Stewart Island

 

 

In an trip filled with amazing experiences, this is one journey that Fulbright has given me that is just spectacular and will be a standout of my trip. Stewart Island is a location that many Native New Zealanders have never visited (and it has a population of less than 400 people).  As part of the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching, you have access to funds for professional development. Initially my PD grant was applied for to attend the Energise 2017 Conference in Queenstown – which was a wonderful conference and opportunity. After I applied for the grant, I received word that I was invited to visit the school on Stewart Island, which I thought was an incredibly cool school – and really would give me that last missing piece of understanding New Zealand school structure, diversity and remoteness. Because of it’s remoteness, accessing Stewart Island is difficult (and rather expensive), so I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to make it happen. I had some funds granted to me by my lovely Gamma Eta DKG sisters, which I was thinking would use to make this visit possible, then I realized that if I maximized my budget by staying in more affordable lodging (hostels and cheap AirBnBs), I could use those funds and amend my PD grant proposal and make both work, and visit all the remaining schools on my South Island potential visit list – so  I amended my Fulbright grant, and set to work piecing together this 3 week journey, which led me to the lovely, remote, and wild Stewart Island, also known as Rakiura . (Rakiura means “glowing skies” – possibly a Maori reference to the Aurora Australis, which is visible sometimes at this southerly location, although others say it is a reference to the spectacular sunrises and sunsets). The history and establishment of Stewart Island is really cool, and if you are interested, you can read more here.

There are 2 ways to access Stewart Island commercially. You must cross the often treacherous Foveaux Strait to get to the island. The two options are the Ferry from Bluff and Flight from Invercargill. I hoped to do the ferry one way and the flight the other, but wasn’t sure how cooperative the weather might be. I decided to take my chances, and book the Ferry over, and the Flight back, and just hoped for the best.

Monday morning I got up and walked over to the meeting point to catch my shuttle to the ferry.

I thought this was a pretty gorgeous view on my way through Invercargill.

The hotel where I met the driver had this cool picture, which I thought appropriate as I embarked on my journey to this beautiful place.

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The ferry ride was gorgeous and sunny and the seas were calm – I am so glad I took the ferry today!

Once we arrived in Oban, I met my lovely AirBnB host Raylene, and I cannot express how much I lucked up with her! We drove up to the house, dropped off my bags and then Raylene drove me back to the center of town so I could make my appointment with Dave at Raikura Jade. I had struggled with what my “souvenir” from my Fulbright experience would be – I am not one for cheesy touristy things, but I felt like I needed something to have as a memento from this experience – and had thought that a Pounamu, or Greenstone pendant might be a cool thing to get, however, I discovered that according to Maori tradition, you should not buy one for yourself – in fact, many backpackers and solo travelers will buy them for each other to get around this. By carving my own Pounamu gifted to me by Dave (he gives the stone for free for those that pay for the workshop), I was able to get this “taonga” or treasure as my memento of this amazing Fulbright experience.

The shape I carved was a toki, which is said to represent strength. You can learn more about the toki by listening here.

I started by picking my stone from the bowl of stone.

Once I picked my stone, Dave started teaching me how to begin to carve the Toki shape. I used lots of tools, and he was so patient with me – Dave was a wonderful teacher. (additional note, Dave worked on the Lord of the Rings, as a part of the team that created Faragorn Forest, and he later worked at Weta for other Jackson films).

After the basic bones of the toki shape were done it was time to smooth out the stone – I used 4 different grits of sandpaper, and then I had a lovely pendant shape. Dave instructed me to rub it in my skin, so that my own oil polished the stone, and the shine was amazing – it really brought out the colors in the stone. Next Dave helped me braid my lanyard for the necklace – we used a 4 strand braid – I was not very coordinated with it, but Dave was crazy patient with me, and he even let me film him doing the 4 handed braid on his own as he finished the strand – just look at how cool!

Then we took the pendant back, made the notch and the hole for the lanyard, tied the knots to make it adjustable, and voila – my beautiful, finished toki.

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What a great thing to do!

My pendant complete, I headed across the town of Oban to Golden Bay where I enjoyed the view, the sunset and the peacefulness. I even had a lovely chat with a lady from the Department of Conservation who was waiting on some researchers to arrive on the ferry.

Tuesday was my first day in the school, and I had a lovely time getting to know the students and the school. After school, I walked back up to Raylene’s home, named Glendaruel and spent some time exploring her gardens. They are just lovely, and he backyard is full of the amazing bird life in New Zealand.

