10th to the 21st October 2011
New friends and gardens
Something that I love about Magic Bus is the hop on hop off factor. Not only can you hop off anywhere on the route you can also rejoin the bus at any point (as long as its in the same direction and not backtracking). This meant I could leave Queenstown and go to Stewart Island by intercity and ferry and then return and rejoin the magic bus in Dunedin.
After saying another round of fairwells, I headed off to finish packing, have some breakfast and then wait for my taxi to the bus stop. The bus stop was just too far to walk with all my bags, though in hindsight after the $8, 3minute ride, walking might have been worth it. The bus to Invercargill took about 2hrs and then I had a 5hr wait till the shuttle to Bluff.
Getting off the bus I met Jana, from Germany, who was heading in the same direction. She didn’t have a hostel so I texted Liz from Bunkers to see if they had room. I had organised work trade with Liz for 2weeks for accommodation to she found it rather amusing that I was already getting guests. The bus had dropped us off at the i-site, or information center, where we could leave our bags and explore the nearby botanical gardens. They were just amazing with a pretty decent aviary as well.
After exploring the gardens we hunted down some grub and then hung around until the shuttle came to pick us up. It was only a 20min drive to Bluff then a short wait before the ferry.
I love being on the water and riding ferries and boats, Jana on the other hand was not a big fan. The waves were also rather enthusiastic, and while I stood holding onto a piece of rope and riding the swell, Jana sat looking a wee bit green in the corner. The waves were quite large, but apparently this was a quiet ride. Chatting to one guy he said he had seen the waves higher than the boat, that made patrons and crew alike a bit nervous.
After getting showered the 3rd time I decided to move under cover. Just as well ’cause 10seconds later an almighty wave came over the side right where I had been standing. That would have drenched me to my undies. After an hour Stewart Island appeared, and looked downright mystical with the low clouds.
We rode the swell into the harbor and docked. Unpacked and then Jana and I trekked up the hill to Bunkers Backpackers, 5 houses behind the pub!
Bunkers, Home away from Home
The mark of a good hostel, for me anyway, is to walk in and feel at home. I walked into Bunkers, and the was greeted by all the other hostel guests, the fire was burning and making the small common area feel warm and cozy. I felt none of the shyness I usually do when I arrive in a new place and joined the jenga game as someone handed me a cup of tea. I loved the place within 5min of arriving.
Liz arrived about an hour later to get everyone sorted. She was happy to meet me and said 4 words a backpacker dreams of:
– choose any room upstairs
Especially when those rooms contain a double bed and privacy. Once all the others were checked in, Liz headed home planning to meet me at 9.30am to go over duties.
Work trade is where you trade for accomodation, usually its cleaning or running the front desk or cooking. Something along those lines. It is always a useful tool when traveling on a budget.
In the morning Liz popped in and gave me a 10min tutorial of duties:
– clean bathrooms, switch towels
– change sheets
– clean kitchen
– tidy and vacuum
Around 2hrs work depending on how many people check out. Some days it took me all day on and off with 11+ checkouts and trying to clean bathrooms and kitchen inbetween folks using it. But I loved it. I have long thought of opening my own hostel, around this size (8 bed dorm, 4 bed dorm, twin, 3 privates) and so this was great practice. Plus the way the hostel is set up it feels just like a house and so its just like keeping your own home clean.
As most of the 12 days I was there the weather was either rainy, windy or grey, I spent a lot of time catching up with myself. I also enjoyed helping guests figure out what to do on the island (kayak, tramping, bird watching, touring etc). I tried to catch up with my blog and got a lot of photos uploaded. But I did manage to ge ta few things in.
Rent a car
5 of us went in to rent a little car and drive round the island. I drove which was rather amusing as it was a manual but the gears had been rubbed off so sometimes it was a guess as to which gear I was in. It worked out to $16 per person and was a great way to explore where we might want to go hiking. We dropped off a couple at Lee Bay and explored a bit there and then went to the point and finally sat and had lunch of bread, cream cheese and chips/crisps.
Rakiura is the Moari name of Stewart Island meaning, “Land of glowing skies”.
Liz had called the folks who run the kayaks and asked if I could hop on one of the trips. Her reasoning was sound:
– I told them you like to talk….
I assume that she means that as good thing and that I will pass on the good word.
The first time I went to kayak, Jana joined me. We headed down to the bay Liz had directed me too, or at least I thought it was. But turned out I was one bay too early. By the time we got back to the hostel Liz had to run us down by car but they had been booked out by other folks. So we decided to go the following day.
