Updated: Jul 23, 2020
Was it a good holiday? Would we recommend it? Did we enjoy it? A resounding yes to each of those questions.
This was our second “Real Journey” Discovery trip aboard the Milford Wanderer, so naturally we now have an emotional investment in the vessel. Not only was it nice to rediscover the ship and her crew, but the upgrades that had occurred in the intervening years made this very much more comfortable than our Fiordland experience some dozen years earlier.
This is a very different environment to Fiordland. There, much of the beauty lay in the high peaks which framed the fjords, the lush bush and dramatic vistas.
Stewart Island is different. Generally, the hills are low and bush clad. Much of it’s distinct appearance comes from the beautiful beaches – either white or golden, which lie between the outcroppings of rock, fringed with kelp, that run out into the bays. And the islands! Every bay and cove seems to have it’s own collection of little islands associated with it. When we kayaked, we paddled around and between them. They add focus to every seascape photograph. I had no idea that Stewart Island would be like this – from the large, mutton-birding tiriti islands with their substantial dwellings, to small, islets, they define the scenery.
The variety of the bush is endlessly fascinating – and always different to the Tararua Range variety I am accustomed to. Everywhere we went there was a great deal of ground cover – be it fern, moss, grasses or plants I couldn’t identify. The higher canopy varied – In Port Pegasus, the most southerly area we visited, windswept, stunted manuka, mutton-bird grub and hebes provided cover. Varying in height, depending on where it was, there were few tall trees to be seen in this harsh environment.
Further north, and more protected, the ground cover was lush with varied ferns that grew in mass profusion. The canopy was thirty feet or more above us, with little mid-level growth. The result was a clear view into the bush around – a lovely, airy open experience.
Even on Ulva Island, where the mid-level growth was thicker, it was still thinner than I am used to, allowing clear views across the forest.
What did I enjoy most? The kiwi encounter on the beach; ditto the sea-lions. It’s a real privilege to see animals free in their own environment.
What challenged me the most? Definitely the climb up Bald Cone. I came to realise the tramps I’d previously done had been on relatively well-prepared tracks (even though some were ‘tramping tracks’). I was initially daunted by having to climb ladders to even gain access, let alone the over grown, unformed nature of these trails with their slippery mud, tricky roots and lichen covered rocks. Did I love it? Yes, of course! I may have said a few rude words as we descended the steep mountain side, (I hate going downhill), but I wouldn’t have missed the experience for the worlds.
Would I recommend it. Hell, yes. The crew were wonderful. They cared for us, patched up any hurts, fed us fabulous food, and were fun to be with. This was a unique opportunity and a real privilege to see a part of our country very few every get to experience. If you can, try it for yourselves.