Tonight was the night of my Kiwi spotting tour, and the weather seemed to be cooperative. The kiwis however, were quite stubborn. But finally, after several walks around the area of Big Glory Bay- we spotted a lovely kiwi enjoying his dinner of grubs on the beach. I know the pictures are pretty horrible, but, hey – it is what it is. (and an added note – these are some big birds!)

 

Here is a video of the kiwi, and a video of the grubs that he was munching on.

Wednesday was another school day. Check out my commute for this week:

 

After school, I was still feeling a bit under the weather, I decided to stay in, and Raylene so graciously made some soup for me – have I mentioned how above and beyond she went (she also cooked us a lovely dinner of fish one night and we had a lovely chat about schools around the world)?

Check out the morning breakfast spread:

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The rest of the week was filled with school visits and enjoying Oban – I even got to teach the students programming – so it was a great school visit.

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One of the students even said I was their favorite visitor since Prince Harry stopped by the school – so I will take that as a complement!

Saturday morning I flew out on the very small plane – and now I am off to my next weekend adventure – Te Anau – to the Glowworm Caves and the one and only Milford Sound.

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A day in Picton – a tramp to Bob’s Bay, Ships Cove, Dolphins and delivering mail by boat.

I got up the morning to a beautiful sunshiny day. I got dressed and headed next door to the famous Picton Village Bakkerij (filled with Dutch treats), which I just knew I had to visit in honor of my friend Simone. I grabbed a coffee, a breakfast pie, a vegetable cheese bread for lunch and a dessert treat before heading on my way. I had no plan for the morning, and only had to be back to the harbor to catch my Mail Cruise by 1:15.

I decided I would follow one of the shorter “tramping” trails and venture out to Bob’s Bay. It proved to be a great choice!

I started by walking across the harbor and across the harbor bridge, then set out along the opposite side of the harbor for the start of the trail. I was amazed by some of the boats in the harbor – there were “boats” with boats on them – actually yachts with smaller yachts in some cases.

Once at the trail, I was faced with a choice, the high route of the low route. Both were said to take about 30 minutes, but the low route came with a disclaimer about not being good for kids due to bluffs and cliffs – which translated to me as great views, so I went with the lower. It was beautiful, but they were not kidding about being right by the cliffs – I would not want to be walking with a child on that path – thus the warnings – I even made a stop to grab a trusty hiking stick for myself, just in case. . Still – the views made it clear that I made the right choice – while I enjoy tramping through the bush – the sea views on this trail were amazing.

The trail was quick, and not terribly difficult, and I made it to Bob’s Bay, where I was rewarded with a beach to myself for quite sometime – I sat, enjoyed my picnic lunch and just enjoyed watching the various boats, ferries, kayaks and other vessels pass by as the waves lapped on the shore.

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Once my alarm went off to go back for my next activity, I headed back on the trail, and crossed back over the bridge to check in for my next adventure, a ride on the Mail Boat through Queen Charlotte Sound. At this point the clouds had taken over a bit, and the sky was spitting rain, but hey – whats a little bit of rain on the sea, right?

We departed on time, and our guide was a stitch – he had funny stories about the area, about his mail delivery experiences, and the local history. I started at the top of the boat for the view, but as we were heading out into the coves rather fast, got chilly and went downstairs for a bit, returning to the top at key points to see birds, dolphins and great scenery. Check out these Hector’s Dolphins we saw:

 

Hector’s Dolphins are small (only about 1 meter) and found only in New Zealand – they are also highly endangered.

Once the mail delivery started, it was less fast and windy, so I spent more time up at the top, just savoring the view of this beautiful part of the world.

For some perspective, and so you can see the lay of the land, here is a screen shot of the area we cruised through.

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About 1/2 way through the cruise, we journeyed to Ship’s Cove, most famous for being a landing area and refuge for one Captain Cook. We were able to get off the boat here, and learn a little about the history of this area before continuing on our journey.

We delivered more mail, then headed back to Picton.

At this point it was quite wet and chilly, so I decided that I would go grab dinner before going back to the hostel, and what better to warm me up that some Irish Stew at the pub – while it was March 18th for me – it was still (sort-of) March 17th in the states, so I just celebrated a bit late here.

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Tomorrow is Sunday, and I get to journey to Nelson for my exciting week of school visits. I have a few hours before my bus departs in the afternoon, so who knows what fun I will find before I head out.