Turned out to be a great decision as our day had only our guide, Bronwyn from Canada, and 3 of us (France, Germany and me). The weather was perfect and as we hugged the coast line there were oyster catches, seagulls and the occasional blue penguin popping its head out of the water. We looked for sea urchins and paua (abalone).
Jana had never kayaked before, so I was in the double with her. I sat in the back so I could steer and also gave her the freedom to set the pace. But I found it increasingly difficult to keep her uneven pace, especially when it involved simply alternately dipping the paddle in each side without actually paddling. I could hold my tongue only so long and gave her some gentle guidance which she picked up very quickly and we were soon in better rhythm, even if only slightly.
We pulled up onto Native Island for a tea break just as the weather started to change. But it made the hot milo and cookies taste even better as we huddled together in the drizzle.
Just as we climbed back in and Bronwyn pushed us out into the bay the sun winked through the clouds again and we set off for home as the the clouds started to colour with the coming sunset. A fabulous afternoon. We even got a better view of the little blue penguins (smallest in the world).
A short tramp
When you visit NZ, you will most likely be asked where you will be tramping or are you a tramper. Now, before you get all indignant and horrified at being called a tramp, let me clarify. Tramping is the kiwi term for hiking, usually over a few days. I must admit it took me a few times of just nodding and smiling before I completely understood the term. Stewart Island has some of the best tramping opportunities and at this time of year also some of the deepest mud, as numerous folks told us upon returning to the hostel.
I did not have the time for a multiple day hike and so on the one day that was downright spectacular weather wise. And made the last week of grey rainy weather seem long forgotten. A group of 6 of us went for a 3 hr hike to Halfmoon Bay.
We had about a 2km walk along the road, then a 2km up and down through the coastal forests then 3km back. It was a fabulous walk and the views were spectacular. We got back just in time to start preparations for the bbq.
After a delicious bbq with fresh blue cod and crayfish, courtesy of Liz and Heath (hostel owners) and lots of other yummy stuff. We headed to the pub for quiz night and then enjoyed the rugby before heading home. A perfect day!
Ulva Island is just a 10min trip by boat from Stewart Island. The Department of Conservation (DOC) has worked hard to eradicate all predators, such as rats, stoats and possums. It is an ongoing project as rats tend to swim across. This means that is a fabulous bird sanctuary and walking through what is quickly becoming pristine NZ native forests was downright amazing. The little robins follow you and call to you hoping you will scuffle your feet in the earth to agitate bugs, then they hop right up to your feet and eat them, often following you down the path from one disturbed patch to another.
There were so many birds and all I wished was that my folks were there too as they are avid bird watchers. But they would have been impressed with the number of birds I saw in 3hrs.
Being sick on the road
One of the biggest things you always hope to avoid while traveling is getting sick. I had avoided it for almost 9mths before the chest cough hit me a couple of weeks before. I had kicked it for the most part for the last week but after picking up a cold the cough came back. At the same time I experienced terrible cramps and stomach issues for a few hours one morning. I knew that I had most like brought home an amoeba or two from Tonga or Ecuador or Peru. On the encouragement of Liz I went to see the nurse. Her response to my cough:
– suck on a fishermens friend lozenge
To my stomach issues:
– I need a sample to send to the mainland lab.
For this process I was handed a jar with scoop, a small square catch tub and a hazard bag all in a paper bag. The sample to be “caught” in the morning and brought in nice and fresh. Images of me as a vet nurse running behind dogs trying to “catch”, urine or something fresh came to mind, never thought I would have to “catch” something of my own.
The lozenges helped tremendously with the cough and in the morning I managed to get my sample with no mess. Must be years of experience as a vet nurse. I dropped off the sample at the clinic and Nurse Deb told me the doctor also wanted blood work to make sure it hadn’t gone systemic. As a non NZ resident it also meant I had to pay. Mmmm i had no insurance and was concerned about the cost. Deb checked it up and prepared me.
Full bloodwork including liver functions etc, plus a fecal test and parasite test the total was….. $141.50
I nearly asked her to throw in a couple more tests as that was unbelievably cheap compared to the US. As a mate said she could have flown to Stewart Island, had all her tests and flown back to the US and it would have been cheaper. Just crazy I tell ya. It would take about a week to get final results.
RESULTS: all clear and negative!
There were so many good times I could write 3 blog entries. Instead I am going to do it with pics:
Liz brought me a large bowl of freshly “plucked” green lipped mussels. She also provided the wine, garlic and onion with which to steam them.
The occasional game of chess…
I was able to fly back to Invercargill on standby, and it only cost $70. I also got to sit in the cockpit (although technically the entire plane is a cockpit as the pilot explained).
Stewart Island was one of the most amazing places I have been to in NZ and I only wish I could have stayed longer! Thanks to all who made my time so much fun!