Another excerpt from my down-underings in New Zealand:
Being the avid birders that we are, my mum and I decided to take a pilgrimage to Stewart Island, off the southern most tip of the south island of New Zealand, to get our best chance of seeing the rare Kiwi bird in the wild. Remember, “south” in New Zealand means colder… closer to Antarctica than the equator. And, well, we ran into some “weather” shall we say.
Our ferry for the way out was a large catamaran. In the picture shown, it is actually NOT raining…the captain has the wipers on “furious fast” (it’s a setting in NZ) to swish away the spray of the waves…which also made their way up and over the 2nd story and dashed down onto the rear deck. See the photo below of rear of boat. My mom and I were some of the only foolish souls who were not only standing, but out in the back of the boat in the rip-roaring swells! It was swell. Not for everyone on board, mind you. My mom obviously passed her iron-clad constitution on to me. At a certain point, Captain Paul had to turn the boat into the swells and it was a wild ride! I asked if we would have to pay extra for the thrills, this being New Zealand and all.
We had planned to stay the night on Stewart Island so as to take a much-touted, guided
tour of the Kiwis precious protected habitat by a licensed expert..but the only guide called it off due to inclement weather…. uh oh…
Well, we still stayed over, and at least we chatted with some human Kiwis about New Zealand, and Dunedin and trekking, etc. as all were pretty much staying indoors, avoiding the wind-swept rains. In the morning, though, my mom and I donned our best rain gear and set off for several treks in the dense rain forests.
The Tui: R2D2 of the Bird World
The Tuis (one of my favorite local birds) were calling and singing, if you can call it that. The Tui has such a repertoire of chirps, squawks and whistles, I liken him to R2D2… including the little pissed off rrrrppppp sound! We retreated back to the backpackers only for some hot soup, and to warm and dry up a bit before the next foray out. We loved the wild jungle feeling, and being virtually alone, thanks to the constant misting rain.
We didn’t spot the elusive and nocturnal kiwi bird in his wild habitat, but we did get to view him close up in a captive enclosure exhibit. They keep the lights low and ask that you not take photos, but I can show you this “taxidermified” specimen so you can see his fascinating details, including actual hair, and size.
A side jaunt by boat to the wildlife sanctuary of nearby Ulva Island afforded us beautiful exploring walks over beaches and rainforest trails, and some spottings of several other birds species.
The return trip back to the mainland of South Island, via small plane this time, was equally harrowing, owing to the continued extremes of the storms in this region. My favorite part was the airport “terminal”, which consisted of the very van we were riding in to be deposited on a rough dirt airstrip. We watched our little 8-person plane land in wind-driven rain from the shelter of our 4-wheeled terminal, then drove up to meet it as it taxied, and we hopped in.
Sidewinding through the not-so-friendly Skies
Our pilot greeted us and advised us to expect some bumps. “Bumps”? You KNOW when the jaded Kiwi pilot of a small plane advises that there will be some “bumps”, it will be a harrowing experience. Again… I could only laugh at my flimsy mortality as the little plane lurched, skipped and crabbed sideways in the rough skies. See the giant whitecaps on the ocean below. I don’t mind up and down turbulence…it’s the sidewinder slipping stuff that gets me. So, yet another New Zealand adventure. Unfortunately….we didn’t “bag” our bird, but we had fun in the seeking.
All Photos by G. Stark (unless I’m in them!)
If you enjoyed this foray into New Zealand, ready your umbrella for ‘New Zealand: Weather…or Not’
or cinch up your saddle for ‘New Zealand: Cantering Near Canterbury’