Life has such a wonderful way of presenting us with unexpected joys and surprises just when we least expect them. As it was my final morning on Stewart Island, I embarked on a final walk to explore the two forest walks I had endeavoured to master in the pitch black the night before, to enjoy the bird song, see the rain forest in the rain and, perhaps, spot a kiwi. The kiwis were all well hidden away, but I was able to enjoy both the song and sight of Tuis, bellbirds, Kakas and robins; the gentle sound of drops of water dropping down from tree-tops onto ferns and bushes below and the bright green colours of the landscapes I was wandering through.
About halfway through the walk, on a stretch of road, a black labrador suddenly stormed out of his drive and barked and growled at me. I stopped and did my usual “soothing voice to calm dog” speel but it was really only the owner emerging that helped. As it was beginning to rain while we exchanged niceties, she kindly invited me into her home, stating she had just made some coffee, and I gladly acccepted. What followed was the most wonderful morning. The lady, Lee, in hear early seventies, is an Australian who has lived in NZ for many years having married her husband Alan who had moved there. They met on a boat crossing from Australia to the UK via NZ, and their romance budded through letter writing as Alan stayed in NZ while Lee, who has since been principal of Stewart Island’s small primary school, worked in London for a while as a teacher. They also run an annex at their house which they rent out to visitors, the Deep Bay Apartment (03 219 1271; can be googled).
Lee and Alan have the loveliest view over one of the bays on the island ( in fact, their gorgeous dog Beau a black labrador -something mix, who, of course, turned out to be a real softie- really has the prime spot for bay views: he has claimed the best chair and sits on it and gazes out over the bay, and at the kaka birds). And so we chatted-about life, the island, family and weddings (Lee’s daughter is getting married in December) , over a cup of coffee and delicious piece of Christmas cake, until Beau started making mournful eyes and demanded his walk. Lee and Beau escorted me up the hill to a prime viewing spot near Rev. Wohler’s Monument. Rev Wohler was of Germanic origin and one of the missionaries who came to Stewart Island upon request of the locals including the Maoris (in fact, the Maoris welcomed the missionaries, which is why the Anglican cathedral in Dunedin celebrates the role which both Maoris and European settlers played in bringing christianity to NZ).
What was remarkable is that a direct descendant of Rev Wohler is still alive on the island today and I met her…..her name is Nancy and Lee introduced me to her. What a blessing-Nancy showed us the old family home built in the 1870s (now no longer inhabited but apparently frequented by some cheeky wekas (birds). The house was still furnished including pots and pans, sofas,photos of her late husband-even a huge toy dog. I felt so privileged that Nancy shared with us in this way.
Chatting to the locals also sheds light on other realities….for example, the fact that the bad weather at the moment is not normal (Lee asked me if we also saw evidence of climatic variation in Europe, which I affirmed) , or that there are fewer wekas now on the island than there used to be. Neither Nancy nor Lee knew why that was and intended to ask at the Department for Conservation.
After waving good-bye to Lee and Beau on a beautiful golf course, I wandered back to the hostel for a quick lunch prior to visiting the local cinema for a viewing of the unique film “A dog’s tail”, a history of Stewart Island narrated from the point of view of a dog (the owner’s dog, still alive). Short at only 45 minutes, it was the ideal past-time prior to catching the ferry back to the mainland to embark on my exploration of the Catlins en route to Dunedin. I loved the film-amusing, informative, different -and decidedly quirky.