One thing is a constant on Stewart Island: water. Sitting in the warm Tasmanian current at the bottom of New Zealand, its marine ecosystem is rich and abundant with wildlife. And in the lower portion of the latitudes known as the roaring forties, it also cops plenty of wind and rain, so if you're heading that way, be sure to pack for it, as well as a little mud. Thankfully, some thoughtful soul had popped a plank over the stream we needed to cross to get to our accommodation at Masons Bay.
Our Guide, Furhana Ahmad of Ruggedy Range Wilderness Experience was dead set on showing us some Kiwi, so the plan was to get our gear sorted, eat, and head out straight away, as Kiwi are mainly nocturnal and evening was already falling.
The historic homestead isn't usually used by visitors but Furhana had gotten us special permission to stay for the night. As we ate an amazing meal she had prepared, the rain started. By the time dinner was over, there was a deluge outside but Furhana was eager to take us out searching anyway, as Kiwi don't mind the rain too much. However the gang were just as keen to stay dry so the evening's photographic efforts turned to some light painting with torches, off-camera flash and long exposures, as well as documenting some of the homestead's inner details.
As morning came, the rain had eased a little but not enough to satisfy our intrepid video crew that conditions were dry enough to shoot some sequences. We knew Kiwi were out there. In the middle of the night Heather had seen one outside the hut, which subsequently ran between Neerav's legs. I'd have chastised them for not having a camera handy, but I don't really expect anyone to take a camera on a midnight visit to the long drop.
The only ones brave enough to go out in the rain were Furhana and I so off we went down the track to look for birds but alas, none obliged us with their presence. Along with the rain, there had been a fair bit of wind, which they don't particularly like. To help keep my 7D and the borrowed 5DII from Canon dry, Furhana kindly gave me one of those crinkly plastic ponchos you get in emergency packs. I couldn't help thinking that I was the real reason no Kiwi showed itself. My every move made it sound like a giant was eating a packet of crisps.
By the time we returned the rain had eased, so we all took another track to check out the old woolshed and see what opportunities it offered the adventurous photourist. I'm glad to say we all found plenty of inspiration there.
While Stewart Island does have a good Kiwi population, there is a very dark cloud on the horizon: Feral cats. When I found one that had been shot, I couldn't help but linger to try and capture some of that story with my camera. By the time I'd rejoined the gang, they had packed up all the gear and were ready to move out. We might not have seen Kiwi, the weather had not been great, but you can tell by their faces we had all enjoyed the experience 100%.
On the way back to the beach for our pick-up, we met some hunters at the Dept of Conservation hut. Real southern characters, and one of them graciously let us take his picture.
Not to be defeated, we took a little detour into the dunes to see if any kiwi were lurking there. No luck. But I decided to capture some images of another conservation story here in Masons Bay. As well as predators, the Dept of Conservation is waging war on the introduced Maram grass that binds the dunes. It looks great in the afternoon light, - you can see some in my earlier post, but it binds the dunes too well, building them higher than the beautiful native Pingao, which you see below.
Rewarding as our visit was, it was all too short. I'd give myself at least three days just to do this place justice with a camera. Unfortunately our time was up and in fact we would have to march out double-time to meet our plane on the beach. From Stewart Island to Invercargill airport, and then an hour or so's drive to Tuatapere to catch our ride for the next photographic adventure: The Hump Ridge Track.
Stay tuned for more.