February 28, 2002 - More Stewart Island

The sun has come out on Stewart Island. It is quite beautiful here. The vegetation is quite lush with lots of ferns and deep forest bush. I walked into Oban, the town, today for lunch. It was rather damp and gray on the walk in but sunny on the walk back, taking about 40 minutes each way.

I ran into the man who gave me a lift into town last night, along with his wife and his cousins. He is the local surveyor. He has been here quite a while and has both a house in the town and a 200 acre farm, all in bush at this point. That is a lot of land for Stewart Island. The island is going through a bit of a real estate boom at the moment, with prices rising 300% in the last year.

I was talking with the woman who owns the small cafe, the JustCafe , where I had lunch (great smoked salmon sandwich and a good cafe latte). She said that many of the buyers are Americans, since even with record high prices, real estate is really cheap by our standards. She is originally from Iowa and has been here 12 years. I asked her if many Americans came here and she said that most of the foreign tourists were from the US. I thought that unusual, since I hadn't met many on the way down. Evidently, the ones who come to Stewart Island tend to be older, with more money, out to see the less discovered places. Sure enough, while I was there having lunch, at least eight other Americans came in.

I wonder if there isn't some kind of hidden magnetic effect based on nationality. She gets a lot of customers from the US. The place I stayed at in Milton, the Happy-Inn, is run by a guy from Switzerland and he gets a lot of Swiss coming into the hostel. Those Internet cafes in Auckland and Christchurch run by Asians are full of other Asians, while those run by Kiwis are not. The last example is probably not as interesting as the first two, since they have signs in Japanese and Korean, while the hostel and the cafe had no outward indication of the nationality of the owner.

I'm going to stay here another couple of days as it is a good place to rest (and I can't go any further south). It is a bit more expensive than the rest of the places that I've been, but it seems worth it. The island effect, I'm sure. I'll probably take a couple of day hikes, but nothing too strenuous.

I had dinner tonight at the Church Hill Cafe, which, as the name implies, is on the hill next to the church. It has quite the view overlooking the harbor and to the north. The food was pretty good as well. The interesting thing about the restaurant is that they have a courtesy car that will pick you up and return you from anywhere on the island (where there is a road). The waitress who served me was also the driver. She was the person who also gave me a ride last night when I showed up too late. She was very nice and very friendly.

She and her husband, a sixth generation Stewart Islander, have a 54 acre property on the island. I asked about it since it seemed pretty large. She said that they purchased it just a couple of years ago and were pretty lucky. They had a house that they owned in the town, but wanted someplace larger so they would have something to pass on to their two boys. This property came on the market, so they started to negotiate for it while selling their house. There were two very interested buyers for their house, so a little bidding war erupted. Meanwhile the people with the 54 acres were a little desperate since they had bought somewhere else and had to sell quickly. So, my waitress and her husband got a good deal and a good price and a homestead for the seventh generation. She said that they would never be able to afford it today. The things you learn on the ride back to the B&B.

Updated: 06 April 2002