Sunday, July 29, 2018

Ulva Island

Ulva Island is a wee little island in Paterson Inlet at Stewart Island that's a pretty special place. It's predator-free after a huge effort by DOC, and they take substantial measures to keep it that way. Their efforts have made it an exquisite bird sanctuary, and it's one of the only places in NZ where you stand a chance of seeing a wild kiwi during the day.

Raki, our host Manfred's son, operates a ferry business between Stewart and Ulva Islands, and we've got a few hours to explore it before we head home. It's a short boat ride, it's cheap as, and Raki gives us our return ticket, written on a rangiora shrub leaf (there's a photo of the ticket on the ferry's website as of 29 Jul 2018). These leaves are famous for being used as postcards because they took ink well and didn't deteriorate, and have been sent worldwide even though NZPost wasn't really a fan of the practice. When he drops us off, we pick a return time and disappear into the dense canopy.

Oystercatchers scurry along

Faint light finds Murphy

Spoiler: we do not see any kiwis, although Raki tells us that some other passengers he had that day got lucky with a sighting (they're nocturnal, but the lack of predators on Ulva gives a chance for a daytime sighting). There's also a complete lack of services on Ulva at night, so that's a complicating factor.

However, we see a bunch of other cool bird life while we meander on the island's little network of tracks. Some of the tracks are, um, less accessible when the tide is in.

Good luck


South Island robin / toutouwai

Stewart Island Weka

Extra cheeky weka

Ulva Island port

Raki picks us up in his wee boat at our agreed-upon time, and before too long, we're back to SZS and airborne for IVC.

Short hop

'Til next time, Stewart Island.


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Rakiura Track and Other Shenanigans

Waking up on Stewart Island with nothing planned feels like a gift from the gods. Manfred feeds us a stunning breakfast, enough to make us feel like anything is possible, and then we realize that the weather isn't meant to be complete crap. That is even MORE of a gift, and while Murphy isn't feeling super duper frisky, I'm only pricked with a twinge of guilt when I ask her how she feels about me disappearing off into the bush for a few hours while she finds her own adventure. The puppy dog eyes work.

You see, Stewart Island is home to one of NZ's Great Walks, the Rakiura Track, and it's billed as a 3-day tramp. For these multi-day walks, you can kinda do a rough conversion where the recommended number of days if you're walking is about the right number of hours if you're running.

The Rakiura Track isn't even Stewart Island's longest or best-known track. The North West Circuit and Southern Circuit Tracks are WAY longer and carry the notoriety of circumnavigating a huge chunk of the entire island. The North West Circuit Track is billed as a 9-11-day hike over 125km, which, with our aforementioned rough conversion, might suck to run. The Southern Circuit Track is shorter at 71km (4-6 days), but both of them are pretty explicitly backcountry tracks with higher probability of things going pear-shaped.

Rakiura Track profile; not that bad, but enough

So the Rakiura Track is a lot less to bite off, and is relatively well-maintained due to its Great Walk status, and considering that I've come here without any specific distance running gear, much less proper backcountry route-finding and survival gear, seems to be the right call. By "without any specific gear," I mean ANYTHING except for decent trail shoes and a rain jacket. The worrywarts among you will be horrified to think about starting a remote 35ish-kilometer run without any water, no contingency gear, and a whopping half a granola bar, but it's certainly not the dumbest thing I've ever done.


Manfred's son Raki (yes, for Rakiura) is kind enough, along with his visiting brother Julius and Ethel, to deposit me at the Lee Bay end of the point-to-point track. Ethel gets a swift smack on the ass and I disappear into the unknown. Don't worry: I won't be burdening you with a km-by-km recounting of the track, but at a high level, it's a stunning ribbon of NZ to see, and I will say a bit about each major section.

I feel compelled to point out that much of it is perma-mud, which is just kinda something that happens in places where it rains shitloads and there's nowhere for the water to go and the sun never shines. I also gather that running it is not too common, at least based on the bemused observations of the well-laden trampers I encounter as I flit by with nothing on my back and nothing in my hands.

As noted, it's a point to point track, and I've chosen to go counterclockwise (rather, anticlockwise, as they say here). The first section of the track winds from Lee Bay past Maori Beach and to the Port William Hut. There are a couple beach sections, which are more exciting with the tide in, but this whole first third is only 8km long, so it's over pretty quickly.

Maori Beach shelter

Maori Beach has a tiny shelter, and the Port William Hut is a proper DOC accommodation with features like walls. I drink water through my cupped hands at the hut, have a bite of my bar, and am back underway in about 2 minutes.

