Getting across to New Zealand’s third largest island, Stewart Island, is a breeze. From Invercargill, you can either fly across in a small plane or go by boat. Now it is safe to assume that travellers don’t go to Stewart Island for a great latte or a shopping expedition. And that’s because this island is a nature lover’s idea of heaven – getting away from it all. Although the main hub, which is Oban at Half Moon Bay, does have the basics.
…and plenty of fishing boats
Why visit Stewart Island ?
Most of Stewart Island is National Park territory, so it does have the purest nature experience you will find anywhere in the world. Also, much of Stewart Island is free of predators – that means that the island has the most plentiful native bird life. The Kiwi birds are protected here so a Kiwi Night Tour is a must-do. The beaches are truly beautiful – this one is a called Bathing Beach, and for a good reason.
Plus, the tramping and hiking experiences are unsurpassed. You can choose a day trip or stay overnight in huts.
Where to eat on Stewart Island:
South Sea Hotel
The iconic and busy South Sea Hotel is the place where all the locals go. And what an incredible atmosphere this hotel has – especially at night – it is an experience not to be missed. Stewart Island also has a small supermarket. And for a supermarket of this size, it really does punch above its weight. For pure convenience, there is no better option, especially if you are going on a major tramping excursion.
Continuing with the food theme, the Kai Hut is incredibly popular with travellers and the locals. The fish & chips are delish! Once again, you will really love the nightly communal atmosphere – mixing it up with the locals.
Church Hill Restaurant
If you’re looking for a more refined dining night out, then you really can’t go pass the lovely Church Hill Restaurant. In fact, we think Stewart Island is very lucky to have these guys. Owners, Deanne and Chris are true professionals and offer a beautiful dining experience. Their restaurant is small and intimate with a roaring fire for those cold nights.
Deanne is a trained chef and Chris is front-of-house. You will get beautiful views out over the bay. Chef Gordon Ramsay has dined here, and loved it – so what better recommendation is that!
Stewart Island shops
As a traveller, sometimes you will find true ‘gems’ in the unlikeliest places. The Glowing Sky shop is one such gem. I guarantee you will get no better service than at this family-owned business. The Glowing Sky shop specialize in pure Merino Wool clothing. Many of their garments are cleverly multi-functional. That mean with a bit of folding this way and that, a bolero jacket can change into a scarf – that sort of thing.
4 Four Square Supermarket
The Four Square Supermarket may look on the small side, but it is extremely well equipped. There is a meat and deli section, sandwich packs and home-made soup waiting in the fridge. No one needs to starve. The great thing about Stewart Island is that the locals have learnt to be flexible. If they don’t have it, they will do their best to get it in for you.
How to get around Stewart Island
Getting around Stewart Island is easy. You can hire an e-bike or scooter – or rent a small car. Just remember that the roads are very narrow, so its best that you don’t go over 40 kph in speed. You will need to be on the lookout for pedestrians that also need to share the roads from time to time.
What to do in Stewart Island
Your choice of fishing trips will largely depend on how “salty” you want your skipper to be. What we tend to look for, is a skipper who will engage with their customers. Of course, safety is paramount and is always a consideration, when making a choice like this. Ask around and you will get some idea of who to book with. Believe me, catching your very own blue cod on traditional hand lines, is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
And on these fishing charters, you will get to see the wonderful bird life of the area. From time to time, Mollymawk albatross will circle the boat. That’s actually very special, as the Mollymawk Albatross is only found in the Southern Hemisphere.
Kiwi Night Tour Stewart Island
We can’t say enough good things about this beautiful experience. Not many travellers get to see New Zealand’s iconic Kiwi Bird in the wild – believe me, it is incredibly special when you do. The Stewart Island Kiwi Night Tours start from 5.00 pm or later, depending on the season. The tour we did had the most amazing guide, a young woman called Robyn. She had an all-consuming passion for the Stewart Island environment and it was infectious. We all came under its spell.
The tour began with a boat trip out to Little Glory Cove. Everyone is armed with a torch before the walk begins. The track is mostly mossy boardwalk and easy to walk. As the walk continues, don’t be surprised to feel a growing sense of serenity. As we walked out onto the beach to check for seal lions, our guide shone her infrared torch onto a Kiwi that was foraging for sand hopper larvae.
Unusually, we had 28 minutes with this dear little male kiwi. There are no more 16 people allowed at any one time on this tour, so that does tend to heighten the enjoyment. Also you need to be aware there are strict rules in place to protect these birds. Strong wild light is a definite no-no – and you need to keep your distance. But if you are a true nature lover, you will totally understand why.
On the way back, we came across the most beautiful trees, some of them were 900 years old. They were all growing across the forest at right angles, giving the illusion of an ancient world. Then most amazing thing happened. We came across a male kiwi calling for its mate. Our guide had been waiting years for this moment – no other guide had ever seen a Kiwi elongate its head and give a mating cry. It was a very emotional moment for her and we were all touched by it.
Tramping (NZ for hiking) on Stewart Island
Tramping is huge on Stewart Island. A very famous tramp, is the Mason Bay walk. The only way you can get to Masons Bay (apart from cross this island be foot) is by plane or helicopter. I can tell you, landing on this beach was an absolute thrill.
Now, a word of caution. This is a 4-hour tramp and you really need to have a good level of fitness. But most importantly, you need to have the correct gear. And that means, warm clothing, good tramping boots and gators. There is a part you will go through called “Chocolate Swamp”. This area is constantly muddy and you may find yourself up to your ankles in mud. Otherwise the track is of a good standard and well maintained.
Where to stay in Stewart Island
Stewart Island Lodge
There are a number of accommodation options on Stewart Island, but not a great deal variety. We stayed at the Stewart Lodge which had a wonderful host Lisa and views to die for. The lodge is suitable for those travellers who are totally independent, although helpful advice is on hand, if you need it. The lodge is more than adequate and quite peaceful once everyone has settled in for the night
Church Hill Boutique Lodge & Restaurant
Some of us do enjoy a higher level of comfort – and that means travellers who value their time more than what they spend. So for a boutique stay, you really can’t go pass Church Hill Boutique Lodge & Restaurant. Not only do they have the best restaurant in town, but three lovely private cottages set in the bush.
Summary on Stewart Island
Stewart Island things to do will have you wondering where the time went. Although it is not for everyone, we guarantee you will return to the mainland refreshed in mind, body and spirit. Autumn is a wonderful time to travel too!
View some of our sample nature & lifestyle travel itineraries. Stewart Island can easily be included.