Discover the Hidden Gem: What to Do on Stewart Island

Estimated read time 7 min read

Nestled in the southern-most reaches of New Zealand lies a treasure trove for those who seek nature in its purest and most untouched forms. Stewart Island—Rakiura in Māori, meaning ‘land of the glowing skies’—is a haven for wildlife, an escape for the soul, and a canvas for adventure. With just a sprinkle of inhabitants and an expanse of rugged beauty, the island offers a peaceful, unspoiled retreat. As you plan your journey, learn all about the luminous land of Stewart Island and the multitude of experiences it invites you to discover.

Getting There: Your Journey Begins

Before you can immerse yourself in what Stewart Island has to offer, you must first venture to this island sanctuary. The convenience of air travel has made the once-remote destination of Stewart Island far more accessible than its seafaring days of the past. There are two primary ways to reach the island: by air or by sea.

By Air: A Bird’s-Eye View

Boarding a small aircraft provides a spectacular view of New Zealand’s undisturbed landscapes, soaring above the blue expanse that separates the mainland from the island. The arrival at the modest Ryan’s Creek Airport delivers you into the heart of the island, granting immediate access to a wealth of natural attractions and tranquil beaches.

By Sea: A Voyage to Remember

Those seeking a more leisurely-paced approach can opt for a boat journey, departing from Bluff Harbor. The roughly one-hour crossing offers opportunities for marine wildlife encounters, with dolphins and seals often playing in the ship’s wake. The slow crescendo of the Foveaux Strait waves upon the hull becomes a serene overture to the tranquility you’ll soon encounter.

Settling In: Where to Stay

Accommodations on Stewart Island are in harmony with its natural surroundings, with an array of lodging options that cater to every type of traveler. From upscale lodges and cozy bed-and-breakfasts to the more adventurous campsites and Department of Conservation (DOC) huts, there’s a place to rest for all those exploring this Eden.

Upscale Retreats: Surreal Serenity

For those who prefer comfort with a touch of luxury, the island offers exclusive lodges that meld premium hospitality with the serenity of the remote location. These retreats provide an ideal backdrop for post-hike relaxation, and often offer guided tours that connect guests with the local environment.

Bed and Breakfast: Warm Hospitality

Equally inviting are the charming bed-and-breakfasts, often run by local residents eager to share stories of island life with their guests. These cozy options provide a sense of community and a personal connection during your stay, all while offering necessary amenities to make your visit both comfortable and memorable.

Camping and DOC Huts: Adventurous Abodes

Spearheaded for a more rugged expedition? Camping beneath the Southern Cross or staying in one of Stewart Island’s DOC huts affords a deep immersion into the island’s wilderness. These basic but practical shelters stand against the backdrop of the island’s untamed beauty, offering solitude in the heart of nature.

The Rakiura Experience: Must-Do Activities

From quiet strolls along the shoreline to challenging treks through its temperate rainforests, Stewart Island presents an array of activities that capture the essence of untouched beauty and adventure.

Rakiura Track: The Ultimate Trek

Embark on the Rakiura Track, a 32-kilometer Great Walk that winds through some of the most diverse landscapes the island has to offer. This is a three-day journey, traversing the coastline expanses, beautiful forests, and sandy beaches. Keep a lookout for unique birdlife, as the island is a sanctuary for flightless species and an array of seabirds and waders.

Ulva Island: A Birdwatcher’s Paradise

For those with an affinity for avian marvel, a visit to Ulva Island—the open sanctuary— is an absolute must. A short water-taxi ride from Stewart Island, Ulva Island bursts with the melodies and hues of rare bird species. The dawn chorus here is nothing short of a natural symphony, one that might feature the call of the rare South Island kākā or the melodious warbling of the South Island saddleback.

Encounter the Sea: Diving and Fishing

Stewart Island, Southland, New Zealand

The cool, clear waters surrounding Stewart Island beckon for diving and fishing. The abundant marine life includes a diverse range of fish species and an opportunity to hunt for the island’s renowned blue cod, a delight for the dinner table. For a truly immersive experience, underwater adventures around the nearby reefs and coves bring you face-to-face with the island’s coastal ecology.

Wild Encounters: From Land and Sea

Stewart Island’s uncrowded landscapes provide the ideal opportunity for close encounters with its resident wildlife; a given expectation and yet a staggering experience to encounter these creatures in their natural environment. Be prepared to encounter the rare and endemic, from the playful New Zealand sea lions to the enigmatic kiwi, and maybe even the mysterious southern right whale, known to rest in the island’s bays.

Island Indulgences: The Riches of Stewart’s Culture

While Stewart Island is small in size, its culture and history are vast, enriched not only by its Māori and colonial past but also by its contemporary community.

Stewart Island Museum: A Glimpse Into the Past

Celebrate the island’s heritage at the Stewart Island Museum, where you can delve into the island’s Māori history and learn about its European settlers. The museum is a treasure trove of artifacts, photographs, and tales that deliver insight into the island’s past and the lives of its inhabitants.

Arts and Crafts: Take Home a Piece of Rakiura

The island’s creative energy pulses vibrantly through its arts scene. Local galleries and craft shops showcase the talent of Stewart Island’s artists, whose works often reflect the island’s natural beauty and the wild, windswept landscapes that inspire their creations. Whether it’s a piece of jewelry, a painting, or a carved taonga (treasure), purchasing local art serves as a special memento of your island visit.

Sustainable Stewart: Responsible Travel

As you meander through Stewart Island’s untouched wilderness, it’s crucial to recognize the importance of preserving this natural gem. The locals have long understood the profound impact that humans can have on such an ecosystem, and their commitment to sustainability is unwavering.

Conservation Efforts: Protecting the Pristine

The Department of Conservation, alongside local communities, works tirelessly to ensure the island’s unique flora and fauna are protected. Visitors play a vital role by adhering to eco-friendly guidelines and learning about the conservation efforts taking place. This island exemplifies the delicate balance between conservation and tourism, and as a visitor, one must strive to leave only footprints and take only memories.

Eco-Friendly Practices: A Shared Responsibility

When staying on Stewart Island, opt for accommodations that embrace eco-friendly practices. Support local efforts to minimize waste, use sustainable energy sources, and reduce one’s carbon footprint during travels. It’s a collective responsibility that visitors are encouraged to adopt to safeguard the island’s future for generations to come.

In conclusion, the allure of Stewart Island is in its simplicity and serenity. It is a place that invites you to slow down, breathe deep, and discover the untouched heart of New Zealand. Whether you find yourself on a wind-swept beach, amidst the rustling leaves of an ancient forest, or gazing up at a star-filled night sky, the island speaks to the soul. It’s a journey unlike any other, an escape from the mundane, and an opportunity to connect with a world that seems so far from the modern hustle yet is just a whisper across the strait.

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