Stewart Island/Rakiura had been beckoning for a long time before Mona Robertson recently took the boat across the Foveaux Strait to see that piece of paradise and to relive times gone by.
When her husband Percy died 30 years ago the visits to Stewart Island, that started when she was just a youngster, suddenly stopped. Despite challenges during her life in recent decades, including being visually and hearing-impaired Mona defines an upbeat attitude.
Mona, visually impaired, was recognised in 2022 for Ryman’s Walking for Wellness challenge, then again did well in 2023 -- where more than 1,300 Ryman residents registered for the Walking for Wellness initiative on both sides of the Tasman.
The Rowena Jackson village resident revisited her much-loved Stewart Island over three days in September, staying on a beachfront hotel. “It was always on my bucket list to go back, because I just absolutely loved that island.”
She says it was amazing seeing Rakiura again, supported by family members including her daughters. Both Susan, Joanne and husband Stephen, as well as her granddaughter Alicia and partner Karla joined her on the Stewart Island visit. The family stayed at the South Sea Hotel on the front of Half Moon Bay.
“It was always on my bucket list to go back because I just absolutely love that island and my children indulged me and took me across... No-one realises just how magic Stewart Island is,” she said after her arrival at the island’s ferry terminal.
The island visit was part of her reaching a target in the 2023 challenge: “The Walking for Wellness challenge I won for my age group, and I feel very happy about that, very happy... my goal is to get to 100 and keep walking,” Mona says.
She adds that today she remains a ‘busy bee’ in terms of her commitment to walking. “I’m always on the move. I always feel though I’ve got plenty of energy, I don’t really believe in sitting between four walls all day.”
She remembers earlier trips to Stewart Island dating back as far as her teenage years. “I walked around the island, I know the island really well...
“That was my second home over there – I loved it. I worked in Ferndale House (a Halfmoon Bay boarding house), It was burnt down, but the sign’s still there. I worked on there when I was probably 18. I went across on the TST Awarua... it’s in the museum down there now....
“We (Percy and I) had. We walked over there at weekends and holidays, you know like Easter and Labour Weekend and all this type of thing, as a housemaid and general dogsbody at the Ferndale House... it was a boarding house and the Hicks’ are well known on Stewart Island, and they built it (in 1913).
The island formed strong impressions: "I loved it, I just loved it. There was just one car on the island and it was a black DeSoto (part of the Chrysler Corp marque)... you walked everywhere. It’s a beautiful, beautiful place.”
A bit later, in 1956, she married Percy. They built a grocery shop in Regent Street, Newfield near quite a bit of farmland. “Someone said how are you going to make a living over there, but we did.
“And then when the smelter came, crikey, boom, the houses went up.
“We were there for five or six years and then we sold that and then we were in a house in Conyers Street for a wee while, and then we bought a little dairy on the corner of Ellis Road and O’Hara. Of course the smelter had started and the buses – were four times a day for the shift changes. We were up at 6am in the morning, serving the guys – getting sandwiches or scones or whatever. Right till 11pm at night was the last shift to go down.”
She adds that today she remains a ‘busy bee’ in terms of her commitment to life, and now more than ever walking. “When I’m walking along the river the birds are just magic, they’re just music to your ears. It makes me feel good, it just gives me that little bit of oomph to carry on!”
She and Percy brought up two girls, Susan, and Joanne who is married to Stephen. Both daughters now live in Queenstown.
“I have three grandchildren – two girls and a boy, and I’m expecting my first great-grandchild in December.”
Mona moved to Rowena Jackson village about seven years ago, having previously been in a Chelmsford Street townhouse in the Invercargill suburb of Windsor. Her family, thinking of her eyesight issues, thought it was time for her to move into a safer zone.
Back in 2022, when Mona Robertson stood on the big stage alongside of entertainer Jason Gunn, she was first lauded for her walking participation. With visual and hearing impairments, the walking was in some ways challenging but also a positive in terms of motivation.
“I’ve got a little badge that I wear that’s got: ‘I am vision and hearing impaired’... ,” Mona says.
“I’m completely blind in my right eye, but I do have a bit of vision still on my left eye. I’ve got a stick – I don’t use it in the village but if I go out I always take my stick with me.”
She likes that she lives in an apartment that sits near the entranceway onto Hastings Street, giving her a buzz as traffic comes in and out.
Later on, she helped out on the Invercargill Meals on Wheels delivery service, helping those in the city that needed catering help. Other charities she helped out included the RSA and Cancer Society, including their daffodil days. “It wasn’t me, to sit down,” she says.