In mid-December, we went on a family adventure and tramped (hiked) across New Zealand along with several of our crazy friends here. Yes, I know that that sounds very impressive, especially something to be accomplished over a weekend with two children in tow, but I’m making it out to be more than it was. Yes, we did hike “across” New Zealand, but it was one of the narrowest possible spots, and it also involved a water taxi taking us from the end of our hike to the nearest town…
Just a few kilometers south of Invercargill is the town of Bluff, and then south of Bluff is… The Southern Ocean. The first stop in the Southern Ocean south of Bluff is Stewart Island – or, Rakiura, the Maori name for the island. The wikipedia article to which I’ve linked provides a nice writeup about the Maori mythology surrounding Rakiura and the two main New Zealand islands. I believe that Rakiura owes its existence to volcanoes and near volcanoes pushing up the earth’s surface in that area. On a clear day, we can see the mountains of Rakiura from our house in Invercargill. It looks so close and inviting, but there’s the issue of the Foveaux Strait with which to contend. Now, some crazy person or people have actually swam the thirty kilometers or so from Rakiura to Bluff, but that wasn’t our style. We flew out of the Invercargill airport on a puddle jumper and landed on the beach at Mason Bay on the west side of Rakiura. It was a beautiful, clear morning for a flight and the views of the ocean and Rakiura were spectacular. Landing on the beach was breathtaking, too! When most every other flight that you’ve taken involves taking off and landing at a proper airport, it’s pretty interesting to land on the firm, but softer, sand of the beach with the waves crashing not too far away.
As a bit of an aside, the beach at Mason Bay is very long and it’s an excellent place to walk and explore – which we did. One of the more remarkable aspects about Mason Beach is how far up the sides of the hills that the sand extends – a couple of hundred meters up the side of the hills and several hundred meters inland. When we were flying in, I noticed this and was struck by how high and far back the sand extends from the beach and shore. I later learned that there’s a very good explanation for why the sand extends so far inland – a meteorite! Actually, earth scientists believe it was a comet – the Mahuika comet. The comet struck just west of Stewart Island in about 1443 AD and caused a tsunami that was ten times larger than the tsunami that struck Japan in 2011. This comet strike and the resulting tsunami wave pushed the sands way up and into Stewart Island. More importantly, there are reasonable hypotheses that the tsunami may have wiped out a significant portion of the low-lying Maori settlements all over New Zealand (which would have been most of them), and a very large tsunami would also help to explain why there is so little evidence of Maori settlement in New Zealand prior to about the 16th century.
The weather was warm, windy and pleasant on the beach at Mason Bay and we had most of the first day available to explore it. We walked up and down the beach and found many treasures. The most interesting treasures were several pilot whale skulls that we found toward the south end of the beach, and then a minke whale skull at the north end of the beach. When you lift one of these skulls (or, try to lift) and find out how heavy they are, you realize why it’s better for a whale to enjoy the buoyancy of saltwater. We also saw our one (and only?) kiwi while near Mason Bay! It just sort of appeared on the track to the hut in mid-morning, which is unusual since kiwis tend to be nocturnal.
After a long day of walking, exploring and swimming, we spent a pleasant night camped near the hut and enjoyed a large meal with our local friends as well as the local wildlife – a.k.a., “sandflies.” Sandflies are one thing that we won’t miss at all about New Zealand!
The next morning, we got up at a decent time and slowly started to meander the fourteen kilometers from the Mason Bay Hut to the Freshwater Landing Hut. The track wasn’t particularly difficult. It was relatively flat and level, with several hundred meters crossing swamps on elevated boardwalks that are basically wide enough for one person. Every so often, there’s a slightly wider portion so that trampers walking in the opposite direction can pass. The weather was quite warm and the winds that we enjoyed on the beach weren’t quite reaching inland. So, this long of a hike, with backpacks and whining (or, as they say in New Zealand “wingeing” [(Australia, New Zealand, UK, slang) To complain whiningly]) kids, warm/hot weather, a beating sun and not enough drinking water was not exceedingly pleasant. The kids dropped their tiny backpacks early and dad carried them most of the way, at his own pace, leaving mom to enjoy those wingeing kids.
It only took maybe four hours to make it to Freshwater Landing, but it was a long four hours. The good news is that there’s a nice dock there and it was EXCELLENT and REFRESHING to jump off the dock and into river! After about an hour’s rest at Freshwater Landing, our water taxi picked us up and we made our way to the landing on the south side of Oban. After one last little hike over the hill from the south side to the main part of Oban and finding the ferry terminal, we made a merry retreat to the local pub and enjoyed the incoming rain and libations from the confines there. And, from Oban, we enjoyed the hour-long ferry ride back to Bluff, and then a bus ride back to Invercargill.
For those of you who might be wondering, would I recommend a trip to Stewart Island/Rakiura? YES! 🙂
Enjoy the gallery!
46 S EnZed signing off…