Stewart Island surprised me in so many ways. New Zealand’s third largest land mass may be two-thirds of the way to Antartica, but as I recently wrote in the New Zealand Herald, “forget notions this is some barren, unforgiving land”. Anything but. You realise this before you’ve even landed, provided you’ve been looking out the airplane window.
Indeed, that 20-minute flight from Invercargill had me thinking it was worth flying to Stewart Island for the plane ride alone. For a start, Foveaux Strait is one of the most notoriously sea-sick inducing crossings in the world. A one-hour ondansetron-popping on-water endurance test, or a smooth 20-minutes in the air with outrageous views? It’s a no brainer.
It’s also the best introduction to a 1746-square-metre land where 85-percent of the territory encompasses a national park. From my NZ Herald article:
“Belying the southerly latitude is a densely forested setting complete with white-sand beaches and clear waters. Somehow it almost looked subtropical, though at 46-degrees south of the equator, we’d be talking sub, sub, sub, subtropical.
Regardless, as we came in to land on that carved-out-of-the-forest airstrip, I couldn’t believe how much it reminded me of remote Southeast Asian jungle airports. Indeed, the Stewart Island airstrip is so remote that it is just that: an airstrip. With no structures in sight, a minivan transports you from the plane, through the trees and down to the only settlement on the island, the seaside town of Oban, population 400″.
So yes, Stewart Island from the sky is genuinely stunning, but my NZ Herald article is also about the characters you’ll meet once your feet hit the ground, including the self-proclaimed “Elton John of Stewart Island”, Manfred Herzhoff, and his adult son Rakiura (named after the Maori name for Stewart Island). The owner of some 57-pairs of glasses, the wonderfully eccentric German-born Manfred built the luxury eco-lodge that is Jensen Bay House. From the article:
“The self-sufficient, wind, water, and solar-driven Jensen Bay House comes complete with New Zealand’s only clay-wall heating system, a French pyramid fireplace and a sauna. It was designed with feng-shui principles in mind and has artworks as selected by a Hindu monk”.
Click here to read more about why Jensen Bay House should be your go-to when looking for accommodation on the island, though as my article also explains, we barely had time to check-in before Manfred had us out on his ferry to explore the Paterson Inlet.
This was a good thing. Not because Jensen Bay House isn’t awesome, it is; but more because sometimes you have to seize the moment weather-wise on Stewart Island and Paterson Inlet is a quietly, profoundly magical spot. It’s also one of the best places in all of New Zealand to see kiwi in the wild, something you’ll have to click through to the article to find out if we were successful in doing.
Apologies for the tease. You’ll forgive me once you read the article, or at least I hope so. Regardless! The pursuit of our elusive national icon had us stumbling across everything from crystal clear Kiwi footprints in the sand (see photos below) to encounters with weka, kaka and sea lions. And whether on the mainland or on the gorgeous, long-established eco-sanctuary that is the 267-hectare Ulva Island (within the inlet and a mere 10-minute ferry ride away), we never lost sight of just how unique Stewart Island so consistently is.
From the unbeatable fish ‘n’ chips at the famous South Sea Hotel (see photo below), to the late nights with good food, good wine and good music in front of the Jensen Bay House French pyramid fireplace, to bush walks in primeval forest that have blessedly never had the scourge of stoats, ferrets and weasels, Stewart Island is not merely just another nice New Zealand holiday.
Far from it, this is a place guaranteed to get under your skin. And I’m yet to meet a person who hasn’t vowed they’ll be returning.
Enjoy the photos and scroll down for links to my NZ Herald article, the Jensen Bay House website, the Ulva Island Ferry website and more.