While you’re here, you won’t want to miss –
Island of glowing skies…
Tucked away at the bottom of the South Island across the Foveaux Strait, is a little piece of island paradise. Secluded Stewart Island is called Rakiura by the Māori, which means “Island of Glowing Skies.” This is said to be a reference to its dazzling sunrises and sunsets, and the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) which you can witness here.
Although Stewart Island is reasonably large and known as New Zealand’s “third island,” it is sparsely populated and mostly National Park. Nonetheless, you’ll find some amazing things to do on Stewart Island – a unique place to visit on your New Zealand vacation!
The island is your best bet for seeing the Stewart Island Brown Kiwi in its natural habitat, as it is home to around 20,000 kiwi, as well as a multitude of other bird life. Its thick forests trill with birdsong as a result of the dedicated work of local conservationists who keep it predator free.
Whether you visit for a day trip, or decide to stay for a while longer, you’ll discover Stewart Island is a magical place where nature reigns supreme.
Getting to Stewart Island is relatively simple – if the weather’s fine. Your options are:
- Cross the straight on the catamaran ferry service, for a 1-hour ride from Bluff;
- Enjoy scenic views on a helicopter from Bluff;
- Fly on a small plane from Invercargill airport.
Whichever you choose, you’ll be headed into the port of Oban, the island’s main settlement situated on Halfmoon Bay. Oban has everything you’ll need while you’re on Stewart Island – an information center, accommodations, a pub, grocery store and souvenirs. Choose from guided walking and wildlife spotting tours, boat cruises and rental vehicles for your exploration of the island’s highlights.
Like any small settlement, Oban’s nightlife centers round its local watering hole. The South Sea Hotel fulfills several requirements in this respect. It’s a bar, restaurant, hotel and motel and also the setting for a local quiz night. Even if you choose not to stay here overnight, it’s a great place to enjoy a meal or sip a cold beer on the veranda. The seasonal menu offers fresh Stewart Island seafood including green-lipped mussels, oysters, prawns, scallops, crayfish and salmon.
Rakiura National Park
With only 12 miles of sealed road and 85% of the landscape made up of Rakiura National Park, Stewart Island is a walker’s dream. Whatever your fitness level, you’ll find trails to enjoy, ranging from half an hour to half a day and through different habitats – beach, wetlands or native forest.
Oban features many short walks around the township and to nearby beaches. In summer, you’ll find water-based things to do in pristine spots ideal for swimming, kayaking, or just relaxing and letting nature work its magic.
Try the 30 minute return Bathing Beach walk or for slightly longer treks head to Māori Beach, Ackers Point Track, Horseshoe Bay or Ryans Creek. The 18 mile Rakiura Track, starting at Oban with a loop via Port William, is the shortest of New Zealand’s “Great Walks.” It is usually completed over 2 to 3 days with 2 hut stays, but you can walk part way even if you’re only here for a day trip.
A must-see while you’re on Stewart Island is Ulva Island, at the entrance to Paterson Inlet and accessed by water taxi. This is a rare chance to experience New Zealand bird life at its best.
Well-marked tracks weave through the island’s native undergrowth of Rimu, Totara and Southern Rata. High above your head you’ll hear the distinct call of Tuis, Bellbirds and see Fantails flitting through the branches.
Some of the country’s most endangered species including: the Stewart Island Robin, Brown Kiwi, South Island Saddleback and Rifleman thrive here due to the island’s state as a rodent free zone. You will be asked to have your belongings checked for unwelcome predators before you enter the island.
You have a good chance of spotting a Stewart Island Brown Kiwi on Ulva Island, as this species sometimes feeds during daylight, as well as night hours. This is the largest of the 6 species of kiwi in New Zealand – but like all kiwi, they are notoriously shy and avoid human contact.
If you want better odds, contact us to book one of the locally guided kiwi spotting tours that guaranty a high chance of seeing a kiwi. A local tour will take you – usually by boat – to a remote area at dusk where you’ll head into the forest and be able to hear the kiwis calling. Hopefully, you’ll see 1 or 2 as well.
Although Kiwi sightings are why many people flock to Stewart Island, it also has an attraction that draws people’s attention skywards. The extreme southern position of the island and lack of artificial light means that the Southern Lights, or Aurora Australis as it’s also known, can be seen here. This phenomenon is caused when solar flares bounce off the earth’s atmosphere causing the night sky to ripple and glow with rainbow colors.
Viewings of the Southern Lights are best during the winter months on clear, moonless nights. But don’t let winter put you off for visiting this “island of glowing skies.” Despite being close to the sub-Antarctic, Stewart Island actually has relatively mild winters compared to the central South Island.
Whichever season you visit, you’ll wake up to birdsong – and fall in love with the simplicity, beauty and many things to do on Stewart Island.