The next section of the track backtracks a tiny bit from Port William Hut to a junction and then goes through the wilds of the island to North Arm Hut. This is the wettest part of the track, and it feels pretty remote, too. It's also the segment with the most elevation change, and at 13km, it's the crux of the whole run. I've got no photos of the muddy bits, because I'm too focused on forward propulsion and not falling into any mud pits to simultaneously work the camera. So you'll just have to take my word for it when I say that it's swampier than an alligator's asscrack.

North Arm Hut

North Arm Hut provides me with another few handfuls of water and an excuse for another bite of my bar, and then it's time to disappear into the bush yet again before I get any questions from the trampers that might force me to incriminate myself with regards to my lack of preparedness.

The final section of the track follows on from North Arm Hut and makes its way back towards the main village of Oban, ending in the hills above town and not too far from SZS (I'm testing your goldfish memories).

It's only 11km from North Arm Hut to the official end of the track, and it's not quite as swampy, and you also know that it'll be done soon, so it doesn't feel nearly as wild as that middle bit. The last couple of kilometers are on a much wider trail, too, so it's clear that civilization is near.

Paua shell bench

It's only a couple of kilometers from the end of the track to town, so that's my cooldown. Murphy has just arrived in town as well, so I lurch towards her with all the grace and aplomb of a zombie and she deftly redirects me into the open door of the pub instead of the ocean, where I'm yet again on the receiving end of more bemused looks.

While I assume that many of the pub's customers arrive muddy and famished, it being Stewart Island and all, I can only assume that they're not typically wearing split running shorts with a 1" inseam. Fortunately, I've reached a point in my life where my propensity for giving a fuck about how I look after a run has been greatly diminished.

So it's a godsend that the pub is open, but we've arrived in that funny time between lunch and dinner, so there's not much on offer. They do, however, have some soup, which is delicious, even when inhaled, and which I accompany with a pint of Speight's, which tastes about like I imagine the blessed nectar of the forest nymphs tastes, although I wouldn't know one way or the other.


As a nice interlude between the two runs I'm boring you to tears with, it's worth pointing out that we'll find ourselves back at the pub tonight, partially because it's the only joint with food and drink, and partially because it's Quiz Night. We come back with Julius, and since we're half short of the typical 6-person team, we make fast friends with a couple from Invercargill, and we're also eventually joined by Raki.

In a shocking turn of events, we end up third in a fairly competitive field, but this is one of those things where, unlike horseshoes and hand grenades, close counts for nothing, so we're a single question away from winning and a $50 bar tab, and that's probably best for all of us in the long run. Instead, our nightcap is some unsuccessful kiwi hunting (not -that- kind of hunting, thanks), and we fall asleep back at the house to the sound of some proper lashing rain.


The following day breaks with something of a plan in place, but the morning weather is nicer than expected and the best thing after a long run is obviously to go running again, so I lace up and hobble out on a jog that's noteworthy for no other reason than some sightseeing.

This route takes me from Oban and Halfmoon Bay past Bathing Beach, Butterfield Beach, Bragg Bay, Sarah Cove, and to Dead Man Beach, where it becomes apparent that looping all the way around to Horseshoe Point and Horseshoe Bay is waaaay more than I should sign myself up for, so I waddle home atop jello legs and call it good.

Sarah Cove

Dead Man Beach

Dead Man Beach again

With a run in the books, the rest of our plans for the day beckon...


Sunday, July 22, 2018

Jensen Bay

Right; more from Stewart Island. It's really not that big of an island, but in the same breath, it's huge. There's simply no chance that we'll come close to seeing everything in a few days. Instead, we focus our efforts on becoming acquainted with our neighborhood, which is Jensen Bay.

We've returned to the AirBnb that Ethel and Nate discovered on their trip a few months prior. Not only is the house amazing, but the host and his family are first-rate human beings.

Our digs at dusk

The hospitality and warmth shown to us by Manfred and his sons far exceeds our expectations. Should any of my seven readers be contemplating a visit to Stewart Island, I'd insist on making a recommendation...

The house is solar- and wind-powered, fed with captured rainwater, and heated with pipes in the walls. Necessity, it turns out, is the mother of invention, and Stewart Island's climate tends to breed necessity.

From the balcony at dawn

One whimsical aspect of their house that really makes it cool is the family of kaka that have made it their adoptive home. Not as destructive as the kea but equally clever and curious, the kaka is a gorgeous parrot with tons of personality. The family that lives here knows where the treats come from, and they really only get unruly when the treats run out.


Also a feature of our neighborhood of Jensen Bay is a notable lack of light pollution. On an exploratory run not long after our arrival, I scope a few spots for photos should we win the veritable lottery of a clear night.

Astonishingly, our lottery ticket hits and we spend maybe an hour and a half wandering the 'hood with necks craned skyward.


Acker's Cottage

Nearby :)

Visible in that last photo are the Southern Cross, Jupiter, the Milky Way, Ethel, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, a shooting star, and some airglow. Not bad for a single frame.

