Stewart Island, the southern-most island of New
Zealand, shows as a dot on the map (if it appears at all). Don't be
fooled. Stewart Island is large, 64 km long, and 40 km across (at
its widest point). It has a 700 km coastline, but there are only 20 km of roads!
You won't walk round the Island in a day. Even ten days tramping only skirts the northern third. Few people can claim to have seen
anywhere near the whole of Stewart Island. However, there is much to see, even close to the only settlement of
Oban. For a day-trip or stay longer, as there is a good range of
accommodation. Some visitors from twenty years ago are still living here.
Terrain is rugged. Stewart Island is made of granite, some of the oldest rock in New Zealand. A wide range of minerals are present,
though not in commercial quantities. Tin was mined at Port Pegasus for a few years in the 1890's. There's
black iron sand on some beaches, others are white with quartz or red with garnet. Most beaches are gold, sparkling in the sun. Don't
bother bring a gold-pan though - it's mainly "fool's gold"!
Paterson Inlet almost cuts the Island in
half. This large expanse of water is popular for boat-trips and recreational
fishing and diving.
Climate is mild, and a trifle damp. No worry,
without rain, there wouldn't be rain-forest. The eastern lowlands are
forest, right to the water's edge. A canopy of
kamahi is pierced by majestic rimu and
miro. Lianes and lush fern growth adorn the bush interior.
The forest is a haven for bird-life, as
there are fewer predators than on the mainland. Kaka,
parakeets, tui, and bellbird give a wonderful dawn chorus in
spring. New Zealand's national bird, the kiwi is found all
round the Island.
Seabirds abound off-shore. Albatross, petrels, cormorants, gulls
and blue penguins are common. Rarer species like yellow-eye penguins
are also seen often.
Mason Bay, on the Island's
West Coast is much different. It's a 12 mile crescent of sandy beach,
with huge sand-hills and tussock and scrub in place of forest. This is
the place to watch the white-horses charge ashore in a screaming