With just 400 permanent residents Stewart Island may be considered a small place by some. Until you get there. What it lacks in people it more than makes up for with incredible scenery, a rich sea and bird life, flaming sunsets and dense native forest cover. There are also some excellent accommodations and eateries and a hearty social life centred around the main community of Oban in Halfmoon Bay.
Stewart Island (its common Maori name is Rakiura) has had a speckled history as, first, a rich food basket for early Maori, then an equally bountiful stop for European whalers, sealers and miners in the early 1800s. Since then it has been settled by missionaries, farmers, fishermen and more lately tourism operators. Thankfully the island has never been cleared of its thick forest cover, nor stripped of its native birds. In recognition of this much of the island is now included in the Rakiura National Park, providing an unparalleled opportunity to explore this island environment and its biodiversity.
It’s a three hour drive from Dunedin to Bluff, at the southern tip of the South Island. Leave Dunedin Airport Car Rental here and catch the ferry across Foveaux Strait to Stewart Island. It’s a one hour trip on a fast catamaran. Foveaux Strait can be a wild stretch of water so have some seasick pills if you think you’ll need them. Make sure you have accommodation booked in the summer time as the island options can quickly fill during holiday times.
Most of the accommodation is in or around Oban. From there you can walk, hike, dive, fish, bird-watch, cycle and explore the large number of outdoor destinations and activities. Highlights include a trip to Ulva Island in Paterson Inlet, a predator-free nature reserve filled with pristine forest and native birds including kiwi, saddlebacks and Stewart Island robins. Unlike nocturnal mainland kiwis the Stewart Island kiwis are active day and night and can occasionally be seen on remote beaches in the national park. There are countless other birds on the main island including kakariki, riflemen, kakapo, kaka, weka and warblers. Seabirds include penguins, albatrosses, godwits, oystercatchers and petrels.
There are many kilometres of hiking tracks, vast areas of sea to fish, rocky bays to dive and miles of coastline to kayak. Stewart Island is an exceptional outdoor destination.