New Zealand

Reasons to visit Stewart Island

Tara Sutherland

Tara Sutherland  |  30 August 2020

Stewart Island, the 3rd largest island of New Zealand is one of those off the beaten track places…many of us have probably thought it would be nice to go there one day, but it seems to get forgotten about. I grew up in small town rural New Zealand, where life was at a slower gentler pace, and everyone always had time for a cup of tea and a chat, and I imagine this is what life at the bottom of New Zealand is still like. I think it is time to seek out some of these places, so why not Stewart Island?

How to get there?

Stewart Island Flights

Stewart Island Flights

There are two options, by air or by ferry. The ferry departs from Bluff, and the crossing over the Foveaux Strait (the ocean between the South Island and Steward Island), taking around 1 hour, but it can get a little rough on the water, so be prepared for this. Or, take a flight to Invercargill in far South, then connect with a Stewart Island flight, in a fixed wing aircraft from Invercargill to Oban, flying time approx. 20 minutes.  We recommend flying, to get you there more comfortably, with more time to enjoy your stay.

What is there to do & why should I visit?

More kiwis than people

Stewart island kiwi

Kiwi on Stewart island

Not many of us have had the privilege to see a kiwi (bird) in the wild, well, this is your chance! There are around 20,000 Southern brown kiwi or Rakiura Tokoeka, living on Stewart Island, and while kiwi are generally a nocturnal bird, those on Stewart Island are active both day and night. Take a dedicated kiwi spotting tour and your chances will greatly increase as your local guide will know all their hang outs! So 20,000 kiwi birds to about 400 people on Stewart Island…lets see if you can find more kiwi than people!


Saddleback bird Stewart Is

Saddleback bird

Stewart Island Robin female Ulva Island

Stewart Island Robin

Kiwis are not the only fascinating bird that you can encounter here, Stewart Island offers some of the best land and sea birding in New Zealand. Other beauties include bellbird, tui, kaka, tomtit, grey warbler, kakariki and the New Zealand wood pigeon.  Seabirds including Albatross, mollymawk, prion, petrel, cormorants and blue penguin are regularly seen. Some birds are unique to the region; the weka, robin and fernbird.

Hiking, walking, or simply relaxing and enjoying the forests

Stewart Island Aerial Halfmoon

Stewart Island Aerial Halfmoon

As over 85% of the island is National Park, Stewart Island has walks for all levels, there a multi-day hikes for those who want to really get out in nature, or gentler half day and day walks, or simply take a 15-30-minute stroll to enjoy the nature environment. A popular walk is Observation Rock, which take you to a great lookout point over Paterson Inlet, which is a great place to watch the sunset.

Ulva island

UlvaIsland StewartIsland MilesHolden 1

Ulva Island

This is a pristine island, in the Paterson Inlet area of Stewart Island, accessed by boat only, and predator free it is a fantastic place to explore on foot, to enjoy the birds, forest, beaches and stunning vistas. A guided walk will also include the boat transfers to get you there.

Friendly locals

Bush walk UlvaIsland StewartIsland MilesHolden

Bush walk on the Ulva Island

There is only one town on Stewart Island, Oban or sometimes called Halfmoon Bay…where you will find the 400 odd locals. Oban will be your base, as this is where the accommodation and few shops and restaurants are. 

Remote beaches

Stewart Island Bathing Beach

Bathing Beach

There are some lovely remote beaches to be found, and you may only have to share them with the local birds! A short walk from Oban, you can find “Bathing Beach”, a secluded sandy beach where you can listen to birdsong and swim in the pristine water.

Movie theatre 

Bunkhouse theatre with pparzi

Bunkhouse theatre

A movie theatre? Yes, a random one for the list…but this one is world famous…in Stewart Island that is! The Bunkhouse Theatre is a comfy 53 seat cinema, here you can watch “A Local's Tail” a quirky film about local life.

Seafood & fishing 

One of the main industries is fishing, and Salmon, green lipped mussels and oysters are farmed in Paterson Inlet, so be sure to sample some of the local seafood, in particular the Blue Cod! Or perhaps do a spot of fishing yourself.

Night sky - Southern lights

Stewart Island is also known as Rakuira (meaning, the glowing sky), takes its name, as the skies do often glow! There is very little light pollution, so the island has been declared an International Dark Sky Sanctuary. Make sure you spend some time outside at night, or perhaps walk up to Observation Rock and see if you get lucky enough to see the Southern Lights, or Aurora Australis. (Winter months would increase your chances!)

Greenstone carving

Rakiura Jade Pounamu craving

Rakiura Jade Pounamu craving

A special experience to have, created a treasured memento from your visit and join a workshop where you get to carve your own pounamu or greenstone jewellery!


So, there are truly plenty of reasons to visit Stewart Island. Before you go, a couple of tips from us:

There are limited restaurant options, so make sure you book in advance to avoid disappointment.

There are no banks on the island, but there is one ATM located in the supermarket, some businesses only accept cash, so please come prepared. And mobile phone coverage is limited…so take the time for a digital detox!


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