Our holiday started a day late as we had been stranded on New island and had consequently arrived home too late to catch the Sunday ferry…so it was 6.30 Monday morning when new set off for the ferry to the West.
Usually, we manage the journey from MPC to the coast in an hour, but we had borrowed a truck from camp, and all hire cars have a 40 mile per hour limiter fitted for safety (bad roads, and too many fatalities in the past), so we very nearly missed our time slot – but the ferry waited and we were on our way.
First stop Port Stephens – the most southerly settlement – a beautiful spot, with a strange rock formation called Indian village. We walked around the peninsular to the gentoo colony, and arrived late in the afternoon. This is the time when penguins return to land after a day’s fishing, and rafts and rafts of birds were bouncing from the waves; leaping, tumbling, flippers a flap. The colony was on the neck of the peninsular, and the wind was howling through; the waves were crashing, spray flying, and the power of the water even seemed to challenge the penguins. Many were flattened, swept back out to sea, fell backwards; none seemed to bother – on the contrary, they seemed happy to go back for more.
We sat with Peter and Ann Robertson, whose cosy cottage we were renting, and heard stories of when the settlement had 10 times its current half dozen inhabitants. And of life before the roads were built; ferries would call every 6 weeks up until 5 years ago, and life was easier; now everyone is expected to use the road, and with a 7 hour drive to Stanley, with a 1-2 hour ferry trip on top, deliveries are not easy. Most people have left, and the Robertsons, father and son, continue to run the sheep farm. Shields from many naval ships line their walls – the old days of the 80s and 90s when there were more military out and about, and many islanders were generous in their hospitality. The generosity and warm welcome continues; in our cottage was left fresh milk (oh luxury – a break from the dreaded UHT!), new potatoes fresh from the ground, eggs form the run and tomatoes -the end of the season. Treasures indeed !
We headed off next morning, after a walk up to Great Hawksnest, where perhaps unsurprisingly, we climbed up to, and sat in the hawk’s nest. Huge great pile of sticks high up in the rock face -fortunately the hawks have fledged – otherwise we could have been in trouble!
We set off for our next location, but stopped at South Harbour to have a cup of tea (and chocolate cake yum) with Brian and Ceri Jamieson who have chosen to live here on a small holding with their pack of lurchers. Brian is a computer whizz and can work anywhere. Ceri is chickenmeister, and sent us on our way with 2 dozen eggs (for the promise of a black pudding in exchange when we next meet). Hoorah. We had a fabulous walk with them around their beaches with all our dogs galloping free. A red letter day for Archie and Finn who rarely have such an opportunity on a conservation island. They slept well that night.
Leaving late, we arrived at Roy cove, three hours’ drive away, at twilight, to find that Danny and Joy had been out looking for us along the road.. Islanders look after each other and are generous with time and thought – no AA here, and no local garage if you have broken down (and no mobile signal if there was one!).
Roy Cove is a stunning place – at Crooked Inlet in the north west of the West. The settlement is another which has shrunk form a thriving farm 30 years ago, to just the Donnellys now. They are surrounded by empty houses. But their farm appears to thrive – cattle and sheep, and a self catering cottage to rival many. Cosy and well appointed, the view from the living room heads straight down the inlet, where dolphins curve, and whales can be seen at this time of year.
Joy had left us potatoes and carrotts, and lettuce and spring onions from the greenhouse. A feast ! A wonderfully peaceful night, and in the morning, Danny took us to his fishing spot ; a fabulous, shelterd and pretty spot, with pools and curves which produced a fish for Phoebe instantly. We were not so lucky after that – but we had a fun few hours, and ate well that evening; a supper of delicious fresh trout.
A second peaceful night, and the next day Bill had to head back to work, so the heli picked him up from the cottage, and Phoebe and I and the dogs set off on the drive to Port Howard across the island. We spent a happy couple of hours travelling across the beautiful green rolling countryside of the West, stopping for a picnic lunch beside a winding stream, and arriving mid afternoon at Port Howard. We were staying at Critta’s self catering cottage , and only had to wander in the settlement for two minutes before we were spotted and looked after. Critta arrived soon after, surrounded by his working dogs. I think Phoebe counted 9. Just a little bit better trained than Archie and Finn..
Bill flew back to join us for the evening, and the next morning we had an hour or so spare for fishing before the ferry. We caught a couple (well Phoebe is actually the success story of this holiday) and trailed onto the ferry last again, to enjoy the most perfect crossing; no wind, blue skies, mirror-like water, dolphins alongside, whales spouting around us. A picnic on deck; a magical end to a few days’ escape.