March 2, 2002 - Still More Stewart Island

I was just watching dogs playing on the beach in front of the house here. Horseshoe Bay beach is a fairly wide sandy beach at low tide (now) and probably a kilometer long. There have been a couple of packs of dogs that have been up and down the beach (with their humans) since I've been up and they have been having a great time sniffing and romping and splashing.

Yesterday was a fairly lazy day. I walked into the town twice with a detour through the native gardens on the way. The gardens are basically paths cut through the woods with a couple of open areas. I suppose that they are to show the native vegetation. Maybe I missed something but there was no identification of what I was looking at. It was beautiful non the less. Nothing blooming at this time, but lots of lush greenery.

As I was walking along the road, I came upon a little house built into the woods at the side of the road with nothing else around it. It reminded me of the fairy houses on Monhegan, but significantly larger and more substantial. Home for at least a Leprechaun or Gnome (or Hobbit, these days). The first time I passed it, it was just closed up; the second time it had a figure standing in the doorway and the third time, the figure had been moved. I took a couple of pictures. It was a rather cute endeavor by someone, probably aimed at the trampers who walk by continually, since it is on the route to the Rakiura Track, the three day "Great Walk" on the island.

I've taken a walk to the entrance to the new National Park. There is a controversial sculpture there, which is a giant anchor chain attached to the island. In Maori tradition, Stewart Island or Rakiura, is the anchor of the great canoe, the South Island, that brought the ancestral ones to New Zealand. Everything here seems to be rather controversial. In true bureaucratic fashion, they have covered the sculpture with tarps, since the park isn't officially open yet. It is a response to the "unauthorized" publication of a picture of the sculpture in the local Southland newspaper last week. It is quite large and the path leading to the track takes you through one of the links. One would think that since the cat is out of the bag, covering it up is foolish.

It didn't start raining until after I got back to the B&B and was about to head into Oban for lunch. I suppose that I will have to do it sometime. I'm hoping it will stop.

I was talking with an Australian couple, from Melbourne, at dinner last night. They had come to Stewart Island 30 years ago on their honeymoon and this was the first time back. They said that there were many more people living on the island then, but there was little accommodation and the tracks were more primitive. He works for an outdoor equipment company in Melbourne and they do a lot of "product testing".

When I was talking with Valerie this morning, I mentioned this conversation. She agreed and said that back then there were many families, so much that there were two schools and 15 teachers. Now, there is one school with only 30 students. The drop in population was a combination in the drop in the ability to do small boat fishing competitively and the government dropping the ferry service. Once the government pulled out, it became difficult to get back and forth to Bluff. At on point there was one ferry a week and it took four hours each way. It is only recently that the islanders instituted their own fast catamaran with twice daily service. The rise in tourism has helped make it self-supporting, although it is fairly expensive at NZ$48 each way.

Privatization of transport and utilities in New Zealand seems to be even more controversial than in the US. While we went from regulated to unregulated industries, they went from government-owned to private companies. Certainly in the transportation area, it has led to the deterioration of the railway services, the cancellation of the Southern passenger service the latest blow. There is some competition in the buses, but there is no longer the regular services to just about everywhere that there once was. Electrical privatization has had the same result as in the states, bills that are incomprehensible, a local monopoly on delivery to the house and rising, not falling, rates.

The other big controversy on the island is the spreading of a poison, called 1080, by the government, to kill possums in the nation park. The method being proposed is to drop pellets of the stuff by air. The poison is an indiscriminate poison and not only kills directly, but is retransmitted if the dead animal is eaten. It will evidently kill mammals, insects and birds equally well. If a possum eats it, it dies. If a deer eats it,it dies. If a dog or cat or sheep eats it, it dies. The maggots feeding on a tainted carcass die, as do the birds who eat the maggots. I suspect that if a child eats it, it dies. This is supposed to be to save the kiwis from possum predation. It sounds more like chemical warfare to me. The islanders seem to be completely united against the idea, but are having a difficult time fighting the Department of Conservation, who are determined.

The politics of small communities.

The afternoon was a pretty changeable one, weatherwise. I went to the JustCafe for what has become my usual sandwich and latte and a chance to read the newspaper. As I was sitting reading, the rain started again, very heavily. This went on for quite a while. I found out that the woman who owns and runs the JustCafe, the one from Iowa, has a PhD in Social Geography. The options for such a degree on Stewart Island is running a cafe.

Once the rain stopped (temporarily, it turned out) it was already after 4pm. I drifted over to the waterfront to see what was further up the road,where I hadn't been before. Just the post office, a new community center and a diner/takeaway.

As I was walking back towards the docks, it started to blow and pour again, so I ducked under the porch of the general store to wait it out. By the time it stopped it was nearly five so I went back to the diner for dinner. It was the only place serving that early. As I was leaving the rain started again, so I chickened out and took a taxi back to the B&B. It has started and stopped a couple of times since then, including once when the sun came through and created a really bright rainbow over the bay in front of the house. I took a photo, but I'm not sure if it will come out.

I certainly hope that the weather is better tomorrow, since I have to ride 30 km from Bluff back to Invercargill late in the afternoon. The predictions are not hopeful.

Another guest turned up this evening from the afternoon ferry. She is a woman about our age from Colorado. She is a professional mountain guide there and is here in New Zealand for about three months walking the tracks. She is researching the possibility of bringing groups over from the states and guiding them on several tracks. Her target market is older adults, like us, with time and money to come this far and a desire to do things in the outdoors. (And she gets to write off her trip, this year, as a business expense). She is off tomorrow to do the 10 day route here on Stewart Island.

Updated: 07 April 2002