It been a while since I first went to Stewart Island, but I think once you have been there you will always want to come back. There is something magical about the place and you can get totally lost in time and forget there is actually a world out there.
But what on earth was I thinking when I set out to do the North west circuit the first time with a good friend. Not that the mission was impossible but my brain was clearly not with me as I packed a tripod, 3 lenses including a 70-200mm and a full 1ltr bottle of special Belgian beer, which I could have put in the Helicopter drop box to mason bay, but didn’t…… on top of that I was carrying a lot of food and had not learned to travel light on 10 day trips. Lesson learned for the most recent trip to the island.
So excited and at the same time not as I knew what was ahead… mud mud mud, well, not really. The last time we did the trip we had two weeks of sunshine and all the muddy bit dried up, at least dry enough not to go waist deep into this muddy goodness. I was lucky again and enjoyed a lot of sunshine, sandflies and hardly any wind, except for the last day when I hit a snow storm or shall we say it hit me.
I think I forgot my last trip and set out on this one with 4 avocados and books and some other stuff I would not need on this trip and I decided to donate the books to the first hut I reached and ate my 4 avocados and left some lentils behind. On the longer trips it is important to measure your portions correctly.
Winter is great for walking, as I mentioned before, the days are calm and the sun is out, but it is a different story in the morning when you need to get up to go for wee wees and install your camera for that sunrise shot everyone expects you to come back with. By that time the fire in the hut has died and your breath is forming little clouds above your head. Your lens fogs up as soon as you go outside and get it ready to take that sunrise shot. And while you try to keep your hands warm and set your camera up you have the 1000 sandflies that survived the winter frost attacking every bit of skin they can find.
By this time your coffee has gone cold and you sit down on a cold rock and wonder why on earth you decided to become a photographer. To top it all off, the sunrise did not really happen as clouds got in the way and I drooped back to the hut. But you know as well as I do, that if you stay in bed and decide to give it a miss you will see the most amazing sunrise through foggy windows and the brutal reality of social media of all the people who did get up or just happened to be going to work.
Pack the bag and on the way to the next hut, after breakfast. Two weeks ahead of me so surely I must get a decent sunrise and sunset shot. There are so many different spots to shoot, most of the time you see a spot and wish you could stay there for that special shot and you know exactly what it would look like, the only problem is that it is half way between huts and there is no bloody way you are going to go back there just to take that shot, so make the most of the huts and their surroundings.
I am not sure what my favorite part is of walking, I love taking photos, but it is a royal pain in the bottom to take of your pack, get your camera out, close your bag, put your pack bag on and then pose for the social media shots where you stand triumphantly looking into the distance. After my second shot I was truly over that but I persevered and made a mental note to ditch the old pack and get a new one after this trip. How can you look calm and relaxed when a whole battalion of blood thirsty little sand flies land on you as soon as you stop walking. How do they know, for all I know, I could be a tree or a rock, but these little creatures, who don’t even have a brain I think seem to be able to find you in a heartbeat.
So I decided my favorite part is to arrive at the hut! Light the fire and make myself and nice cup of tea with condensed milk and eat some coconut chocolate. Do some stretching and put my soaking wet boots to dry. I tried to wash my boots as much as I can, but as you can guess, you are not alone when you do that. And after two weeks of mud, which is soil with rotten leaves, your boots stink like no tomorrow, lucky it was just me in the hut.
If you like your hot shower every morning I would not recommend this trip. You will get a bit disappointed, if you are brave enough to jump into the river or ocean, you will be able to have a cold bath, but for me that is a bit too cold, so I would put some water on the stove and just have a little wash, two weeks and now shower does make you a bit smelly and for that same reason I can only recommend to wear merino wool and not the plastic stuff. I had to put my sleeping bag to the dry cleaner after my trip as I got a bit smelly, but then, you need to suffer a bit to take great photos don’t you!
It’s the patience and dedication that makes great photos., in the old days, but with mobile phones and a millions of photographers who are not photographers, but than again are and just happened to be at the right spot at the right time with their phone to take that shot, you can get pretty frustrated. I guess you could always just Photoshop it as the masses do not have a clue what is photoshoped and what is not, like many images you can see on Instagram and get thousands of likes.
I love this island! It has so much to offer, even if you only do the 3 day walk or just go for a long weekend. It is heaven on earth and a good place to see kiwis, during daylight. I saw three on this trip, but could not take my pack of and put it back on and stare staunch into the distance and have the kiwi posing with me while the sun sets and a whale is passing in the distance.
Go by boat or plane… and if you have any questions, feel free to ask, I’m happy to be your guide.