Rakiura

This weekend past we went to Stewart Island, whose Maori name is Rakiura, land of glowing skies. The long gentle summer we have been enjoying in the deep south continues, and the trip there and back was across a Foveaux Straight as flat and calm as anybody has ever seen it. We travelled, as usual, on the ferry, a large, modern catamaran which makes the journey in about an hour, and we stayed with Peter and Iris who run a very comfortable B&B on a hill overlooking Halfmoon Bay. It's the sort of place which manages the almost impossible feat of being simultaneously homely and luxurious, and our hosts were knowledgeable and engaging. There was a very fine dinner and good wine and lots of conversation.

On Sunday morning we woke to one of the skies from which the Island gets its name,



and a dawn chorus dominated by the sound of Kaka: a sound that must have once been common throughout New Zealand, but is now heard only in Oban. There was a leisurely breakfast and some more chatting before we walked a few hundred metres down the hill to church.Stepping out into the streets of Oban and I know I am somewhere very special, but I can't quite find words to explain what I mean by that. The Island feels different. Although it's possible to buy a latte in one of the cafes or use your broadband connection to check something on Google,  Stewart Island feels like the New Zealand I grew up in, in the 1950s and 60s. There is an unhurried calm. The bay is calm and filled with business like looking fishing boats, and is ringed with well kept and unpretentious houses. But there is something else; a kind of energy which comes from  this being a place on the edge. There are a few kilometers of road in the town of Oban, but only a few. After that the 1746 sq km of  hill and forest and rock is crossed only by tramping trails and not many of them. There are mollymawks and albatrosses drifting in the air, penguins and seals on the beaches and dolphins in the harbour. This is a civilised little town but the wildness is right here.

St. Andrew's consists of a small white wooden church and a hall which have both been meticulously restored over the past few years. The Sunday congregations are not large (The Island has less than 400 inhabitants) but the buildings are open and a constant stream of visitors comes, 7 days a week, to look and sit and pray and look some more. The church and its gardens are the ministry of this congregation: Stewart Island is a place with far more visitors than inhabitants, and many of the visitors find themselves in the little white church sooner or later. So, the Anglicans keep it open, and make it look nice and feel friendly.

I celebrated the Eucharist. We had lunch with Airdrey and John Leask and headed back to Bluff. Most of the congregation came to wave us off. "Come more often," they said. "Stay longer."
Good idea, that.

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