Invercargill was a step down in temperature, sunniness and mood. Three hours door to door, we could not fault Catch-a-Bus, but there is something about Invercargill … We stayed near to the beautiful Queen’s Park where, if you have time and a frisbee or two, there is a cool-looking frisbee golf course with clear directions. (Also to be found in the Queenstown gardens by the lake.)
There was an upside! The main reason (for me!) to visit Invercargill was Dig This, the biggest sandpit for adults in the southern hemisphere. My son and I each got to play on our own 15-ton digger.
Colin, our teacher, spoke to us via ear sets and we followed his clear instructions to dig a hole and move around, do a handstand and play basket-ball, picking up the ball from the top of a traffic cone and placing it, carefully, into a pile of tyres. Spinning the cabin while moving along is completely stupid but wonderful. This ridiculous mayhem was the original brainchild of another Kiwi who started the diggers rolling in Las Vegas. So, Vegas or Invercargill, do not worry about burning the diesel – no one else does. Sustainability? Bah.
Apparently the biggest seller in Invercargill is The Agression Session, where you learn how to handle the digger and then smash up a car. We didn’t do that. But you might?
I felt a need to visit this museum as I feel responsible to keep you up to date with all the transport I encounter on my way. It’s a huge place. We enjoyed a game of pool on a VW and the themed toilets are also worth a visit. They even have a cinema where we hunkered down to watch NZ’s Pork Pie, the remake of the related Goodbye Pork Pie.
Not my usual outing, the museum has an example of every Ford ever made – bar one – and I bet the people who own that have their eyes on the waiting buyer!
After perusing the shiny vehicles, including trucks, buses and caravans, we had lunch in the 60s style kitchen (fourth-edition Edmonds Cookbook).
Then we meandered up to the Invercargill I-site to buy our next tranche of tix. Next stop, a place I’d long wanted to visit.
In order to leave the South Island one needs to get to Bluff, the tippy tip of the bottom of the below of the big island.
The ferry to Stewart Island, across Foveaux Strait, was efficient and painless (weather conditions may apply).
There were a gaggle of birdos (you might know them as twitchers) with green outfits and long lenses onboard. A man with an eyepatch confused me for one of the gang and swept me into the group with eager instructions to look over there. Happy to oblige.
We saw an albatross and penguins.
We stayed at Oban in a delightful backpackers where we could cook. There are more kiwis than people on Stewart Island. Apparently a kiwi came to visit the drinkers outside our hostel at 23:15 pm, even obligingly pecking at Guillermo’s boots. This was sad news for those folk who had covered their torches and phone lenses with red plastic and spent most of the chilly night walking over the hills searching fruitlessly. (Picture kiwis sniggering behind a tree fern.)
Stewart Island is a haven for hunters, fishers and shellfishers. Although it was heavily logged in the wild colonial days it is now known as a peaceful National Park. One of NZ’s famous Great Walks is the three-day Rakiura Track and my son and I have a dream to return. There is another, longer, more remote track – the North-West Circuit – for strong, fit people that brings rewards of wonderful untouched landscapes and secret beaches.
We caught the 10am ferry and spent the day wandering the pathways of this magical place.
Predator free, weed free, never been logged – only a few interloping macrocapas and eucalypts guarded as historic remnants from a farming past are never allowed to set seed – Ulva Island is renowned as a bird sanctuary.
We did not need to wander far as a kind of overture of birds swelled over us, greeting us to the island. We saw all the birds listed on the informative leaflet, apart from a rifleman (which Guillermo said he saw but he had no evidence of the encounter and we were starting to doubt Guillermo). If you have time and patience to sit and wait for the battle of the strongest toutouwai (robin) then I strongly urge you to visit this lovely place.
This was not a strenuous outing by any means. You could rest on one of the many benches and the birds go about their business regardless. We spotted a fantail nearby on a branch. Then we realised this was really two fluffy babies nestled together in the cutest manner.
A mother and baby – NZ fur seals – claimed the best spot on the beach where we had our lunch. We were happy to walk a little further around the corner to give them some privacy. Also, because we knew they’d win a fight should they choose to engage with us.
The entire day was filled with glimpses of beauty, encounters with bird life and curious plants. There was a little nature walk with labelled flora so you could get familiar with megastars like matai, rimu and totara.
One must take care of the ferry ticket, handwritten on a muttonbird leaf, once used for correspondence as a matter of course in these parts, as it is your way back to Stewart Island. If you can bring yourself to leave this fairy land.