Hello, I’m Marilyn more often called Em and I’m one of the Moa Trek guides. My background is a little eclectic but includes natural history and education. One of my early jobs was in Fiordland National Park with all of Southland and Stewart Island on my doorstep so any chance to revisit the area is always grasped with both hands. Even more so when asked to guide groups of Mature New Zealanders. They come with their own histories, stories and links to our country leaving me wondering who learns more me or them. On this particular trip we had a relative of the original Stewarts of Stewart Island!
In our latest installment from our Kiwi Guides Marilyn (Em) shares her adventures from the deep South on our Southern Odyssey 7 day tour which visits the iconic Deep South destinations of Stewart Island, the Catlins and Dunedin as well as exploring the transport and aviation heritage museums of Southland. Em has been guiding all over the South Island for more than 20 years now and loves nothing more than sharing her passion of Te Waipounamu with guests (and now readers!).
Having just finished another tour in Queenstown I was right on location to start this trip. Folks arrived from Auckland most having come from the middle to upper North Island, some visiting for the first time, others on a trip down memory lane. It didn’t take us long to load the bus of bags, folks and walking sticks and we were heading south along the shores of Lake Wakatipu with the Remarkable Mountains looming to our east. Of course, there were a couple of stops for photo requests and a quick coffee & toilet break at Garston, the most inland town in the country and once the service centre for the goldminers of the 19860s who mined in the hills above in the Nevis goldfield.
Our first official stop was the Croydon Heritage Trust Factory and museum at Mandeville. Our visit was extremely timely as they were holding a “fly in“ and open day with vintage machinery and cars, steam engines and stationary machinery. In no time at everyone had scattered to marvel at and reminisce over old cars, steam engines and Lister generators to mention but a few. Others watched the tiger moths flying formation and one happy passenger fulfilled her childhood dream of a ride on the traction engine.
Time was up all too soon as I rounded everyone up and headed for Gore and the guided tour and whiskey tasting at the of the Hokonui Moonshine Museum. I had managed to rustle up some shortbread at short notice as one Scottish traveller said whisky tasting was not complete without shortbread! He was delighted and so was everyone else as I let them off to warm the cockles of their hearts.
That sorted I joined the group for their time in the Eastern Southland Gallery situated in a handsome brick building that was once the Carnegie library. I particularly love the fact that there is a world class collection of art, thanks to an expat New Zealander John Money and NZ artist Ralph Hotere, in a little rural town. The art lovers enjoyed the visit while others soaked up the sunshine and ambience of the town including the sight of the great old Cremota building…Porridge of my childhood which I hated!
Lunch was next and the group enjoyed Gores collection of Dagwood sandwiches, Farmbake biscuits and fresh fruit before heading on southward to Invercargill.
The constant chatter in the back of the bus was indicative that old acquaintances were being renewed and new friends made. Something I love about these tours as I see folk enjoying themselves and at the end planning the next trip of Ena’s together.
On my tour we were on a tight schedule squeezing in a quick visit to E. Hayes and Son hardware store to see Burt Munro’s motor bike before heading for the flight to Stewart Island. This was seen as a real fault in the tour so these days a night is spent in Invercargill at the Ascot hotel giving a little more time to explore.
Before we leave the mainland we take on a transport theme for the morning, with visits to Invercargill icons Bill Richardson's Transport World and E Hayes & Son, where Burt Munro's Indian Scout is on display. We also head down to Oreti Beach, the very site where Burt trained before heading over the the USA to set his land speed record which still stands today, an amazing feat considering he was 68 at the time and riding a home made 47 year old motorcycle.
The day we flew over the Foveaux Strait was beautiful and we were loaded into two 12-seater aircraft for a short flight to the airfield at Stewart Island. This is a wonderful way to arrive at the Island skipping the sometimes turbulent ferry crossing. We had clear views of the South coast of the South Island and northern end of Stewart Island including the highest point of Mt Anglem.
Accommodation was in the Bay motels in Oban and an easy walk down to the hotel for dinner or a short car journey for others. It’s also central to various short walks around the village for those keen to do a little exploring on their own.
After a good night’s sleep everyone was woken to the bird song including some insistent kaka outside the motels hoping for snacks (a no-no) and happily posing for photographs.
Having kayaked, tramped and boated around parts of Stewart island it was quite novel to find myself organizing everyone onto a bus for a tour of the few kms of road on the island.
Our guide was extremely engaging and informative and had everyone enthralled with stories of the area, history of the fishing and fishermen, and the recent demise of the fleet. Talk too of the disappearance of unregistered vehicles as the mainland rules encroached on island life. The scenery of course, spoke for itself. We drove out to the gateway to Rakiura National park at Lees Bay where some took a short walk to the actual entrance while others just enjoyed the tranquility of the place.
Talk shifted to the chance of seeing a kiwi and our guide told us of kiwi frequenting the local rugby field at night, so plans were made for any night owls to join me that evening in search of these nocturnal beauties.
The afternoon boat cruise was in glorious conditions and access on and off the boat was easy even for those with aging hips and walking sticks. As we sailed out around the Ackers point and into Paterson Inlet the boat paused as Bullers Mollymawks and Cape pigeons swooped and dived around us. Our destination was Ulva Island a predator free Island nestled in the inlet and free to visit for all. The tracks are wide and in places board walked so accessible for everyone in the group. Our guide took us through beautiful native forest and back along a stretch of beach answering questions and pointing out the island's special residents….the sociable South Island Robin, Saddleback scratching away in the undergrowth, Greywarbler singing in the trees along with Tui, Bellbirds and the ubiquitous Weka.
