A visit to Stewart Island in New Zealand

Thirty kilometres south of South Island lies Stewart Island, New Zealand’s third largest.  Known in Maori as Rakiura, meaning “the land of the glowing skies” it’s the best place in the country to watch for the Aurora Australis once the nights draw in, though you’ll need a strong Aurora forecast and clear skies to get lucky.

Here are some of the best things to do in Stewart Island.

Things to do in Stewart Island: Sunbeams over islands Faith, Hope, and Charity
Sunbeams over islands from Observation Rock by Tomas Sobek CC BY 2.0

Things to do in Stewart Island

A hiker’s paradise

With only four hundred or so residents and just 28km of road, Stewart Island ticks all the boxes for a get away from it all holiday.  More than 85% of the island is designated National Park, with excellent opportunities for hiking. In fact, there are ten times as many kilometres of walking track than roads. A short fifteen minute walk from the visitor centre is Observation Rock, an uphill climb rewarding those that follow it with stunning views over Paterson Inlet; it’s a great place to go to watch the sunset. Stretch your legs a bit further and you can walk from Golden Bay to Deep Bay along a forested coastal track, or along an old sawmill track streamside to Fern Gully where a clearing in the bush awaits. At the other end of the spectrum, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks is the three day, 36km Rakiura Track. This moderate hike traverses the island and offers the best in coastal and forest scenery the island has to offer.

Things to do in Stewart Island: Tamihau Island from Boulder Beach
Tamihau Island from Boulder Beach, Ulva Island by Tomas Sobek CC BY 2.0

Unrivalled bird watching

With a lack of predators, tranquil Stewart Island is a haven for birdlife and keen ornithologists will be sure to make good use of their binoculars. The coastal tracks afford many opportunities to spot albatrosses, shags, sooty shearwaters and penguins, while the tidal flats of Paterson Inlet are home to oyster catchers, herons and plovers.  Forest walks reward hikers with sightings of tui, parakeets and kaka. Take a water taxi out to Ulva Island, which is fully protected, and a bird lovers paradise. The national bird is represented in the form of the thousands of brown kiwi, outnumbering humans on the island by some margin – if you’re lucky you’ll see them foraging in daylight.

Things to do in Stewart Island: Kaka parrot
Kaka parrot, Stewart Island by Giles Breton CC BY 2.0

Base yourself in Oban

There’s only one main settlement on Stewart Island, so Oban, overlooking Halfmoon Bay, will by default be your base when looking for accommodation in Stewart Island. While you’re there, visit the Rakiura Museum, which contains an extensive collection of items that tell the story of the early Stewart Islanders. Once, the place was a thriving centre for whaling, timber milling and mining, with a population far higher than today’s.

Getting to Stewart Island is straightforward; take the hour-long ferry ride across the Foveaux Strait from Bluff, home of the famous oysters, or fly from Invercargill in less than twenty minutes.

Do you have anything to add to our list of things to do in Stewart Island? Leave us a comment!

About JuliaHammond

Website: http://www.juliahammond.co.uk

Julia Hammond is a Geography teacher turned travel writer with a passion for places. Winning Mail Travel's Deep South competition was the catalyst to write for a diverse range of publications including Bradt's Bus Pass Britain Rides Again. She’s written Kindle guides to Cape Town, Peru and London for Unanchor and advice on Savannah for Wanderlust. When not travelling, she can be found at home in Essex planning her next trip, her two golden retrievers curled up at her feet.

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  1. Maximise your chances of seeing Southern Lights - Go 4 Travel Blog

    […] dark sky reserve, fit the bill, but you could also strike it lucky in The Catlins or over on Stewart Island. Recently, the Lights were so strong that they were even spotted near Auckland, Christchurch and […]


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