With 3068km of Te Araroa trail completed I decided to head even further south for a little ‘cool down’ walk on Stewart Island. Mission: See a kiwi.
I had the idea in my head of a little gentle walk and lounging around in a remote hut pondering the last five months, however on the second day it was clear that Stewart Island is a pretty special place. I started to toy with the idea of changing tack and heading off around the 10 day North West Circuit. Hmmm…could I turn six days of food into ten? I’d managed to turn eight days of food into six before, but never the other way around. Excitement built as I thought of all the possibilities for discovery on that NW route but half an hour later I thought ‘Who am I kidding? I can’t ration my food!’ and promptly broke off another 2 lines of chocolate.
I did however manage to explore the Rakiura Circuit, plus a tramp west to Masons Bay, a location apparently abundant with kiwi. For two mornings and evenings I spent a total of about 8 hours sneaking quietly up forest tracks and down sand dunes, ears pricked for the slightest rustle of a bird. No luck. Trying to reassure myself that that was okay and it was still a great walk I shuffled back east towards Freshwater Hut. On arrival I discovered a hunting party had made themselves (and their 50 cases of beer) very comfortable at the hut, but I soon warmed to their company when one of them arrived saying he’d just spotted a kiwi just a few minutes away. Excitedly I followed him back through the ferns and there was my kiwi! I quietly followed that bird for about 20 minutes as it snuffled around in the ground searching for food. I don’t think I’ve ever seen video footage of a kiwi in action but they are truly odd creatures. Using their beaks to probe the earth, once they find a potential meal they attack the ground, digging in with their beaks with all the determination and ferocity of a terrier shaking a rat. It’s quite amazing and amusing to observe.
Satisfied, I could now enjoy the remaining few days walking around the beautiful coastline, lined with ferns and lush forest, white sandy beaches and rocky coves. Stopping at Port William Hut for the night I shared stories of my kiwi encounter at Freshwater Hut with a fellow tramper on the bunk next to me. “Oh! and did you see there’s a little deer that lives there too?!” she gushed. “Yeah, not anymore” I let her know. Our fellow hut residents in the hunting party had gotten up for the loo in the night, spied the unfortunate deer outside and decided that right then was a good idea to do some hunting! I heard the gun case unzip and even though I knew what was coming the sound of the rifle shot piercing the night air just a few metres from my bunk still made me gasp out loud. Ahh, the serenity of the New Zealand bush!
Stewart Island is a very special place and worthy of a good explore. And seeing that kiwi…well, another Mission Successful.