Intro and what things to do in Stewart Island

Stewart Island, the third-largest island of New Zealand, is a true hidden gem that captivates the hearts of the 2% of visitors who venture there. As a seasoned travel designer with over 30 years of experience, I can confidently say that this untouched paradise is one of my favorite places in the country. From its stunning natural landscapes to its unique wildlife and rich cultural heritage, Stewart Island offers a truly immersive and unforgettable experience for those seeking to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

How to get to Stewart Island ferry

Reaching Stewart Island is an adventure in itself, with two main options available: by ferry or by plane. The ferry service operates between Bluff, a harbor town located about 25 kilometers south of Invercargill, and Oban (also known as Halfmoon Bay), the only village on Stewart Island. The ferry crossing across the Foveaux Strait takes approximately an hour, and the catamaran used is a stable and reliable option. During the summer season (November to March), you’ll be unable to take your vehicle on the ferry, so you’ll need to either use a shuttle service from Invercargill or park your car in a secure lot in Bluff.

How to get to Stewart Island flight

The alternative way to reach Stewart Island is by air, with Stewart Island Flights operating three daily flights from Invercargill Airport. The flight takes you directly to the Ryan Creek airstrip, where a shuttle will be waiting to take you into the village and the local post office, which doubles as the airport terminal. While you might feel like you’re landing in the middle of the bush, this is all part of the unique experience of visiting Stewart Island.

Overview with map on Halfmoon Bay or Oban Stewart Island

Once you arrive on Stewart Island, you’ll find yourself in the charming village of Halfmoon Bay, also known as Oban. This quaint community is home to around 400 permanent residents and offers a variety of accommodation options, from backpacker hostels to boutique lodges and holiday cottages. The village is compact and easily navigable, with the ferry terminal, accommodation, and local amenities all within walking distance. If you need to rent a scooter, car, or bicycle to explore the island’s 28 kilometers of roads, the local visitor information center can assist you.

When it comes to dining, you can either bring your own food supplies from the mainland or take advantage of the local eateries, such as the South Sea Hotel, which offers both pub meals and a restaurant, and the Church Hill Boutique Lodge & Restaurant, which boasts stunning views over the bay and the Mutton Bird Islands.

Overview of Stewart Island great walks and hikes

Stewart Island is a true paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a variety of walking and hiking opportunities right from the moment you arrive in Halfmoon Bay. One of the most popular options is the Ackers Point Lighthouse, a roughly one-hour walk that provides stunning views towards the South Island on a clear day. Another scenic hike is the Observation Rock Viewpoint, which offers a panoramic overview of the area.

For those with more time, the Horseshoe Bay track is a longer and more challenging walk that takes you around the peninsula, offering breathtaking vistas of the South Island. If you’re seeking a truly remote and private experience, the PurePods located near the start of the Rakiura Track provide a unique and luxurious escape, where you can immerse yourself in the island’s natural beauty.

Reasons on why to visit Stewart Island New Zealand

Stewart Island’s main draw lies in its untouched natural beauty, abundant wildlife, and the opportunity to truly disconnect from the outside world. As a bird lover’s paradise, the island is home to a wide variety of species, including the elusive Kakapo, Tuis, Bellbirds, and various seabirds such as Albatrosses. One of the primary reasons visitors flock to Stewart Island is to spot the iconic Kiwi bird in its natural habitat, particularly at Masons Bay on the other side of the island.

The island’s location and ongoing pest eradication efforts have created an environment where many species thrive that are not commonly found on the North or South Islands. This unique biodiversity, combined with the island’s rich cultural heritage and the opportunity to truly immerse yourself in nature, make Stewart Island a truly special and unforgettable destination.

Kiwi Stewart Island guided tour options – Things to do in Stewart Island

To make the most of your time on Stewart Island and increase your chances of spotting the elusive Kiwi, I highly recommend booking a guided tour in advance, especially during the popular summer season. There are several operators, such as Beaks and Feathers, that offer guided walks and Kiwi watching tours, providing valuable insights and expertise to enhance your experience.

