Otago, Invercargill, and Stewart Island Feature


Stewart Island Nightlife

The Nature. As the last natural light fades at the lighthouse, you'll begin to hear the whir of wings and strange cries. These are the muttonbirds (aka sooty shearwater or titi) coming home to roost—they call to their ground-nesting partner to locate their burrow, and their partner answers from their subterranean dwelling. Like the royal albatross, the muttonbirds are spectacular fliers and clumsy landers so beware, they have been known to hit people and your travel insurance may not cover muttonbird-impact injuries to your nose.

After a half hour the homecomings peter out, and it is time to walk back. Go slowly. The pound of the waves down the cliffs won't drown out the rustlings and weird sounds in the forest all around you: little blue penguins are coming home now, too, and you can often see them walking their funny penguin walk along the trail. Straggler muttonbirds crawl along making an odd forlorn noise. Long harsh screeches might be Fiordland-crested penguins. The glimmer of enormous Gollumlike eyes in the trees belongs to possums (bane of native birds). Huge sudden crashes of foliage will be Virginia white-tailed deer (bane of Phillipa's Port-of-Call garden). When you return to the parking area it will take a while for your heart to slow down, and when you try to compose a postcard the next day you might find it hard to describe the experience. Please do not touch any of these creatures, don't use flash photography, and don't shine light directly in their eyes. For more information contact the Department of Conservation or the administrator at the Environment Centre.

The Pub. At Happy Hour you'll encounter the "five o'clockers," retired fishermen who gather for a "few pints" and trade improbable yarns. After a lifetime on the deck of storm-tossed boats, the sea stance remains—legs apart and knees slightly bent. There's almost an anti-dress code here: short-sleeved sweaters that are long in the back and often have burn holes from leaning against galley coal ranges and gum boots prevail. During oyster season, it's not uncommon to see customers in full wet suits squish-squashing around the bar. On Friday nights a crowd gathers when the kitchen sends out platters of free greasy "nibbles"—heaps of fried mussels, cod, chips, and pies. The pool table is free. Be aware that folks play by "Island rules," which are posted on the wall. Locals take the "down-trow" seriously, and if you lose without sinking a ball and you are not willing to circle the table with your pants down, you ought to buy your opponent a drink. Highly competitive and sometimes absurd Quiz Nights entail high spirits and high jinks, and visitors are always welcome to play. If you leave the jukebox idle, a certain resident will invariably play Three Dog Night and grab you for a whirl (whether you're a bloke or a lady) roaring "Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog." And that's on a quiet night! The Pub is a great place to enjoy a couple "coldies," hear some local lore, and have a laugh. (Those sensitive to rough language might want to bring earplugs.) If you need a ride home, or help up the stairs, ask the bar staff for assistance.

View all features