After visiting Gisborne and Napier, the third and final location on my list of places I didn’t visit in 2007 was Stewart Island.
Stewart Island is famous for its bird life, as it is without many of the invasive rodents and other small predators that blight much of the rest of the country.
On the ferry over, I saw an albatross or three. Make no mistake, these mothers are huge.
And three of the birds I saw at Zealandia – the NZ pigeon, the tui, and kaka parrot – have all struggled for numbers in years gone by. I can relate (Audience numbers? Fine, forget it). Yet within minutes of checking in at my hostel, I saw all three of these birds in the garden.
My encounters with rare birds didn’t end there. Insert your innuendo here if you must.
There was another bird I had never seen at all as it is one of the very rarest. I am talking about the kiwi. These small, flightless creatures are teetering on the brink of extinction with around 68,000 left in the world. This is down from several million a couple of hundred years ago.
Stewart Island has the largest population of wild kiwi anywhere in the world, which was one of my main reasons for visiting there.
They’re nocturnal, meaning that spotting one is a much trickier prospect. On my first night, I went on an impromptu walk along the coast for a couple of miles just as the sun was beginning to go down. But alas, I didn’t see a single kiwi.
On my second night, I heard there was a pub quiz at the island’s only pub. A couple of people at my hostel asked if I’d like to join them for it. As it turns out, I am quite partial to a pub quiz.
It was in the pub where I had my first pint of Export Gold lager since 2007, when I drank countless glasses of the stuff. It was pretty bland, so it’s nice to know that some things do the stay the same in an ever-changing world.
Back to the quiz, I should add that on the team of four, it was only me and Ian who knew anything.
I told the others that they needed to get the answers right, but they clearly weren’t listening.
And despite our best efforts, we came up five points short of the winners in third place.
I’m allowed a night off every now and then. And my show isn’t called How To Win Every Pub Quiz, meaning I can continue to perform it. Still, not winning does sting.
After the quiz, I decided I decided to go and look for some kiwis.
It had been raining, which fortunately meant that there weren’t as many kiwi spotters out as usual. The rule is that the more kiwi spotters are out, the fewer kiwis will be as they’ll get scared off.
Two minutes walk up the hill from my hostel, there’s a rugby pitch that I was told was a decent place for spotting them.
With no torch and just using my phone, I was going to find it tricky. I stayed very still for a couple of minutes and kept listening out noises and looking for moving shadows.
I thought I could see a small shadow moving, so walked closer to it. And there it was, a genuine wild kiwi.
Normal torch lights blind kiwis, which is why people use red lights when going out spotting. So I shined my phone light at my feet for a bit of visibility and moved a little closer. This then got the kiwi’s attention and he started coming towards me. I kept backing away, as I wasn’t sure if he was curious by the moving light or about to launch an attack with that hard beak. In hindsight, I’m fairly sure it was a defensive manoeuvre to kick me off his turf.
In any case, it was a privilege to see such a rare and legendary animal up so close.
Kiwis might be endangered, but they’re feisty little creatures. This was proven a couple of minutes later when another kiwi – presumably a male – appeared and a fight ensued in the bushes.
I was originally planning to stay on Stewart Island for four nights. However, finding out the hostel I was staying in only had two toilets spooked me enough to reduce this by a night.
As with most things I get worried about, the reality never turns out to be as bad as my head has been preparing for.
It was a small hostel and many people would leave very early in the morning, mostly to go hiking. As a result, I never had to queue for the toilet once.
Worrying and thinking of alternatives is one of my brain’s coping mechanisms.
Another example of this also on Stewart Island when my phone was playing up. For some unknown reason, I couldn’t access my phone settings. I took the most obvious course of action and went for Restore to Factory Settings.
When a blank screen then greeted me, I thought I may have to make the journey home without instant access to flight details, addresses of accommodation, or train tickets.
Thankfully, someone also staying at the hostel was a developer of Android apps and he fixed it.
I’m now in Christchurch, where I’ll be flying home from in four days time. I’m hoping these plans don’t get changed.