The afternoon flew and before we knew it, we were back on the boat heading for Oban and some free time. For some a beer at the pub and chatting to locals, others a walk along the foreshore, a visit to the visitors centre and yet others to the Glowing sky store for merino clothing. This little business was the brainchild of a Stewart Island fisherman whose foray into the clothing manufacturing started as screen printing in his garage and eventually expanded to wonderful woolen garments made in NZ and sold locally.
Dinner at the pub again, good hearty Southland meals and lots of chatter. Later a couple of the group joined me as we headed out into a misty evening in search of kiwi. The ruby field was soggy underfoot more suited to kiwi than rugby. We heard Kiwi calling but alas they eluded us while others walking down the road nearby saw one stroll across in front of them. The end of a good day.
Up to bird song again, breakfast and back to the airfield and flying back to Invercargill where our bus awaited us, and we were soon heading towards the Catlins Coast.
First stop was Waipapa point and its light house. It was a beautiful day, not cold and windy as it so often is and why this coast has history of ship wrecks. The allure of light houses draws me as well as others to them. I always wanted to be a light housekeeper, but they didn’t accept women in those days!! Retracing our steps to the main highway onward to Curio Bay and the wonderful petrified forest. Those that could not make it down to the beach enjoyed the view from the top of the steps while others scrambled over the rocks marvelling at natures treasures and even having a chance encounter with a yellow eyed penguin.
Lunch was calling as we headed back past Porpoise Bay to Niagara café which occupies the old school buildings and is surrounded by a delightful garden and rural setting. For some there was an easy stroll along the road to Niagara Falls in the miniature.
The afternoon drive though forest and farmland took us to The Lost Gypsy Gallery at Papatowai. This is one of my favourite quirky stops where Blair Somerville has created a playground for adults with handles to wind buttons to push and unexpected results; all built from other folks’ discards. A wonderland of creativity. Although still working on my family tree I’m sure we are related…he portrays the same quirks and imagination and skills as many of my extended family.
It’s the end of a busy day by the time we reach Kaka Point and the motel with a little time to relax and absorb yet another view before down the hill to dinner at The Point Café. Over dinner several folks try persuading me to take them to Nugget Point penguin spotting. Knowing the track and the agility of my group my answer is a firm no …disappointment is replaced by giggles and relief the next day when we stop and look down into Roaring Bay. A few walked down to the hide but no further.
Nugget Point is a superb way to start the day first there is a narrow road out to the road end, but coastal views are worth that. Then the walk out to the lighthouse itself is easy and picturesque. The sea is far below as we walk and once at the light house the rocks known as the pinnacles are specular as are the views north and south along the coast.
From there its northward through the rolling southland farm country to Balcultha for lunch then along the coast to Taireri river mouth and on out to the Otago Peninsula and the Albatross Centre. It always such a treat to visit centre seeing the Royal Albatross young in their nest and the attendant parents with their 3 metre wingspan soaring in the air currents nearby.
The night was in Dunedin in the centrally located Southern Cross Scenic hotel.
This morning everyone was bright and cheerful…folk love it when they have a couple of nights in the same place and there is no packing of bags. First visit of the day was Ulverston house built in 1904 and built and once owned by a Dunedin businessman. We had our own guided tour of the house itself. It’s a wonderful time capsule of how well-off people of a bygone time lived, full of period furnishings, photos and art works. Beautiful, but more dusting and housework than I would care for; pretty much general consensus amongst us all. We enjoyed lingering in the surrounding garden complete with its big old leafy trees before heading out to Port Charmers up to its viewpoint and back to Careys Bay hotel for lunch.
The afternoon was spent in the Discovery World Tropical Forest at Otago museum where folks could wander and look at their own leisure or not being museum buffs a couple chose to explore the wonderful secondhand bookshops the city has to offer and walk in the botanical gardens Baldwin street is now also on the visiting list for this tour.
The last day and what a way to finish a trip. With everyone packed up, shopping included, and we headed down to the beautiful old railway station ready for the trip on the Taireri Gorge Railway, a classic old train with wooden paneled carriages and an open viewing carriage. I wave everyone goodbye as I take the bus around to meet them at Pukerangi. However, I know what’s in store for them having taken this trip myself complete with my bicycle when one winter I rode the Central Otago Rail Trail. It travels out to Balcultha then up through the winding Taireri Gorge the river far below. There are tunnels, narrow bridges and surprises round sweeping bends. Stops for photographs and finally bizarrely ending in the middle of a paddock at Pukerangi. Both train and bus trip pass through a typical central Otago landscape with the distinctive Schist Tors. We talk about Graham Sydney and Brian Turner as artist and poet both capturing the essence of this place.
From lunch it was a drive back through the countryside to the Dunedin airport where farewells were made and all headed home with new memories and promises to swap photos.
The end of a trip is always a time when I reflect on how lucky I am to have a job that enables me to meet such wonderful people and to have the opportunity share with them special parts of New Zealand. Stewart Island for many, is a once in a lifetime visit, a place I’ve been fortunate to visit several times. The tranquility, beauty, natural history gives us a little sense of what much of our country once looked like. Visiting to experience for oneself surpasses any words I can find to describe it. As everyone disappears through the departure gate, I know I will meet some of you again.
Ka kite ano
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