Halfmoon Bay lies on the eastern coast of Steward Island/Rakiura in New Zealand. The town of Oban lies in the bay and is the southernmost inhabited island of the New Zealand archipelago. The settle was named for Oban in Scotland (Oban in Scottish Gaelic means “The Little Bay”) and the strong influence Scottish settlers had in the south of early colonial New Zealand accounts for the use of the name. Recent estimates puts the island’s permanent resident population at about 400, and a boost in tourism is a direct result of the Rakiura National Park. Captain Cook sighted the island in 1770, but the island’s European name honours William W
Steward, the first officer on the ship “Pegasus”, which visited from Port Jackson, Australia in 1809. For most of the 20th century “Steward Island” was the official name of the island but it was altered to Steward Island/Rakiura by the Ngai Tahu Claims Settlement Act of 1998. Rakiura is a Maori name and is often translated as “Glowing Skies” a reference to its famous sunsets as well as the Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights, a phenomenon of southern latitudes.
Stewart Island/Rakiura is also known as “the third island” as it’s one of New Zealand’s most remote destinations. It is a pristine place of native bush, rain forest, sand dunes and natural wetlands. It is also known as the only place in New Zealand where kiwis outnumber people. The only real population centre is the small fishing village of Oban, a community of about 400-500 (many of whom arrived for an overnight stay and were so enamoured, they never left!). Although the residents enjoy the many benefits of modern technology especially when it comes to internet and satellite communications, residents take pride in their island as a remote natural paradise. However is takes a hearty soul to live in the sometimes rugged environment. The island has less than 20 miles of roads and most of them are unsealed. Gert and I take the tender to the inlet and walk up a VERY steep hill only to walk carefully down another hill and then climb yet another VERY steep hill. (Did I say this place is very hilly!).
The terrain is just lovely and many wonderful plants and flowers grow by the road side. There are also a lot of exotic trees here including pine, monkey puzzle, and macrocarpa along the pathway from the cove. As we walk into town we see many different types of trail (Department of Conservation signs are everywhere) and make a note to do the Fuchsia Trail on our way out of town. The island was the site of the region’s first post office, opened in 1872. The building is still here today and they bring in and take out mail via float plane. The mail is still hand stamped – so we sent a card via this mode of transportation – so watch for post marks. We also purchased some local honey to take home. I think that makes 6 jars (mostly 200gram). We walk up yet another hill to a very old Presbyterian church built in 1906, however the building is in dire need of repair. The walls are currently being held up by big construction arms and its hoped the renovations (straightening up walls and getting rid of wood rot) will be finished by 2012. I’m not sure how or who is paying for the work, perhaps local craftsman as the population here isn’t exactly flush with money.
The area is just beautiful, the winds are a bit cold but the fresh air is intoxicating. The island reminds us very much of the Scottish highlands where the wind whips at your hair and no amount of pulling it back helps. Sweaters need to be pulled a little tighter here to keep the drafts out. It’s just lovely. On our way back we stop at the local fish and chips vendor. There are write ups that their fish and chips are awesome. Gerrit and I agree to have an order of chips – little did we know how big the one order was. We invited people walking past to help us eat the chips. And they were just delicious.
Having reached downtown Oban, we can see why the ship is anchored in Half Moon Bay. The wind is strong and on shore, making for a rough tender ride. In addition the channel is quite narrow and has to be shared with the local ferry. The water is much smoother on the other side of the island.
As we agreed we took the Fuchsia trail back to the Cove to get the tender back to the ship. It was a truly amazing part of the rain forest here. It’s strongly suggested that walkers walk with at least 1 or 2 other people. If you slip or fall you could easily break a leg or worse. And if you fall off the path, the slope and its dense undergrowth will swallow you up, never to be seen again! Its very heavy with overgrowth and the path way is slippery in places. We notice these orange boxes everywhere with “Do not disturb trap” signs. We’re fortunate to run into a local plant expert who explains they are “Rat” traps. Apparently this part of New Zealand has a problem with pests and are trying to eradicate them. The rats are brought in on container ships and have infested the country. There are several islands near by and they do not want any rats invading these islands because of the interesting wildlife on them. It was a wonderful day in the wilds of Oban and a lovely island. The people are friendly and outgoing and love to talk to visitors about the island and the obvious pride they have in maintaining the island and it’s heritage.