Kia ora: Oban

It's small, but packed with things wild and wonderful, says Elisabeth Easther.
Wild male kakapo Sirocco was born on Stewart Island.
Wild male kakapo Sirocco was born on Stewart Island.

Where is it? At Halfmoon Bay, on Stewart Island, aka Rakiura, New Zealand's southernmost permanently-inhabited island.

Getting there: There's a ferry service from Bluff and an air connection from Invercargill.

Origin of name: The settlement was named after Oban in Scotland and is Gaelic for "The Little Bay"; Rakiura means "glowing skies" and refers to the blushing of Te Rakitamau, a lovely local legend. Earlier still, the island was called Te Punga o Te Waka a Maui, "The Anchor-Stone of Maui's canoe".

Population: The island's population is 380 and 80 per cent of them live in Oban.

Town slogan: Island of tranquillity.

School motto: A choppy sea can be navigated.

Shucks: The first oyster harvested in New Zealand was on Stewart Island, not Bluff.

Famous locals: Bruce Skinner won a bravery award for saving a man's life during a shark attack off the Dunedin coast. Sue Graham won silver at the Barcelona Olympics for Taekwondo. Sirocco, the rock star kakapo, was born here.

Local heroes: The nurses, Debs and Doc Marty, do cool stuff all the time and have received QSMs to prove it.

Best website: stewartisland.co.nz.

Big business: Fishing (mainly cod, crayfish and paua) and aquaculture (salmon, mussels and oysters). DoC and tourism also keep the locals busy.

Town fiestas: The school gala day is held every two years and the Stewart Island Man event is a doozy, subjecting local chaps to various challenges. The Easter Egg Dig is also popular, ditto New Year's Eve when the road closes and the pub puts on a band.

Here for a short time: Take the water taxi to Ulva Island Bird Sanctuary, while away the day and picnic on the beach. Sometimes people see kiwi during the day, that's how amazing it is.

Sights for sore eyes: Sunrise and sunset here will blow your mind, ditto Aurora Australis, the Southern Lights.

Best reason to visit: To get back to nature, chat to the locals and be far, far away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Best place to take kids: The beach for sandcastles, paddling, snorkelling and kayaking or take to the hills for mountain biking and, if it's a yucky day, the community centre is massive, with an Olympic-size stadium for playing inside.

Best playground: The adventure playground at the school is awesome. There's also a cool park on the foreshore at Halfmoon Bay and a rope swing at Millers Beach. Or check out the rock pools at low tide.

Best walk: This is tricky as there are many lovely short walks: from Horseshoe Bay Pt, Ackers Pt, Golden Bay Walk - they all take a couple of hours and are divine. Or you can do the Rakiura Great Walk, which takes three days, or the bigger 12-day version or the Southern Circuit.

Best view: Observation Rock looks out over the inlet, although all the bays look pretty. And if the weather is bad sit in the pub and watch the wharf and all the boats coming and going.

Best swim: First, check for great white sharks. If there are none, head to Bathing Beach; if there are some, opt for fresh water at Mill Creek and jump off the rock.

Best museum: Rakiura Museum is about to be made bigger, although it's already full of fascinating information about the locals and their lives.

Looks historical: The oldest building in Southland is the stone building at Ackers Pt in Harold's Bay.

Best shops: Ship to Shore (the Four Square) for almost anything. The Fernery - Gallery & Gifts for all sorts, DoC sells trinkets and books, and Glowing Sky sells merino clothing.

Tops for coffee: The pub does coffee, Ship to Shore does flat whites and Bird on a Pear on the wharf is great although open only during summer.

Bakery: Ship to Shore does fresh baking and sandwiches, scones and slices and the pub does muffins and scones.

Best food: Church Hill Restaurant and Oyster Bar, closed over winter but superb in summer. The pub does wicked grub, and is especially famous for seafood chowder and blue cod and chips.

Wet your whistle: South Sea Hotel, Friday night is locals' night but everyone is welcome.

Best mountain biking: There's only one track, from the back road to Horseshoe Bay; it's pretty easy and lots of fun.

Best adventure: The hikes are all splendid. Masons Bay is also way cool. Plus there are kayak trips, dry-hire them or grab a guide; or go on a fishing trip, a birdwatching trip or a kiwi-spotting trip.

Wildlife: Spy for kiwi and saddlebacks on Ulva Island or stalk deer on Stewart Island. Interestingly, there have never been stoats, rabbits, pigs, mice or goats on Stewart Island but there are feral cats, rats and possums.

When a local has visitors: They take them on a road trip and, as there are only 25km of road, it doesn't take long. Make sure you include a drive past the telephone on the tree on the way to Horseshoe Bay, the big anchor chain at Lee Bay and the start of Rakiura Track, plus Observation Rock. Or show them how to catch a fish off the wharf.

Safety warning: Could visitors please stay off the road and use the footpath provided?

Locals say: Isle be bound.

Visitors say: Isle be back.

Thanks to Sue Graham for sharing.

- NZ Herald

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