Invercargill to Oban, Stewart Island – 17 miles and a ferry ride
Last night I booked my ferry ticket for this evening, so I knew I could sleep in and relax this morning. I showered again just because, and watched an Avengers cartoon while repacking. I ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant, waffles with fried bananas and bacon. I ran out of internet, but the hotel staff were very happy to look it up for. They checked the Invercargill to Bluff weather (still miserable) and Stewart Island (looking like a day or two of continued shattered showers). I was told that Stewart Island is lovely even in bad weather, ha!
Across the way from the hotel is a bike shop, Wensley’s Cycles. I bought replacement cleats for my bike shoes, and they changed them out for me. What a Christmas present! In better spirits I set out for the last jaunt down to Bluff to the ferry harbor.
I only had 17 miles to ride. The same woman who looked up weather yesterday told me it was for the best that I wouldn’t get to Bluff last night because it is always super windy there. She was too right. The weather report claimed 47 km per hour winds. I can easily agree. I had to grip my handlebars just to maintain control. The wind was at my right, trying to push me off the road at all times. They must have a lot of rain here, too, as all the ditches were dug at high angles down from the road for drainage channeling. A fall would have been brutal. Worse was when trucks would pass me. The ones driving towards me would create a wind vortex, temporarily sucking me backwards. The trucks passing me from behind would simultaneously pull me forward and push me sideways. Scarier but preferable. I was in no hurry, so slowly I made it to Bluff. Once I hit town, at the furthest bottom of South Island, the hill the town is situated beside caused the wind to turn around it, giving me a slight tail wind for the cruise along the wharf! Magnificent!
The ferry to Stewart Island is run by Stewart Island Experience. They have a very nice terminal in Bluff. I was able to secure a space for my bicycle on the voyage over, so no scrambling around to find a place in Bluff! I changed into warm clothes and headed to the Anchorage Cafe where I feasted like a ravenous pig, eating blue cod with a fresh veggie salad and fries, a pint of Speights beer, a lot of water, pavlova and ice cream covered in strawberries and cream, and hot tea. The rains picked up again, but I was snugly inside the cafe with wifi and comfort knowing I was not going back out into the weather.
There was a large crowd for the 5PM boat. I was surprised to see so many people. Especially knowing that the 11AM boat sold out. The winds were still blowing hard which many passengers did not appreciate. It was a tumultuous sea for the ride over. So many seasick people. I was in a mesmerized stupor the whole time, and inappropriately found the suffering people comical. The waves would turn up the boat and I would lose sight of the water on one side and lose the sky on the other. I have always had a special relationship with water. And like I was sitting at the alter of a water goddess, I felt so calm and happy that I almost cried. I was exhausted and didn’t feel it until being propelled across ocean waters with zero physical exertion required on my part whatsoever. I don’t know if I could have been happier at that moment.
Since arriving to Invercargill, the people have been real. I went into the grocery after arriving in Bluff, desperately needing allergy medicine. They had nothing at all. But a sweet woman shared her personal supply with me. Don’t worry, they are the individually wrapped foil pack kind with name and dosage printed on the back. Though honestly, I probably would have taken them anyways. A costumer had already asked if I was crying. My eyes were itching fiercely. Made worse by the debris blown in during the pedal over. Then at the boat building, I was adjusting my bicycle so the luggage man could more easily lift it down the stairs. He was waiting for luggage bins to fill up so they could be crane-lifted onto the boat. When he realized that I hadn’t made reservations yet he quickly grabbed one of the office phones and dialed the hostel for me so I could ask about a bed. He said it would be terrible to arrive with nowhere to go, even if I had a tent. The woman I talked to on the phone, Carol, was so understanding and friendly. She put me in a shared room that didn’t have any other guests for tonight. And they made a space in the shed to store my bike. They are even nice enough to let me keep it there for my hike and to store the gear I won’t take with me. What a friendly family!