I was up about 6:30, breakfast at the lodge, and their van took us downhill with our luggage to the building that houses Stewart Island Flights and the local post office. Weighed us and our luggage … same scale for both. Rainy day. Short flight to Invercargill was fine. Then two-hour wait there for flight to Christchurch. Then another couple of hours before the flight to Auckland. And then a few hours before we could board our flight to LAX. Each flight was on a larger aircraft than the one before it.

We could check our bags at Invercargill all the way to LAX, so didn’t have to deal with them in Auckland where the domestic terminal is quite separate from the international terminal. Nice. The flight to LAX was mildly bumpy, but no big deal. I was in Premium Economy as I was going over:

·      Seat is almost a compartment, very self-contained. Lots of leg room. A bean-bag footrest. A bottle of water on the armrest.
·      Food. Lovely food. Full supper with sparkling wine and pinot noir, smoked salmon to start, lamb with mashed kumara, etc. I was asleep before they took my tray away.
·      Took a couple of sleeping pills and did get in some sleep. Awakened from time to time by my bug bites and applied more salve through the night.
·      Breakfast was juice, cereal, yogurt, hot croissant, scrambled eggs with chives, roasted tomato, potato cake, and coffee. Wowzer. Couldn’t eat it all.

Got in at LAX early due to tailwind, but had to wait on the tarmac for about 15 minutes to get a gate. The entry process and getting things straightened out at American Airlines was “interesting.” Used the Global Entry kiosk and was through the customs part in a flash. Then I had to wait with everyone else for my luggage to come onto the carrousel. Too bad I had checked luggage since I could have been clear of the entire customs area in about 5 minutes.

Took the airport shuttle around to Terminal 4 and American Airlines. Zoo. Zoo. Long lines. I was put into a line that later on the agent told me I shouldn’t have been put there, but she took me anyway. Took about 40-45 minutes to get to the agent to see if I could change flights to the earlier direct one to STL. Yes. $75 change-of-ticket fee and $25 for my checked bag. Interesting that with curbside check-in in STL there ended up no bag charge.

Then security was also a zoo. Not only was it slow, but you had to do about everything except get undressed. Besides the normal stuff, they wanted nothing in your pockets (that included cash and credit cards!), no belt, nothing. Then I went through one of those body scanners and had to be patted down afterward. Finally could go to my gate and it was close to boarding time. I was in Group 4, which means the back of the aircraft. Window seat in the second-to-last row with the jet engine my view. Well, at least I’m heading home earlier. The transit time will have been 30-31 hours from the chat strip on Stewart Island to the grass landing strip in Invercargill to the regular runway from there and bigger runway in Christchurch and onward.

Pat and I had lunch in the Christchurch airport. Wonderful choices. We had Pad Thai. There was an Italian booth. In the Kiwi booth, you could get meat pies. In another, you could get lamb shanks and other full meals that were pre-packaged and heated for you. With it being 80 degrees outside, “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer” was playing on the sound system.

Auckland airport was jammed with duty free shops. And they had several cute women in short-skirted Santa outfits asking you to sample liquor or chocolate. Huge duty free shops. I bought nothing more than salve for my terrible sand fly bites all along both ankles. And I applied liberally and often.

By the time I get to STL, I know I’ll be hungry. While that full breakfast was lovely, it was this morning! Time to eat again. And, yes, I do have pictures of the Air New Zealand food. You’re not surprised.

It’s calm out there on the bay. We have a 2.5 hour kayaking trip planned starting about an hour from when I’m writing this. I’m on a trip of adventure and discovery. Yet my mind and body are drawn back to the present and the most recent shooting. The one in CT. The one with all the children. The one in a school where they had security measures only to be thwarted as most can be. And I will go back to the USA tomorrow and go through a series of screenings of person and luggage to deal with past threats and actions.

The blogs, Facebook, news are filled with the current tragedy. Why is it that the slaughter of these young children and their teachers brings out such an outpouring when we are deluged every day with suicide bombings, assassinations, rocket fire into one country with retaliation by the other, one sect or religion trying to wipe out another, innocents caught in the crossfire of war? Do we have the same outrage for those as well? I don’t see it. It’s not “us.” Oh, yes it is.

The journey out the bay on calm water and coming toward the beach with the wind at our backs was tranquil. Val was in the bow, and I had the stern and rudder. Barbie was in a separate kayak as was our guide, Kaitlin (from Minnesota). The smooth waters, huge kelp beds, surrounding rocks, colorful buoys off the charter boats, the town getting smaller behind us, and the exercise of propelling and maneuvering the kayak all flushed the anxiety from my body and brain. A moment where only the present is in focus.

We got back to the lodge about 11:30. Furhana, bless her, was there to cart us up the hill in her van. While the boathouse is near us, it’s at the bottom of our very steep hill and we were all tired. Val did a terrific job as did I getting us to where we wanted to be from shore out to the point where one would leave the bay for open water and back again.

