Thursday, February 21, 2008

Logbook: Invercargill - Stewart Island

Invercargillstewart1I picked up my rental car on Monday morning and headed south along the "Southern Scenic Highway" -- mostly along the coast -- stopping to enjoy many scenic views, a number of roadside attractions, a few snacks and one RV wreck noted below. I had planned to stop for the night somewhere along the stretch of coast known as "The Catlins" but nothing really appealed to me, and before I knew it I was entering the southern-most city of Invercargill. I cruised the town's main street for a few minutes then let my intuition lead me to pull into a tidy little place called Surrey Court Motel. I walked into the office and was met by a very friendly woman named Sandra whose lively sense of humor was immediately evident and we hit it off right away. Once again, my instincts had landed me in a perfect little place to stay for a few days!

Invercargillstewart2Invercargill is kind of a quirky little city. The first thing that seems a bit odd is that the entire town -- the entire area -- is completely flat. This was unexpected to me having come down out of the hills -- it is no doubt the result of some kind of geological/glacial idiosyncrasy -- and it gives the area a definite "seashore" kind of feeling. The community is fairly spread out, consisting of the eclectic "downtown" you can see in the photo surrounded by an extended sprawl of tidy, one-storey, cottage homes. I spent most of the day on Tuesday exploring the area, taking in the few local attractions and enjoying a lengthy visit to the large and very delightful Queens Park. I had lunch downtown, did a little wandering around the shops -- including finding a much needed iPod-to-car-radio accessory -- then got my haircut and called it an afternoon. In the evening I took a drive out to the coastal beach and found a great place to have a fabulous steak dinner, quite possibly the best I have had yet on The Voyage!

I was up and out early Wednesday morning for a half-hour drive down to the town of Bluff for the morning ferry to Stewart Island. Now, tourism is a very important part of New Zealand's economy, and it is something that the country does very, very well. In fact, I would go so far as to say that New Zealand is the best in the world at tourism. This is a topic I expect to touch on from time to time, but my reason for bringing it up here is that this highly efficient tourism model is perfectly exhibited in "The Stewart Island Experience." Run by one of the country's major tourism companies, it offers the visitor a completely easy, hassle free, "fire and forget" way to explore the island. In less than five minutes, I had purchased a round-trip ride on the fast, one-hour ferry to the island, a seat on the hour-and-a-half "Villages and Bays" morning tour and the two-and-a-half hour "Paterson Inlet" afternoon boat cruise. Just like that, my day was planned, arranged and ready to execute! If one wanted to stay longer, the company would happily arrange accommodations, additional tours, hiking passes or anything else a visitor might want.

Invercargillstewart3As I result, I had a really easy and outstanding day. After a ferry ride that was indeed fast, I disembarked on Stewart Island at the tiny -- and only -- village of Oban then almost immediately boarded a van for the morning tour which turned out to be delightful. Unlike so many of these tours during which the driver tells a canned story and some really dumb jokes, our driver told us of her own experience growing up on the island and gave real insight into its history, people, culture and lifestyle. There are only 28 kilometers of road on the island -- in and around the 2% of it which is populated -- and the rest is national park and wildlife preserves. We covered much of those roads during our tour, stopping at several lovely little bays along the way and ending up back in town where several local businesses -- like the fish and chips shop, the internet cafe, the grocery, the cafe, the restaurant, etc. -- were appropriately promoted as being "worth a visit." It was obvious cross-selling, but it was done in such a natural, informative way that it was really quite charming.

After the van tour, I had just enough time to stop at the cafe to grab a sandwich before boarding the boat for the afternoon cruise. Like a water-borne version of the morning's land cruise, we meandered along the coast and checked out many little coves where historical figures lived, ran saw mills and whaling stations while hearing tales of history and culture. About mid-way through the tour we docked at Ulva Island which is a bird sanctuary and had an hour long guided walk that was informative and enjoyable. (Though I have to admit once again to struggling with the whole "conservation" thing where practically every bird "in the wild" is banded and exhibits clearly learned behaviors with respect to begging for food from the human visitors... but I digress!) From there it was back on the boat and a return to Oban where I had -- surprise, surprise -- enough time to get some fish and chips, a cup of coffee and a bottle of water from local merchants before boarding the ferry for the return ride. Like I said, it was a very easy and very enjoyable day of "The Stewart Island Experience."

Invercargillstewart4I spent practically all of yesterday doing file work of various kinds, hanging around the motel with Sandra and playing with her cute little dog Pep. I got going at a reasonable hour this morning and headed out to explore some more of the coast, the highlight of which was a visit to Slope Point where I had my picture taken at yet another "southern most point in the world." In the morning I am going to start heading north toward Christchurch -- stopping a couple of times along the way -- where I will be meeting my next co-explorer on The Voyage later in the week. Just for fun, I'm going to leave you in a little suspense about who that will be! Stay tuned!

1 comment:

L. Smith said...

I wish I was there with you!