Rakiura Track Stewart Island and other hiking and walking options

For avid hikers, the Rakiura Track is a must-do on Stewart Island. This two- to three-day loop track starts and ends in Oban, with overnight stays at the Port Williams Hut and the North Arm Hut. While the full Rakiura Track is a significant undertaking, there are also opportunities for day hikes along the route, such as the walk to Maori Beach.

For experienced hikers, the Northern Circuit and the Southern Circuit offer more challenging multi-day treks, but these should only be attempted by those with the necessary fitness and preparation. Regardless of your hiking experience, I recommend exploring the island’s trails with a local guide to ensure you make the most of your time and stay safe.

Mason Bay Stewart Island crossing by plane, walk and watertaxi

One of the most unique and adventurous experiences on Stewart Island is the Coast to Coast trip to Masons Bay. This journey involves a flight directly onto the beach at low tide, followed by a hike through the island’s interior, and a water taxi pickup at the Freshwater Hut. Along the way, you’ll have the chance to spot Kiwi birds in their natural habitat, as well as navigate the area known as the “Chocolate Swamp,” which is well-boardwalked but can be muddy in parts.

This trip can be done independently or with the guidance of a local operator, and it’s a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the untamed wilderness of Stewart Island.

Guided nature walk on Ulva Island Stewart Island New Zealand

Another must-do activity on Stewart Island is a guided nature walk on Ulva Island, a protected nature reserve that is home to an incredible diversity of bird life. Ulva’s Guided Walks, operated by the eponymous Ulva, offers a range of experiences that allow visitors to encounter species such as the Saddleback, Kaka, and Weka in their natural habitat.

Using a local guide is highly recommended, as they can provide valuable insights and information about the island’s unique ecology and the conservation efforts that have made it a true bird lover’s paradise.

Kayaking Stewart Island in the Paterson Inlet

For those seeking a more active adventure, the Paterson Inlet on Stewart Island offers some of the best sea kayaking in New Zealand. Operators like Phil’s Sea Kayaking provide guided tours that allow you to explore the inlet’s historic sites, such as an old Norwegian whaling station, as well as the stunning natural landscapes that surround it.

Whether you opt for a half-day or full-day excursion, sea kayaking is an excellent way to immerse yourself in the island’s serene waterways and get up close with the abundant wildlife that calls them home.

Stewart Island Dark Sky Sanctuary

In 2019, Stewart Island was awarded the prestigious accreditation as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary, recognizing its exceptional quality of starry nights and nocturnal environment. With over 85% of the island protected within the Rakiura National Park and a low population density, Stewart Island boasts some of the darkest skies in the world, making it an ideal destination for stargazing enthusiasts.

The island’s remote location and lack of light pollution create the perfect conditions for observing the stunning Milky Way, constellations, and even the occasional meteor shower. Visitors can learn more about the island’s Dark Sky Sanctuary status and the best spots for stargazing through the local Stewart Island website.

Hunting, Diving and Fishing Stewart Island

In addition to its wealth of outdoor activities and natural wonders, Stewart Island also offers opportunities for hunting, diving, and fishing enthusiasts. The island’s waters are teeming with an abundance of marine life, including the prized blue cod, and local operators offer fishing charters that can take you to the best spots.

For those interested in diving and snorkeling, the island’s pristine underwater ecosystems provide a unique and rewarding experience. While the weather and sea conditions can be challenging at times, the rewards of encountering the diverse marine life that thrives in these waters make it a truly memorable adventure.

Summary on NZ travel tips on Stewart Island things to do

In conclusion, Stewart Island is a true gem that offers a unique and unforgettable experience for those seeking to immerse themselves in New Zealand’s untamed natural beauty. From the island’s abundant wildlife and hiking opportunities to its rich cultural heritage and opportunities for adventure, there is something for every type of traveler.

Whether you choose to explore the island by foot, kayak, or plane, the key to making the most of your time on Stewart Island is to allocate enough time to truly soak in the island’s tranquil atmosphere and embrace the slower pace of life. With so much to see and do, it’s no wonder that many visitors find themselves returning to this special place time and time again.

To help you plan your ultimate Stewart Island adventure, be sure to check out the resources and links provided in the description below, including the free New Zealand travel planning sheet. And if you found this guide helpful, don’t forget to subscribe for more insider tips and insights on exploring the best of New Zealand.

Happy travels!

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