“How would you like to go down to Stewart Island for a week?” Jeremiah asked me a few months before the New Year. “All my hunting buddies are going, plus their partners (NZ term for wife/girlfriend). It’s really remote. We’re getting a hunting block, we’ll stay in a DOC hut and catch all our food. You can come along with the kids. Sound good?” “No, actually, it sounds bloody awful,” was my first response, but after a bit of wheeling and dealing I was talked into the plan. And it actually didn’t turn out half bad. That big island down past the tip of the south island of New Zealand is where we spent the past week.
From the northern tip of NZ’s south island at Christmas (Farewell spit) to the southern tip after New Year. Phew, that’s a lot of driving. Even so, we’re only half way to the South Pole.
To sweeten the deal Jeremiah offered to do the drive down south with Milo, while I’d catch up with Naomi by plane a few days later. She and I spent 3 peaceful days at home in a tidy house while Jeremiah and Milo camped and explored their way down to Bluff.
There’s the Stewart Island ferry pulled up at the dock. It runs that wild stretch of ocean, Foveaux Strait, several times a day, unless the wind gets above 50 knots.
The crossing was predicted to be a little rough (at least for land lubbers like us), so they loaded Milo up with a bit of dramamine.
Dramamine didn’t work. Poor little bugger. But after he threw up he did fall asleep.
The DOC hut at the hunting block was on the beach, so they could get a water taxi right to the front door (well, almost….it was low tide when they off-loaded). That means we brought the whole kit and caboodle–there was a kitchen sink already there. Bins of food, books for Milo, hunting and fishing paraphernalia for 4 men and two kayaks packed onto that water taxi, provisions and amusements for the week to come.
Bungaree Hut sits right up off the beach. Hikers use it at the beginning of the northwest circuit track, but hunters must be fairly common too, judging from the functional gun rack in the kitchen. We must have been an imposing group….one hiker arrived expecting to see the hut brimming with 20 hunters, based on news from other trampers that had passed by. Not quite–we had only 4 hunters, and 7 adults total. Perhaps the kids made enough noise to make up the rest.
Look at that view from the hut! It was sunny and calm the day the guys got there. It looks almost Caribbean….except for the water temp.
Unfortunately that first day was one of the only blue sky days we had. Of course we walked the beach anyway, and enjoyed some dramatic clouds and weather from the comfort of the hut.
The sand flies (like black flies, biting midges) hung out right at the hut door, but weren’t as vicious out on the beach or in the woods. Steph, one of our group, was catching a little bug reprieve with a book at the hut table. Look at all that “kit” strewn over the porch–no wonder other trampers thought there were 20 of us in residence!
Actually, the group got quieter as each person took their turn with a vicious gastro-intestinal virus. Everyone had it, so we had ample opportunity to work out that the incubation period was was 48 hours and the symptoms generally lasted 24….though two of our tough hunters were “crook” (in NZ that means sick, not criminal) for much longer. We even infected trampers as they passed through, or so we heard. To be fair, we warned all newcomers that there was contagion within. I was quite impressed at the virulence of this particular bug–usually responsible adults can keep illnesses to themselves, but not this time.
My birthday was the day I walked in with Naomi and Carrie, a friend. Jeremiah made a lovely dinner, with fresh rolls and smoked salmon noodles, but I think we were the only ones of the group feeling up to eating that night.
Never mind, the carrot birthday cake lasted well to the next morning, when stomachs had recovered enough to nibble at it.
“Shhhh, Milo, we’re looking for deer!” Jeremiah actually did get in quite a bit of hunting time without carrying the little squirt, between the days I was there and the days that other people were feeling sick enough to be happy to hang out at the hut with him.
Hunting in the dense “bush” was pretty difficult, but the deer sometimes come out to the beach, reputedly to eat the seaweed. And yes, that head gear is sand fly protection.
“I see deer prints!” Unfortunately we didn’t find the deer they belonged to. Ben did get a small deer one evening, but it wasn’t down at the beach.
Here’s what made the guys really happy. Between bouts of “the squirts” and puking they did manage to don the wet suits and go spear fishing, and we ate fresh fish every day. Mark (pictured here with the giant butterfish) said it was like shooting (spearfishing) in an aquarium, the only limitation being the number of fish we could consume.
Blue cod was also on the menu, mostly caught from the kayak…until this baracuta came into the neighborhood and apparently scared away the catch.
What’s THAT? Spiny sea urchins are apparently edible, and usually consumed raw. The insides are the consistency of snot. I tried a bite of the “meat” cooked, and that was enough. Not that it was horrible or anything, but it was pretty strong. Unfortunately the shell gets ruined in getting at the meat.
Our last nights on the Island we stayed at a “bach” (vacation house) near town, again right on a sea cove. Crabs started following them while they were gutting their fish, so they went on an impromptu crab hunt. It was fun watching them from the bach windows, dragging their fish carcasses around to bait the crabs, then dancing around on tip-toe when they got pinched.
Yum?! I have to stay that crabs don’t look that appetizing to me, but they do taste good.
Mark gave us a lesson in cleaning them, then rolling their bodies to press out the meat from between their tough membranes. Legs and claws had to be picked apart by hand, which left us imagining the commercial extraction equipment that real fishermen must use.
Right, another fishing trophy photo! Those round rock-like things are paua (abalone). They’re kind of like snails with only a half shell. One day at the hut they got a few and left them in the kayak. When they went back a bit later to look for them, they had escaped, scaling the sides of the boat and presumably plunking back down into the water. Strange to think of snails running away!
Hurray mighty fishermen!