Our decision to strike when the iron is hot is a good one, as we won't see the sky again during our stay; such are the whims of high-latitude coastal NZ weather during autumn!

We finally go to bed wholly unencumbered with plans for the following day; sometimes it's important to plan lots, and other times, it's important to plan absolutely nothing.


Friday, July 6, 2018



Good chance you've never heard of at least one of those airports, and probably both.

Before this getaway, I had never been to Invercargill's least, by choice, that is. Unfortunately, I've graced it with my presence a few times, because it's where Air New Zealand diverts some of the flights that can't get into Queenstown when the weather is shit. If there's a lottery where winning means sitting on a goddamn bus from a godforsaken city in godawful weather, then by god, I'm excellent at playing the lottery.


But I digress. I'm at IVC by choice today because Murphy and I are going to Stewart Island for a long weekend, and when presented with the choice of lurching about on a boat for a couple hours or being strapped into a plane for twenty minutes, I'll take the aerial tour ten times out of ten, thankyouverymuch.

So anyhow, 6 months prior to this, I was overseas for work while our mate Nate was visiting, and Nate and Murphy went to Stewart Island and had an awesome time and stayed with an awesome host and we'd been looking for an opportunity to go visit the place ourselves, as I'd never been, and Murphy would go back at the drop of a hat.

Half of Stewart Island Flights' fleet

While there's plenty to talk about and show with regards to Stewart Island itself, the flight was cool enough that it warrants a post of its own. Stewart Island flights operates a small fleet, and their workhorse is the Britten Norman Islander.

NZ's regional airports are nostalgic enough as is, as you get to stroll across the tarmac like you own the place, or like it's fifty years ago, or maybe both. IVC is no different, except that it's even smaller and quieter than some of the others. And when your whip is an Islander instead of an A320...well...


We're directed across the tarmac and shown the door of the plane by a fresh-faced young lad, who then gives us a short safety briefing ("look at thus card uf you want to know about thus plane's safety fittures"), and then, to our astonishment, climbs into the left seat, buckles up, and starts the plane. We four passengers (capacity 9, so we're light) exchange a glance and a chuckle.

Up the duff of an A320

We're sharing IVC today with (surprise surprise) a diverted ANZ A320, and it pulls out right in front of us, much to our pilot's dismay, as he'd like to get outta dodge without waiting for it. However, much to our collective delight, while the A320 has to taxi all the way to the end of the runway, as soon as we're far enough down to make our takeoff, Captain McFreshstripes just spins the Islander around and buries the throttle. We're airborne in seconds.

Raw power

Our prescribed altitude is a scant 1500ft, so we're treated to an intimate view of the last shreds of Invercargill and Bluff and then a bunch of whitecaps and kelp and stuff. It's not too long before we can make out features on Stewart Island, and then our pilot performs a manual inspection of the tower-less runway. Apparently a flyby is frequently needed to clear deer from the runway, as they don't interface too well with a tin can preceded by a propeller. Oh dear.


On final for SZS

After this inspection, he lines up for final and we bounce down to an assertive stop. We're met by ye olde airporte shuttle, which has conveniently delivered the passengers for his return trip. Thus ends our flight down memory lane and begins our visit to Stewart Island.


Saturday, March 10, 2018

Mavora Lakes

In our part of NZ, we're frequently graced with winter days that are completely missionable, and dare I say, nicer than a lot of "summer" days. It was 6degC and snowing down to ~1200m a couple weeks ago, for instance. Midsummer, they said!

Lest I digress, a cool spot for one of these aforementioned missions are the Mavora Lakes (South and North). The lakes, as the crow flies, are very close to Queenstown, but of course take a couple hours to drive to, because mountains.

Looking north over North Mavora

Remember, our winter days are mighty short, so unless you're in search of a spicier dawn-to-dusk (or beyond) mission, short walks or runs or bikes in new places hold a certain allure as bite-sized adventures.

Perfect forest light (and subject)

We choose to drive to South Mavora, hike along its west shore, and then continue for a bit along the east shore of North Mavora. The road actually continues to North Mavora, so it's possible to choose to get further in depending upon what you've got planned. Like, for instance, if you're linking Mavora to the Greenstone.

What we've bit off is an easy walk in beautiful country, and it's far enough off the beaten path that it's pretty quiet; always a bonus. There's copious deep forest, and the Southland forests always feel a bit Jurassic Park-y to me.

Calm water and schist

One benefit of tramping around in the wintertime is that you're less likely to forget long clothes for weather reasons, and that means better protection against sandflies. Especially when the wind's not up!

For good measure, here a couple photos from the drive home.

Looking north over Wakatipu towards Devil's Staircase

Super sneaky bonus winter sunset light between Jacks Point and Cecil Peak

Good (albeit short) day out; better than a stick in the eye!


Past Detritus