Put a load of wet clothes into the washing machine. Sat for a while waiting to put stuff in the dryer, and then headed downhill to lunch at a French creperie. The ladies stayed down there while I came back.  The day, which had started out totally sunny and warm turned gray, chilly, and rainy. No late sunset today, just a fading from gray to black.

Final dinner in town at South Sea Hotel. I had green lip mussels to start followed by local crayfish.

Things:

·      Got eaten alive on my ankles this morning on the beach even with the special insect repellant they have here for the sandflies.
·      Only about 500 people live on Stewart Island. Hard to hide here.
·      Summer brings lots of people under the age of 35 to work here. Have had wait staff fro Chile, Slovenia, Germany, the US, etc. While sometimes it’s hard to understand what a native NZ person says to you, it’s even harder with some of the ones from Europe.
·      Having the phone with me was good. Ends up toward the last of the trip I used Skype to call the US rather than the phone since it’s free and I had Internet Wi-Fi and no telephone service. I used the iPhone for local calls and it was handy.
·      The pace of this last week was quite different than the first two weeks not only given just four of us, but also what we did and how we did it. Was fun just the four of us.

I got up at 5:00 am just to make sure I could use the bathroom I shared with Val and take a shower. Passed up shaving today. Put luggage in car and had nice breakfast and visit with Pat and Frank Forde, our hosts, around 6:00. On the road promptly at 6:30 and to the airport before 7:00. Had some confusion as to where to leave the Hertz keys and paperwork that caused me to backtrack a couple of times, but it all worked out. Then we sat in the terminal until 7:30 when the pilot and another person from Stewart Island Flights appeared. They stored our big luggage, weighed what we were taking with us, and weighed us for where we were to sit on the plane.

It’s a high fixed-wing aircraft. Two seats across with doors everywhere on both sides since no aisle. Very narrow and not much head room. Seats 8 or 9 and they also take a lot of cargo back and forth to the island. Nice hop, skip, and a jump flight since it’s about 40 km from airport to airport. In Invercargill, they used a grass runway for this plane. On Stewart Island, you land on a chat runway in the middle of nowhere. So, there is a van there with a luggage trailer and the people and luggage going back to Invercargill. Van takes you into the harbour of Oban. Then a van from Stewart Island Lodge picked us up for the uphill climb to our lodgings.

Very nice accommodations. Have a deck right outside our three rooms. The rooms have all glass fronts, so there is a view over the harbour. Rained off and on all morning. I actually pulled out my Kindle and looked up Stewart Island on both the tour books I had downloaded to see where they recommend eating, shopping. We have a full schedule of touring with Ruggedy Range which we planned to start with a driving tour from 3 to 5.

Rain just got harder and there was a very stiff wind. We donned appropriate clothing and wended down the very steep road to the harbour. We had wanted to go to a particular restaurant, but the wind and rain were blowing so hard we went to the first one we say – South Seas Hotel. It was good. Mussels!

After lunch we walked uphill into the rain to the Ruggedy Range office and cancelled this afternoon’s tour – too windy and it looked like it’s going to rain and blow all afternoon. Supposed to clear off tonight. Hope so, or the Ulva Island all-day walk will be cancelled. I returned to the lodge before the other three since I was getting too cold and have been fighting a cold ever since Mt. Cook. Made myself some hot green tea.

Then it got sunny. Not less windy, though. So, we did the driving tour that was supposed to be from 4 to 6. Charlotte was our driver. We first went to Observation Rock where we looked down on Patterson Inlet and could see Iona and Ulva Islands. Then over to Vola Bay with it’s three islands: Faith, Hope, and Charity. Down by Mill Creek we saw a bunch of oyster catchers. Then, when she pulled over so we could take a pix of a kiwi sign, we got stuck in the mud. Stuck. Back wheel spinning. No way out. She called the home base and in about 20 minutes the boss lady came with a truck and pulled us out. Furhana, the boss, was apologetic and said we’d have another hour on Saturday or Sunday to complete our tour. To end this part of the tour, we went to Lee Bay where we saw the other anchor chain sculpture that is supposed to link the South Island to Stewart Island.

Charlotte dropped us off at the Church Hill Restaurant & Oyster Bar where we had a dinner reservation. I had the local oysters in a tempura batter. Some of the best oysters I’ve ever had. Then it was a walk down a steep street to the harbour level, across the harbour, and up our very steep street (steepest on the island) back to our rooms. We got back around 9:00, and the sun doesn’t set until about 10:00, so plenty of wonderful light out there for more pix. I’m up over 8,000 so far.

Some thoughts:

·      Their school year is over now … it’s summer. They are on break into February. So, it’s the summer holidays for family.
·      And then there is Christmas in the summer. Odd. All sorts of decorations around the towns and shops.
·      It’s been colder altogether than any of us thought. Most days I’m in four or five layers since you can move from somewhat warm to downright chilly in minutes.
·      I have not seen a place to buy either the kind of soaps I like or the Hobbit stamps or coins. Too bad on both of these things.

