January 21 - Continued
The main activity in the Catlins was to be a two-day tramp. In order to start the tramp early, we headed down to the Catlins (which are the southern part of the South Island) from Dunedin the day before the tramp. We stayed at a cottage that is owned by the same people that run the track. It was called Mohua Lodge, and, although it was only the two of us, it had 4 bedrooms. It also had a wood burning stove, and a bathtub, both of which we made use of and enjoyed. It was really cool to have an entire house to ourselves after having to live and cook with other people for so long. We decided to have a special dinner, so we roasted a chicken in the oven. It was scrumptious. They also had an old stereo with a turntable there, and we spent the afternoon and evening listening to albums from the 60s and 70s.
The next day we started the tramp, which is called the Top Track. It's privately owned and run by the same people who own Mohua Lodge (and they also do guided eco tours). It was a pretty easy walk, not a lot of climbing, but the first day was pretty long - almost 6 hours of walking, and that was with a loaded pack (unlike the Tongariro Crossing). The second day was only four and a half hours of walking. There was quite a bit of paddock walking, which wasn't that interesting, but there was a nice stretch (about an hour) of beach walking, and also some great views from cliffs. At night you stay in the "Top Bus", which is an old Dunedin trolley car that has been converted into a hut. It has 6 bunks, gas cookers, and all cooking and eating utensils. There was a Swiss couple and a German brother and sister staying there too (who also did the walk) and they were very nice. We had a good time chatting with them. We borrowed some binoculars from the people who run the track and did some bird watching on the second day, which we really enjoyed. Carol bought a book awhile ago called "Which New Zealand Bird", which is a lay persons guide to identifying birds in new zealand.
After we finished walking the track we drove to Invercargill (about 2 hours) and checked into the Southern Comfort backpackers. It was by far the nicest backpacker we've ever seen. Too bad it's in Invercargill ;-) That night, to reward ourselves for all of the exercise we've been getting, we went to Pizza Hut for all-you-can-eat pizza, and made absolute pigs of ourselves. That's another one of the joys of tramping - you can do that without any guilt.
The next morning we flew to Stewart Island. We flew in a small, twin-engine plane (with 8 seats), and we were the only two passengers. It was very windy, and the take-off and first 10 minutes or so of the flight were very rough. The plane was literally being thrown around, back and forth and up and down, and Carol was terrified. I've never seen her so scared before, I felt very sorry for her. I was a bit uncomfortable too, but I actually enjoyed the flight. It was raining when we arrived on Stewart Island, and the day was quite grey. We spent quite a bit of time in the DOC (Department of Conservation) visitor's centre.
The flight was a nightmare!!!! Because we were the only ones on the plane, I thought that was the exact scenario where the plane would go down. The pilot was the same guy who manned the check in terminal, and I had heard someone else ask him if it was his first day!!!! He seemed to know what he was doing, and we landed on the private airstrip and were met by the transfer vehicle to the roaring metropolis, 300 people of Oban township on Halfmoon Bay. The bay is misnamed, it looks like a horseshoe, and the Horseshoe Bay looks like a half moon, they mixed them up on a map a long time ago, but the names have stuck. Because Stewart island is, well, an island, it has island weather. That means it's usually raining, as it did for our time there. We went to see the kiwis, but because the seas were so rough, the tour didn't go out. That also meant that the fishing trip we booked got cancelled. I didn't want to do any walking because of the upcoming Routeburn track, but with nothing else to do we went for a few short walks around the township. They were some of the nicest tracks that we've done in NZ. They rainforest has had the least amount of meddling by the arrival of people and pests, so it is more lush than any others that we've seen. As well, the tracks were in the bush and costal, and with the storm that was ongoing it was quite spectacular walking. After our walks we treated ourselves to a massage at the local B&B, and the best fish burgers we've had from the Kai Kart (Kai = Food in Maori). We talked to a couple of Aussies who have travelled around the world, and got some good tips from them for upcoming adventures.
Carol forgot to tell you about the eight hundred odd dollars that we spent on art at "The Fernery". We've been looking for some art that we like and that evokes some of the feelings that we have about New Zealand, but hadn't found anything up to that point. At the gallery on Stewart Island we found a hand-coloured wood cut, a simple print, and a couple of lithographs that we really liked. We've sent them back to Auckland for safekeeping.
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