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Visiting Stewart Island, a taste of real New Zealand

Stewart Island is largely uninhabited - home to just 340 residents it is unspoiled by humans. In 2002 85% of its area was declared a national park, Rakiura National Park.
The name "Rakiura", the Maori name for the island, means "Glowing Sky" and was gifted to this land as it enjoys spectacular sunrises, sunsets and sometimes even the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights). Situated just across the Foveaux Strait from the South Island, mainland New Zealand.

Stewart Island is mainly covered in native bush, with wetlands, sand dunes, and a varied coastline from sandy beaches to sheer cliffs. The coastline is fringed with vegetation and bordered by crystal clear waters hosting an abundance of marine life – fantastic for fishing and wildlife watching.

Blue penguins, Yellow-eyed penguins, kiwis (our endemic flightless birds), and the extremely endangered kakapo are just some of the bird species that call Stewart Island home. With access to secret locations and comfortable vessels joining a Kiwi-spotting tour or a full-day birding tour with the likes of Ulva’s Guided Walks, you will gain far more knowledge and insight than you would by exploring independently. 

A great place to visit, ideally, you would stay for around 2-3 nights. This will allow you enough time to sit back and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and culture - fondly known as ‘island pace’, take advantage of the many nature walks or cruises to see the wealth of birds, marine life or go fishing. 

No visit to Stewart Island is complete without a trip to the beautiful Ulva Island. Ulva is a tiny island lying just across the Paterson inlet from Stewart Island. Only 3.5km long efforts to turn this slice of paradise into a predator-free zone have been achieved, allowing some of the best and most endangered native flora and fauna to thrive. Consider joining a tour for a local insight to where the kiwis can be spotted, watch seals sunbathe on the beach and cheeky little weka and bush robins chase you round the well-marked island tracks.

If you are keen to do a full day walk (8 kilometers), take the water taxi to Port Williams and enjoy the first day of the Rakiura Great Walk (this typically takes 3 days to complete the full track) to stroll along white-sand beaches, over the swing bridge, see the former Maori Beach sawmill settlement and coastal views back to Lee Bay. You can do this guided or unguided, whatever suits you and your travel companions! Speak to us to find out more.

For those who enjoy bush walks and are looking to experience the more energetic side of Stewart Island, consider the 9-11 day North West Circuit Track or the full 3 day Rakiura Track. The Rakiura track is one of the newest Great Walks in New Zealand and sees far less foot traffic than some of the other more well-known walking tracks. Offering nothing but native bush you will start to feel like one of the first settlers to New Zealand. 

If you are travelling with kids during warmer weather, consider heading to Bathing Beach, a short walk from the main centre of Oban. Its sheltered waters are the perfect spot to take a dip in the sea and cool off after all that walking! 

There are so many ways to get out and enjoy Stewart Island. How about taking a photography tour, or hiring an e-bike to explore the island at a leisurely pace. With far fewer cars on the road here, getting around by e-bikes is a fantastic way to take it all in! For the anglers out there, join a fishing charter and try your luck at catching a local favourite, Blue Cod. You can even get the local chip shop to cook up your catch, the perfect island memory. As you can see, there are plenty of ways to discover Stewart Island, and it is a particularly rewarding destination for those who love the outdoors.

Rakiura/Stewart Island is one of New Zealand’s lost worlds, often overlooked by visitors on their first trip to this beautiful country due to a lack of time and ease of access, but it is these things that make this place so truly special. For the aviary or wildlife enthusiast or those looking for a slow-paced, more remote experience, speak to us today about how you can include this special destination in your itinerary.

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We have lots more information to share with you if you need it. Our team lives and works within New Zealand. We have travelled to every region and experienced the best (and worst) of what there is to offer.  If you have any questions about tours, locations or just want some friendly advice please reach out to us by chat, email, or phone. There is no penalty for getting in touch, we do NOT charge any consultant fees so you can take the hassle out of your travels for free!

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