Stewart Island Travel Guide
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30 kilometres south from the South Island and over the Foveaux Strait is Stewart Island, a bird-lovers’ paradise with few human residents, and covered in dense rainforest and outstanding hiking trails.
There are only about 400 people living on the island, with most of these in the only town, Oban (in Halfmoon Bay). Stewart Island is 64 kilometres long and 40 kilometres across at its widest, with about 700 kilometres of coastline to explore. It is the southernmost island in New Zealand, and 85 per cent of it is national park.
The island is famous for its extraordinary birdlife, which has flourished in the absence of rodents, cats, and other potential predators. Visitors can spot rare birds like the weka, kaka, albatross, bellbird, and the elusive kiwi. The birdlife is particularly spectacular on Ulva Island, a forested island in the middle of Paterson Inlet. There are also five species of penguin to be seen: snares crested, Fiordland crested, rockhopper, yellow-eyed and southern blue.
The terrain is granite, and most of the coastline, with the exception of Mason Bay, is rugged and rocky. The diving is superb, especially in Paterson Inlet’s marine reserve. Offshore, the marine life on display is surprisingly diverse, due to the warm currents from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
There are 245 kilometres of walking trails to enjoy on the island. The Rakiura Track covers 36 kilometres and takes about three days to complete. A lot of it is boardwalked to protect visitors from losing their shoes in the notoriously deep Stewart Island mud. There are two huts and three campsites along the track.
Those curious about the island’s local history can find out what they want to know at the volunteer-run Rakiura Museum (check website for opening times). This facility on Ayr Street has an impressive collection of photos, artefacts, documents, and crustacea and shell collections stored.
The island has a cool climate, with an average temperature of 10 degrees Celsius in winter and 16.5 in summer.
The nearest major airport is Invercargill, which is serviced by Air New Zealand flights from Wellington and Christchurch. Stewart Island has a small airport of its own, and planes can be caught over from Invercargill on Stewart Island Flights. There is also the option of being ferried by catamaran across the Foveaux Strait.