Stewart Island is south of the South Island - next stop Antarctica. It's a stormy, gloomy, romantic place, and it rains 275 days a year. To get there we flew over the boiling waters of the Foveaux Strait and landed on Mason Bay, where the winds of the roaring forties turn the beach into a giant sandblaster. We walked inland, through the sand dunes, to a landscape of huge shadowy hills, bogs and coloured scrub, to spend the night in an old farmhouse and read the ranger's diary from 20 years ago. It seems it was a sad existence, being a ranger alone in the middle of Stewart Island, and didn't attract the brightest people. "Counted sheep today. Approximately seven," said one day's entry. Another day simply read: "Put down kittens." No one farms on Stewart Island any more - it's just too much effort for too little return.
At night we went out to look for kiwis, without success. But the following day, walking over the island to freshwater river, we saw one in the manuka bushes beside the path. They're funny things, kiwis - like big hedgehogs with bird bits sticking out, and they snuffle around with their heads to the ground. They're a dying breed, too, being killed off by the rats, dogs, and stoats introduced by Europeans.
The main town of Stewart Island is Oban, population a little under 400. There used to be more people, but like New Zealand as a whole, people are upping and leaving. Two hundred people leave New Zealand every day. There are plenty of people in Oban's pub, though, the pub with a jukebox with nothing much post 1975 on it. A row of men with big beards and pints of Speight's Old Dark nod along to Genesis at the bar. Very big beards - it's like a competition to see who has the most facial hair. And the winner is Sam Sampson; an albatross could nest in that beard, Sam.
Sam does tours of Oban in his bus. His voice is so singsong that "yeah" has at least four syllables, and he delivers his monologue as he drives. That's where the publican who drowned used to live. Here's the golf course. "That's the sixth hole there. The sixth hole is also the last hole."
I ate my first mutton bird in Oban. My first and last. If anyone asks you round for mutton bird, you're busy - that's my advice. It's like a cross between venison and extra strength kipper, with added fat: horrid. But I loved Stewart Island, in spite of its sadness. Sweet as, as they say round here. Much better than any bungy jump anyway (yeah right, like I'd know).
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