Exploring a Hidden Paradise: Stewart Island
Are you a nature lover? A bird watcher? Love walking trails? You need to visit Stewart Island.
Stewart Island is New Zealand’s third largest island, known in Māori as Rakiura, meaning ‘glowing skies’— a reference to the Southern Lights (Aurora australis) that can be seen illuminating the night skies above the island. Small and remote, the island is usually accessed via ferry from Bluff, and is one of the most untouched places you’ll find anywhere in NZ.
More than 85% of Stewart Island is protected National Park, making it a giant haven for native birds; they thrive thanks to the lack of human interference and land-based predators such as cats, rats, stoats and weasels. This is one of the best places in New Zealand to see a kiwi in its natural habitat— the numbers of brown kiwi living on Stewart Island actually greatly outnumber the population of humans— by fifty to one! The kiwis are active day or night and can usually be found foraging in forested areas. You can also find the rare South Island saddleback, tui, rifleman, kaka, weka and kākā.
The cold waters surrounding Stewart Island are filled with marine life, but of particular interest to the keen fisherman will be the healthy numbers of blue cod; one of NZ’s best eating fish species, and in our opinion, the king of fish and chips. A fishing charter from Stewart Island promises a good haul of blue cod, to be shared amongst participants; it’s amazing battered and fried, or simply grilled with some fresh vegetables— you decide! The fishing trip is also a brilliant day on the water for bird-watchers with plenty to see like penguins, dolphins, seals and sea lions. The majestic albatross can also be seen gliding low over the water with its massive wingspan on display.
With only 28km of roads, and 280km of walking tracks, Stewart Island is a hiker’s paradise. There’s a multitude of choice for walkers of all abilities, ranging from short 30 minute strolls to nearby beaches, to challenging multi-day hikes. The most famous walk on Stewart Island is the Rakiura Track, one of New Zealand’s 10 ‘great walks’, it’s a 32-kilometre, three-day epic which passes through native bush, golden beaches and beautiful forests— with plenty of chances to see kiwis and other rare birds along the way.
The only permanent settlement on Stewart Island is Oban, in Halfmoon Bay. Oban is home to the majority of Stewart Island’s 400 permanent residents. There was previously another settlement on the southern end of the island, Port Pegasus, but it is now uninhabited; its former site is now accessible only by boat or an extremely difficult hike down the island.
Offshore of Stewart Island, Ulva Island is one NZ’s few predator-free nature sanctuaries. Situated within Paterson Inlet, Ulva Island is open to the general public and can be accessed via boat ride.
Follow the link to learn more about the 11-Day Wild South Tour, which includes a full Stewart Island experience plus visits to all of the South Island hotspots!
What’s the most remote place you’ve ever been to? Let us know in the comments below 👇