So I’ve now been a temporary resident of Stewart Island for just over a month, and I feel like a ought to tell you that there is so much more to this place than the just quirkiness of living in a small, remote community. Without going crazy with cliches and superlatives, it get can be difficult to describe just how special this place really is, however I can but try. I am going to split it over a few posts though. Firstly to make for bite size reading and secondly, to give me something to write about for the next two months 😉
Part 1: Nature and Wildlife
Stewart Island, or as it is also known, Rakiura is home to some very unique, special and often endangered animal and plant life. This is why in 2002, Rakiura became New Zealand’s newest national park. Rakiura is also very unique in where it is geographically situated, between the temperate South Island of New Zealand and the hostile subantarctic zone.
For keen bird watchers, Stewart Island is a birding haven – without going into too much detail, there are some species of bird endemic not just to New Zealand, but to Stewart Island itself. There are no natural predators on the island, and comparatively few introduced predators (stoats, cats, rats etc) compared to other regions of New Zealand.
However the most famous bird of all, and the reason why so many visitors flock here each year, is the kiwi of course! There are thousands of kiwi on Stewart Island, so the chances of spotting one are somewhat better. And even New Zealand’s national bird behaves slightly differently down in these parts. In the rest of New Zealand, kiwi are known for being nocturnal birds, whereas in Rakiura the kiwi will feed during the day as well as at night. Elsewhere the birds are also known to ‘leave the nest’ a few weeks after hatching, whereas Stewart Island kiwi like to stick with the family for several years.
I was lucky enough to spot my first wild kiwi within my first week on Stewart Island. The guiding company that I currently work for offered to take me out on one of their evening kiwi watching trips and that’s where I spotted my first one. They are really amazing birds, much larger than I had anticipated and just fantastic to watch. I didn’t get a photo on that occasion unfortunately but I’ll make sure I do next time!
One of my favourite birds on Stewart Island is the kaka parrot. Kaka can be found all over New Zealand, but sadly they are now under threat due to habitat destruction. I am however pleased to say that they are thriving on Stewart Island. These birds are just full of character and charisma which is a source of both humour and annoyance with the locals. They are fairly big birds, at around 500g in weight. The are said to have the intelligence of a three year old child, and the playfulness to match.
In my own little house, quite often I’ll hear what sounds like someone throwing bricks at the corrugated plastic roof on my deck, and then I’ll go out to find that a family of 4-5 kakas have unceremoniously plonked themselves up there and are now making their way down the railing to wreak havoc! Havoc will include throwing clothes pegs around, picking garden furniture apart and dropping things (such as the shells pictured above) that make a fun sound as they land. A few of them also enjoy their personal photo shoots and will sit still and pretty whilst I snap away.
The marine life here is also fantastic. Penguins are commonly seen out in the inlet, and I’d never really truly appreciated how majestic and wonderful albatrosses were until I watched one gracefully gliding and skimming over the water. One of my absolute highlights was unexpectedly coming across a pod of dolphins whilst out in the inlet one day – that was really special.
The waters around Stewart Island are also home to one of the world’s most famous predators, the Great White Shark. I’ve yet to tick that one off of the list, I just hope that when I do, it’s not the same day I decide to go out kayaking…!