Stewart Island – Wild Kiwis and Cold Diving (+video)

Stewart Island was a week full of first times. It was the closest I have been to Antarctica, my first time seeing a wild kiwi, my first time seeing a carpet shark or an octopus in the wild, and my first time using my new GoPro, which ended up with some very tripping free diving shots.

We ended up booking the last available private room on the island and stayed at the Stewart Island Backpackers, and felt very lucky as the accommodation options are super limited and the town is quaint and small. Rain was forecasted for the whole time but we decided to stay hopeful and brought all the outdoor gear we could fit on our backs and on our bikes, as it’s foot traffic only on the ferry.

Snorkeling 11 Degree Water

Our optimistic attitudes paid off and the weather was perfect, well as perfect as being 47 degrees south can be. It’s not called the roaring 40’s for nothing.

Normally opting to explore on our own, we went a little off script and decided to book a snorkeling tour with Stewart Island Adventures and we are so glad we did. For starters we only brought our halfie wetsuits and the tour came with a full wetsuit rental, but also the guides were awesome and spotted thing we would have never seen, and we took a boat out of the main harbor to protected spot with tons of fish life.

It was my first run with my new GoPro while diving, so sadly I hadn’t quite nailed how to use it and the lens covers leaked a bit which made for some trippy shots. I did capture the carpet shark and some fun shots with Oli and myself swimming through the kelp.

Wild Kiwi Encounter

One of the main reasons we came to Stewart Island, and specifically in mid-summer is because the long summer days have forced the kiwi’s to adapt and come out in evening twilight to feed. All over the rest of New Zealand they wait until night time to hunt for bugs and grub, but the Stewart Island kiwi’s have a lot less dark hours and can’t afford to lose those extra hours.

We booked our wild kiwi encounter with Stewart Island Experience. Though there are some places you can go out between the hours of 11PM and 2AM on your own to try and spot a kiwi, we are so glad we booked with this tour. The tour begins with a twilights cruise to Paterson Inlet where we spotted the rare yellow-eyed penguin, some large sea lions, shags on a rock, and got to watch the sunset before we landed at Little Glory Cove.

Trekking through the forest as silently and as slowly as possible, I felt we really became one with the night drenched forest. So many faint noises, we would have missed if we rushed or were even whispering. We trekked all the way across the island to Ocean Beach, where we found some sea lion tracks in the sand leading up to loop track forcing us to turn back the way we came.

We trekked for over an hour with no luck, and has to retrace our steps to avoid the territorial sea lions. About 5 minutes before we made it back to the landing, a young female kiwi sprinted across the path in front of us. Oli and I were luckily at the front and saw all the action and quickly turned our headlamps to red.

She hung out with us for the better part of 15 minutes and seemed unperturbed as we quietly followed her along the path. I caught a few moments on camera, snapped a couple kiwi portraits and then just enjoyed the presence of a wild kiwi and ticking yet another item off the bucket list.

The evening ended at a bit past 2AM and we got back and into bed around 3AM, we were so wiped out the next day but so content with our decision.

Solo Snorkel to a Crayfish Nest

We spent a bit of time recovering and eating all the delicious food around town, and decided it was time to be a bit active again. We biked our way to Leask Bay, donned our shorties in very cold water, and went for a bit of a free dive in super clear water.

I’m still working on my free diving skills, and can manage about a minute of holding my breath if I am exerting no effort whatsoever and hover more around 35-45 seconds while swimming. Oli can hold his breath for a couple minutes and found an awesome Crayfish Nest, and lovingly took my GoPro down so I could see them too.

After we got out of the water, a large sea lion curiously came to take a peak at us. Oli has been wanting a seal or sea lion to come check him out while swimming so he casually got back in the water to see if the creature might check him out. Unfortunately the sea lion got himself “cornered” and didn’t like that Oli was between him and the open sea and charged at him, mouth agape. Oli wasn’t that near him luckily and it was just a warning charge. Nonetheless, my fear of seals and sea lions remains valid and we boogied on out of there real quick.