Wednesday 26 December. We got up reasonably early to pack up and drive to Bluff to catch the 9:30 Foveaux Express to Stewart Island. The ferry trip is about one hour, and arrives in Halfmoon Bay (right). Oban is the name of the town, and it has just under 400 permanent residents. We stayed in a hostel up a hill, which gave us the view. We had the day to wander around and explore, because we weren't due to set out on the Rakiura Track until the next day. I took a short cruise on the Mollymawk, which is a semisubmersible boat with windows in the hull for underwater viewing. I saw lots of seaweed, some fish, and a few jellyfish. It started out a bit slow, because the water closer to the head of the bay was a bit murky, but further out it became quite clear. It really is a whole different world under the surface, and it was worth doing.
Thursday 27 December. We started on the Rakiura Track at about 9:30. It was 4 km by road to Lee Bay, which is the actual start of the track. On the way to the next hut, we stopped at Maori Beach for lunch where we started to need bug repellent for the relentless sand flies. We had hot miso soup with udon noodles which was great! After crossing a bridge or two, and seeing lots of podocarp forest, we arrived at Port William Hut at around 2pm. It's good that we arrived early, because it started to rain much harder for the remainder of the afternoon. Some of the people who came in after us were quite soaked. Later on toward the evening though, the weather cleared up enough to get the picture of the hut.
Friday 28 December. After getting off to a late-ish start (9:30, after the rest of the people in the hut had left), we turned inland and headed west to the next hut. We saw lots of koru (the Maori word for curled fern), tree ferns, endless boardwalk, a few more bridges, until we reached the little summit (at right) with a lookout tower. We plodded on down the hill to the next hut, and had a minor scare as some members of another party didn't show up when they should have (the people at the back arrived at the hut first). We sent out searchers in both directions and found that they had taken a wrong turn and had started to head for a hut another 6 hours away before they realised their mistake. Lesson: stay with your party unless you know what you're doing!
Saturday 29 December. This morning we set out before everybody else, at 6:30. We wanted to avoid the morning rush and it paid off, because we didn't see a single other person until we arrived back in Oban! We stopped at Kaipipi Point for a break and enjoyed the still morning. We also saw some really big ferns on the way. We arrived back in Oban at 10:30, thoroughly ravenous and the two lunches (plus dessert!) we had didn't disappoint. We played a game of chess with really big pieces and generally hung around Oban until our ferry came to pick us up.
There is more to do in Stewart Island that we didn't have time to do, such as visiting the nearby bird sanctuary (Ulva Island), kayaking around the nearby bays, seeing kiwi birds in the wild (we kept looking, but didn't see any this time), and another two or three day track out to Mason Bay and back. There is also the Northwest Track, which takes 10 to 12 days but that might be a bit much for us right now.