Tucked away at the bottom of New Zealand, Stewart is almost a different world. Oban is a small village, there are just 34km of sealed roads on the island and the islanders are fiercely proud of their heritage. Despite the latitude, the bush is thick and the island is cloaked in wonderful forest, full of birds. The seas are crystal clear and the fish and shellfish are easily caught. On a clear day, there is a magical feel to the place, a stunning light whilst other days are moody as the cloud drifts over the hills and bush.
You can fly to the island or take a ferry. The crossing can be rough and a flight is recommended. It is not much more expensive and it is also rather fun as a small 10 seater plane carries you 40km over the sea and lands on a sealed strip in the middle of nowhere. There are no terminal buildings, just a shuttle waiting to take you and your luggage down to Oban.
The day we arrived we collected out tickets from DoC and repacked our packs for another three days.
The start is a 5km walk from the centre of the village along sealed roads. I was lazy after the rigours of the Hump Ridge Track and we took a cab to the entry to the track. It was $30 well spent for the two of us. The track wanders along the coast, crossing sandy beaches and climbing over small spurs as it heads to Port William hut. Its a gentle walk with a lot to look at, so we took our time and enjoyed the short distance of 13km. 2km before the hut is a track junction; turn left for day 2 or go straight on to the hut, so you have to retrace your steps the next day.
This is a Great Walk and the track is good on the first day, easy walking. The hut is well positioned but it only has beds, water and a log burner, no gas, unlike other Great Walk huts. There is a small lawn between the hut and the beach with picnic benches. Another young tramper was reading at a bench when a sea lion lurched up the bank onto the grass just next to here. She shrieked and jumped onto the table until the sea lion sauntered off for a snooze in the bush.
We saw deer around the hut and heard kiwi during the night, although those that went out to look for them saw nothing. A fishing vessel anchored off the beach and the fisherman shared their catch of fish and paua. Sauteed paua, well pounded by the fisherman, was a nice treat after dinner and the fish, superbly filleted for us was delicious for breakfast.
The second day is only 13km and wends its way across the peninsula, pausing to give you time to look at the remains of the logging industry. Old tramways and engines are rusting away as do steam-driven saws. The bush is thin and regenerating around the logging sites but elsewhere it is rich and thick. 400-year-old trees climb to the heavens and the rotting timber of storm falls provide a rich bed for the forest floor, wonderful moss and ferns abound. There are birds everywhere if you stand quietly, a bird watcher’s paradise. I am not very good o birds but managed to spot tui, fantails and robins.
The track is rather boring as the forest seems unending. It suffered badly in torrential rain a couple of years ago and there are several sections of good mud which must be horrendous in wet weather. Day 1 had been lovely and sunny whilst day 2 was misty with a dampness in the air, but no rain. Even so, we wore our jackets as the trees and ferns dripped on us. DoC has repaired some of the track but there is still some work to do to repair other sections, leaving some gnarly roots to find your way around.
Eventually, North Arm Hut appears, an identical replica of the previous hut. We managed to get all the snorers in the other room s we had a better sleep. No fishermen turned up so we were restricted to freeze-dried food. One couple had spotted a kiwi on the way through.
Another short day, but much more enjoyable than day 2. This is a lovely walk around the coast for 7km, crossing sandy beaches and around moody inlets. Eventually, you meet a landrover track and it is all plain sailing back to Oban.
This is not the same as other Great Wals and not as satisfying. But Stewart Island is somewhere everyone must go at least once. We stayed on for a day, a magical autumn day of cold air and blue skies. We sent several hours on the predator-free island of Ulva and then watched a quirky film, narrated by a dog, about the island.