeded to bash it on the ground with her bill to break it into bite-sized pieces for her wee (or not so wee) chick. As we are not great believers in feeding wildlife from our hands (though it seems a little late here), Stephen removed what was left of the cracker from the birds and placed it in a location he thought safe from roving Wekas - out on the back of the kayak, which was still in the water. This proved not to be the case.

For, just as Stephen left, the momma bird walked straight out into the sea, jumped onto the boat and promptly found the remainders of her prize. She and her chick then ran to the other end of the beach to do away with their winnings in a less bothersome location. We all laughed.

The rest of the islands bird residents proved far less cheeky. We wandered along a bit of the trails and found kereru, or New Zealand wood pigeon, and Stewart Island robins, as well as, a few more Wekas. The restoration of Ulva Island to a predator-free island began in the late 90's and took some seven years, with thorough trapping of rats, stoats, and weasels. Unfortunately, when we were leaving there was rumour that some 20 or so rats had been seen on the island. So, more trapping will have to be done once again. However, in our short time there, it was amazing to just listen to the difference. The bird song variety and sheer amount was like nothing I've heard elsewhere in New Zealand.

We then paddled back across the inlet and left our kayaks for the road. While Stephen and Ben spent the afternoon hitting golf balls at the second most Southerly golf course in the world, I wandered through town, window shopped and went through the exhibit at the DOC office. In the evening, Stephen and I went for a wander to the point and watched some Little Blue penguins scramble ashore and up very steep cliffs. We decided we could only handle watching one as the stress involved in watching a small, water-built bird climb a near vertical slippery slope in the dark is not easy on the heart. So we wandered back to the hostel and climbed into bed for one last night on Stewart Island.

[Sunset over Oban]

The next morning, we packed our things and got on the ferry back to Bluff. The wind had remained calm-ish and the trip back was much easier to take than the one there. We were even treated to watching flocks of Titi, or Muttonbirds, or Sooty Shearwaters as we passed through the small islands where Maori still go to collect the chicks in the summer.

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