The more I learned about kiwis, the more my curiosity grew, and the more I wanted to see one of these near-mythical creatures in the flesh and in the wild. And then I learned about an unspoilt oasis of pristine wilderness, where kiwis walk unmolested. Here would be my chance to see them in action. My trip to Stewart Island was born.
Today Stewart Island is a place where New Zealanders come on holiday to glimpse a world that they only dare dream of. This is the bared soul of the country, a New Zealand as they would like it to be, perhaps a mythical vision of how it once was. Here the forest never succumbed to axe and fire, the water and beaches are as wild and unspoilt as the day Cook’s Endeavour first sailed into view. People leave their houses unlocked, their car-keys in the ignition, and have time to talk and laugh. There are no sheep, no traffic jams and there is virtually no crime.
One evening, as the sky turned a salmon pink, I wrapped up warmly and headed down to the jetty. I climbed aboard the boat and with scarcely a word we set out onto the water to the east side of the island. We docked by a wooden jetty and walked quietly, by torchlight, through the forest, emerging ten minutes later to feel the ocean breeze once more.
A full moon behind a thin blanket of clouds lit the white beach before us. I could make out a thin set of tracks leading into the night, and then as I looked up, a small, dark shape bobbed across the sand. Philip raised his torch and a furry football propelled by thick, chicken-like legs came into focus. A beak like a drumstick was restlessly probing the strands of seaweed.
I was gazing upon my first wild kiwi and it looked even more peculiar than I had imagined. Like a child’s doodle, a bird of quite unlikely shape and proportions, that moved like a clockwork toy. And at once I was smitten.
Paul Morrison, Wanderlust co-founder (Extract taken from ‘Kiwis by moonlight’, Wanderlust April/May 1996)
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