Remarkables drive


Stewart Island


Taeiri Gorge


Lake Tekapo


Thursday, 1 March, Dunedin

Actually, we’re not really in Dunedin, but instead have taken up residence in a lodge attached to a castle about 12km from the city. Larnach Castle claims to be the only castle in NZ, and in that, they’re probably right. But more on that later.  First, the crossing of  Foveaux Strait.
The main aim of today was to go the furthest south either of us has even been – Stewart Island, off the southern tip of New Zealand’s South Island. To get there we had to drive 30 km down to a depressing little port town of Bluff and catch the Stewart Island ferry for the one hour, 35km crossing. Bluff looks like it's surviving hard times (barely), but a generous spirit remains.

(above): the most imposing building in Bluff

Warned that it was likely to rain on Stewart Island, I was worried that we had no wet weather gear at all. There was no place in Bluff to buy an umbrella, let alone a raincoat, the owner of one of the towns two garages told me (it would be a stretch to call them service stations). But he displayed the true meaning of service – he lent us his golf umbrella, with only the request that we drop it off on our return.

On board the ferry across Foveaux Strait - it moved along at about 40kph.

And we did need the umbrella.... It was a drab, overcast, sometimes rainy day on the island, but we’d booked a bus tour, which protected from most, but not all,  of the discomfort.
Our tickets were for a minibus drive around the island’s 24 kms of road…and we were told that it was “fine if you wanted to wear seat belts – but that you'll be the only ones on the island doing so”.

Apparently, the low speeds necessary around the few roads made islanders think seat belts were not needed. And I have to admit, all of us soon felt the same way.

above: the main street of Oban, the only village on Stewart Island

The island is inhabited only in a small area – most of it is a national park. The village of Oban, where the island's less than 400 residents live, is a tiny, but scattered group of buildings, the main one of which is the local hotel (right).

There’s not a lot to Oban – a small supermarket, coffee shop, a fish and chip kiosk, community centre, school, gift shop, bowling club and maybe a hundred houses scattered within a few kilometres. And that’s it.

Oh, and two churches. One, the Anglican one, has a service only once every six weeks, when a minister comes over from the mainland. The other, a lovely-looking Presbyterian on a hill (below) overlooking the ferry terminal, opens up for its followers every week. And in my view, it’s the better looking of the two churches…
So, that’s it for our visit to the closest we’ve ever come to Antarctica (and ever likely to come). Ticked.

After Stewart Island It was a longish drive (for that time of day) to Dunedin – and NZ roads make it even longer. The main road between Invercargill and Dunedin reminds me of the Princes Highway, from Sydney south to the Victorian border.
All up hill and down dale, one lane in each direction, with an occasional passing lane, as a gesture to impatient tourists. So travel always takes a little bit longer than planned.

We arrived at Larnach castle too late for dinner, and it took room service nearly two hours to deliver some soup, cheese platter and ice cream. But they were very apologetic, so I tried not to think of the castle as an antipodean Faulty Towers.
          Next: Dunedin, and Larnach castle