Land of the Glowing Skies

Trip Start Sep 09, 2004
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Thursday, May 12, 2005

'Red sky at night, shepherds delight,
Red sky in the morning, shepherds house on fire!'


(Childhood saying..)

I slept well last night. The bed was comfortable and the room was dark and warm. I have to say it's a different feeling sleeping in a concrete room instead of steel one. I woke around seven-ish and opened my door to the most amazing sunrise which flooded through the balcony window, up the corridor and straight in to my little room, turning it in an instant from night time into 'day and a half' time.

I was straight outside on the balcony, cuppa in hand, hair stuck up, sleepy eyes wide open, awe-struck. What I stood pathetically drooling at didn't actually make sense to be real. It made more sense to be looking at a magnificent painting of striking colours, magically strewn by an artist in an attempt to create a replica of the perfect sunrise.

For me, it was probably the only photograph I've ever persevered with. There just wasn't enough light or photography knowledge really, which made things practically impossible. But what I saw with my own eyes was so amazing the pics just have to come out, they really do. Please, just one.

Had a bit of a mooch and a browse around 'tiny-town' this morning to stretch my legs a little and get a feel of the place. I saw a few more small town classics that made me smile too, silly things like the primary school just along the waterfront which happily nurtures a grand mass of eighteen pupils. And the fact that there's 'one store', which sort of sells everything that anyone will ever need. And 'one pub', which sort of sells everything that anyone will ever need.

In the store behind the counter, there's a shelf covered with tightly folded newspapers, each one sitting just above a small name tag which I guess matches the correct newspaper with the right Stewart Islander. Also on the counter is another classic 'A4 sheet', listing the local's names with their corresponding account number (the pub, hotel and restaurant are the same). So when Bob pulls up in his Ute and nips in to the store (engine still running) to buy a sandwich or a bottle of milk and a paper, he just bangs it all on No.245 before dropping in the pub for a swift jug of Speights, again on No.245. What a wonderful world.

I took a walk a over to the DOC for a look around and a hello with the staff, before coming away with a couple of leaflets on the day walks and the Rakiura track, the popular three-day loop track which starts and finishes in Halfmoon Bay.

Spur of the moment took me straight out on to the three-hour return trek over to Ackers Point lighthouse, which gave vague outlines of the South Island, reasonable views of Bluff and pretty good views of the Muttonbird Islands. It was quite pleasant and gave me a good chance to soak up a bit of the mood and ponder my options. I got back to Halfmoon Bay following a good pelting of rain and went straight to DOC to ask some more questions.

By late afternoon I was sitting around in the hotel in front of leaflets and notes contemplating my next move. Moments later I was joined by Teri who had sat down opposite and had struck up a conversation. Teri manages the backpackers round the corner and also works split shifts in the hotel reception so she pretty much knew who I was. She seemed bubbly and friendly enough so the conversation was bright and before long we were joined by Russell, who also works in the hotel behind the bar. It turns out that Russell was born and bred Invercargill and Teri, Auckland. Incidentally, Teri is Maori and like Russell, decided to move here after a brief visit which turned in to a love for the place and its people, resulting in a more permanent arrangement. She suddenly pointed out of the window in excitement at a huge sea lion turning over and over playfully in the water right outside the hotel. I couldn't believe it! They could.

Talking about 'spur of the moment', it seemed quite obvious from the start that Teri was that type. The 'come right out with it' type, not the 'beat around the bush' type. The 'just say it' type, not the 'bite your lip' type. To me, they're among the best types so what happened next, though a little out of the blue, was fine by me. She asked what I would do with it if I were ever given a freshly shot duck as a gift, for dinner. Short of making a bit of a marinade to rub it with and a good roasting, I didn't really have much of a clue to be honest. This I told her. As she got her coat, she looked over at Russell who was already on the phone in the bar telling somebody that 'there's one more coming'. The next thing I remember is being led briskly along the waterfront holding a dead, plucked duck weighing down coldly in the palm of my left hand. Five minutes later I'm stood in Teri's kitchen with an apron on stuffing a pungent mix of garlic and spices in and around this poor duck's bottom while Teri was off somewhere getting ready. It turns out that some of the staff at the hotel all get together fortnightly or monthly for a bit of a dinner club. Tonight's feast was to be laid on at PJ's (the Stewart Island handyman) who lives round at Horseshoe Bay in the hills. Nice.

Shortly after recovering 'duckster' from the oven, Russell turned up with Clare (the hotel waitress) who he kindly introduced as 'Clear'. After a quick double-check, Clear agreed that her name was in fact 'Clare' and we all agreed to disagree. Clare's from Oz..

Ten minutes later, I'm sat sprawled out on the trailer of a flat bed truck with Russ and Clear, holding on for dear life as Teri threw it around the slippery bends and hills over to Horseshoe Bay, to PJ's place. For me it was one of those classic moments where you momentarily leave your body completely and look down on you, your surroundings and circumstances and think to yourself quite loudly - 'what in god's name are you doing!?' I'd known these people five minutes and there I was, sitting on the back of a flat trailer which was being thraped around the coast of the most Southern Island I was ever going to have the privilege of visiting, with a hot, roast duck and three friendly locals. I hadn't even been to my room since I left after breakfast this morning. Secretly though, I was absolutely loving it. This is the sort of shit we should all get ourselves in to.

How, I don't know but we arrived at PJ's safe and sound and in a bit of a giggle. The others introduced me to PJ and we went inside. After the mandatory small talk and compliments of how nice his treasured abode was, he dished up dinner which consisted of a hot, oozy baked pasta thing. It was really good and we proudly accompanied it with our hot chunks of duck, which seemed to go down quite well too. PJ was the quiet sort but he was clearly a genuine fella. Although the others didn't see it, he really, really reminded me of John McEnroe. Alot. Anyway, his bread and butter pudding was out of this world and Russell really couldn't get enough of it.

If I'm honest, I have to say that I was really made up about tonight. Obviously, and once again it's that they're really good people but I don't want to keep going on about it. Just the way it all started, unfolded and ended up was absolutely out of this world. Totally random and a lot of fun. What a way to meet the locals!
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