Today is almost impossible to describe. We were on Ulva Island leaving here at 8:00 and getting back a bit before 5:00. It’s a water taxi over. The morning was in a bigger group and it was on a chat track with sides, steps, bridges, etc. Very well maintained. The afternoon was only four of us plus our guide and was over an historical trail that was mud and roots and tree limbs … not open to public and you can see why. I took notes on my iPhone as much as I could on trees, plants, birds, history, but know I could not keep up. Tried at least to key notes for pictures as to what was what.

When we landed, we were on a very small part of the island that is privately owned. There used to be a small colony of people who lived on the island, a post office, etc. All closed down many, many years ago. Some of the early settlers planted some non-native trees which are all on this private piece that we walked through to get to the public trails. Some of these are 160 years old and older. In the forest itself, it’s all native flora and it’s never been commercially logged. The top soil is very thin, only about a foot deep, so the trees cannot put down deep roots and they blow over with the high winds that the island experiences.

Every 100 meters there are markings and flags and rat traps. They are maintaining this as a predator-free island and have to kill off any rats or similar animals who eat the birds. And they have introduced birds here and keep track of them. The Stewart Island Robins, Saddlebacks, and Rifleman were all put here given depleted stocks. And the rats have caused poisoning techniques that have killed off birds, so they keep changing how they manage the rodents so the birds can thrive.

Saw lots of Kaka Parrots and glimpses of a few yellow head parakeets. Saw kiwi tracks but no kiwi. There were Tui, lots of robins that would almost come up to your fee, the flightless Weka (and we saw some young chicks), brown creeper, etc. I could hear most of the calls, but not all since some were too faint for me.

We saw many different types of fern and learned which are self-propagating and which need male and female. We saw the difference in the foliage of the male and female rimu trees. There were several tiny orchid varieties. Mosses. Many different tree varieties. Sea animals along the beach (sea anemone, tiny crabs, rock oysters, mussels (not green lip), chiton, etc. Ate some native celery leaves … about the size of parsley. We learned about the medicinal qualities of some trees and plants and what the Maori ate, used to make baskets, used for walking sticks, how things were named by the early Europeans who settled. And this just scratches the surface.

Val and Pat left the group at the end of a half day as did some who had only booked a half day. We had a lovely lunch, just the five of us including the terrific guide, Furhana, under a shelter on Sydney Beach. Yes, hot coffee … just Nescafe and not plunger coffee. Ah, well. While the morning was fast paced given time constraints and the larger group (and the tendency of some of us to stay too long at one place taking pictures), the afternoon was more strenuous clambering up and over things and being on a muddy track given yesterday’s rain.

Rested just a bit when we got back. Dinner at the South Seas Hotel then back here. The women got their cameras and went down to the harbour again to try to see some blue penguins at dusk. I stayed here … too tired to climb our hill again. Kayaking tomorrow!

Got up around 7:00 with full cooked breakfast at 8:00. We spent the next few hours here on the farm with the sheep. First there was bottle feeding some young lambs. One was a triplet birth, so had to be bottle-fed since birth since mom only has two teets. Then we watched Frank Forde (our host) herd the sheep into a pen so that a man who had come could sort out the lambs going to be sold for meat vs. ones that are not ready yet. So they ran them through a chute separating them with a gate. Then the man felt each one and marked the ones going to slaughter with blue chalk on the top of their heads.

After all that, and dodging sheep poop in the pasture, we headed through Invercargill and out to Bluff, the southernmost city on the South Island. We went to Stirling Point for pictures. There is an anchor chain sculpture there where the plaque says that it’s to link the peoples and that the other end comes up on Stewart Island. On the sign posts at the point, I could see that Cape Rienga, the northernmost tip of the North Island was 1,400 km away. Hobart, Australia was only 1,600 km. Interesting. So, I’ve been to both ends of the road in NZ.

We briefly went up to Bluff Hill Lookout, but is was very windy and cold and we only stayed a few moments.

We headed to Riverton, which we all thought was pretty close given Pat Forde’s directions. But it was at least 50 km away. We found a nice restaurant there and I had green lip mussels raised on Stewart Island! More to come, I guess.

We got back into Invercargill about 3:00 and shopped at a shearling factory outlet store before coming back to the B&B.  Tonight we were picked up by a van and taken into town to Buster Crabb restaurant for dinner. Lovely dinner. Nice sauv blanc followed by pinot noir. And lamb rump. Lots and lots of lamb rump on the menus around NZ. Also, lots of pork – bellies, ribs, bacon. Don’t remember hat from last trip here.

The big deal all afternoon was figuring out how much we could take on the Stewart Island flight. Limit is 33 lbs., but we found out today that’s for checked luggage and you can take a piece of carryon as well. So things keep getting shuffled around as we try to figure what to take and what to leave locked up at the Invercargill Airport until our return on Monday.

Some thoughts:

·      What we call French press, they call plunger coffee
·      There are pay toilets here where there is music, a recorded voice, buttons to push for toilet paper, and you have to wash your hands before the toilet flushes and the door unlocks. Uite entertaining.
·      Most of the land around the south end of the island is float as it can be. And there are a lot of cattle.
·      I have resisted and have not bought any cloth patches. How about that!

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