The first time I ever remember hearing about Stewart Island was whilst watching Billy Connolly’s World Tour of New Zealand back in 2004. I remember him doing a very small show for around 200 and odd people, and him stating that this was something like 80% of the island’s population…and of course making lots of jokes about in-breeding.
It then came to my attention the last time I was in New Zealand. I was talking to one of the Stray drivers about my plans to head to Milford Sound for the day whilst I was in Queenstown, and he was waxing lyrical about this beautiful paradise called Stewart Island that I should absolutely make sure that I visited. I was interested of course, but I never thought I would find myself living here!
Stewart Island is New Zealand’s third largest island (after the North Island and the South Island of course), is located around 30km south of the South Island, and as of the last census in 2013, has a permanent population of 381. There is only one settlement, the village of Oban (named after the Scottish town) and in Oban there is only 28km of road – most of which has no pavement. Only 15% of the island is populated by humans, with the remaining 85% mostly wilderness.
So quite a change from London then!
On the morning of the 31st January I left the bustling party hub that is Queenstown at 6am, and three buses and one very choppy ferry ride later, I found myself on Stewart Island. I was to have a meeting that afternoon with my would-be new employer just to finalise things and make sure that we were both happy with the arrangements. It was a fairly grey morning in Oban when I arrived. I had booked myself into Stewart Island Backpackers for the first few nights (amazing hosts – definitely make sure you stay here if you find yourself backpacking this far south!), so I went to drop my bag off and have a wander round town.
It happened to be an especially quiet morning when I arrived, and as I walked along the empty streets my imagination did take me into one of those terrible horror movies where a classic cross section of American youth take the wrong turn on a road trip, end up in a quiet yet seemingly harmless gold rush town only to discover that the residents turn into eyeball eating zombies as soon as the sun goes down. I then wandered into a cafe (or should I say, the cafe) and was very much reassured by the very friendly (and very normal looking) staff, the acoustic music playing, the tables made of varnished driftwood and the very tasty coffee and homemade cake that I purchased. Not an eyeball eating zombie in sight.
After speaking to my new employer and confirming the job, I went off to chat to another backpacker hostel who I had heard can sometimes offer long term accommodation. The proprietor just so happened to own another property, just a five minute walk away from my work (as opposed to the horrendous 15 minute walking commute that some people on the ‘outskirts’ deal with on a daily basis) that he needed a tenant for. Day 1 on Stewart Island, job and house sorted. It was time to find out what new adventures this very unique place had to offer. Just so long as I was home before sunset ;-).