Stewart Island

Visit Stewart Island, Southland, NZ

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  • Stewart Island, also known as Rakiura (glowing sky), is New Zealand’s third-largest island, south of the South Island, across Foveaux Straight.

    Eighty percent of the rugged, forested island is protected as Rakiura National Park. Because there has never been significant logging activity on the island, its forests are in a natural state, and include tall softwoods such as kahikatea and rimu, along with hardwoods at lower altitudes.

    Non-native predator species such as rats, cats and stoats have never taken hold on the island. As a result, native birdlife thrives. Many of the smaller islands around the coast of Rakiura act as breeding colonies for Antarctic seabirds, seals and sea lions.

    Accommodation in Stewart Island (NZ)

    Most Stewart Islanders live in and around the town of Oban, by a large harbour on the islands northern coast. Here are hotels, motels, bed & breakfast establishments, self-contained cottages and holiday homes (termed “cribs” in southern New Zealand).

    There are also several backpacker lodges and camping grounds.

    Transport around Stewart Island

    Aircraft travel between Invercargill and Stewart Island daily. Some visitors choose to make only a day-trip of their visit, returning by air at the end of the day.

    A cheaper alternative is to travel by ferry from Bluff, just 25 minutes’ drive from Invercargill. The crossing takes one hour, but may not be available if sea conditions are too dangerous, a situation that arises more often in winter months than in summer.

    On the island itself, there are no full-time bus and taxi services, as the permanent resident population numbers only about 400 people. However, there arewater-taxi operators who will take visitors to other areas of coast or to any of the numerous outlying islands that are open to visitors.

    Rental cars, scooters and mountain bikes are available in Oban. Most of Oban’s roads are paved. Outlying roads are gravel-sealed but still quite navigable.

    Tourist Activities around Stewart Island

    Stewart Island is perhaps most popular for its wilderness and wildlife experiences. A number of guided walks and tours with a wildlife focus are available. Of special interest are the Stewart Island Kiwi, a species unique to the island, kaka, weka, and yellow-eyed penguin, which nests in forest. A ring of mountains surrounds Oban’s harbour, some rising over 3,000 feet, offering great views.

    Small populations of two very rare bird species, the kakapo and the South Island saddleback, were discovered on the island is recent years, and moved for their security to offshore islands such the Snares, in Foveaux Strait. It may be possible to arrange an approved visit. These islands also host rare native reptiles, including the tuatara – a “living dinosaur”.

    There are also boat-based tours available, which explore the coastline and outlying islands, providing opportunities to observe sea life such as whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions and sea elephants, as well as wandering seabirds such as albatross, sooty shearwater, petrel, mollymawk etc.

    White-tailed deer and red deer inhabit the forests of the island, providing hunting sport as well as food. Hunting trips can be arranged.

    Fishing and scuba diving for seafood are very productive around Stewart Island, which has clear waters and a profusion of marine life. It is recommend to dive with experienced guides, as the rugged coast and wild ocean can be dangerous.

    A highlight of any Stewart Island experience is seeing the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis), which are visible at this relatively high latitude due to an anomaly in the earth’s magnetic field.

    Stewart Island has good telecommunications with the mainland, including high-speed internet.

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    Stewart Island