What if I told you that NZs best kept secret wasn’t even a secret? In fact, it stares most people right in the face when they look at a map of NZ but unfortunately gets dismissed as too far away, too difficult to get to or simply just because of a lack of information. Well this article is here to tell you about all the awesome things to do on Stewart Island including practical info like how to get there and what things cost.
For those of you not in the know, Stewart Island is New Zealand’s third largest island and has a population of around 400. It lies off the south coast of the South Island and is home to a huge amount off native birds, a national park and one of New Zealand’s great walks. It also boasts idyllic white sand beaches (if you chance some good weather), fishing and boating adventures and a cute little village called Oban.
How to Get to Stewart Island
Ferry to stewart island
The ferry is the most common method of getting to Stewart Island and runs several times a day. The Foveaux Strait is famed for its rough seas and the journey isn’t a lot of fun for anyone who suffers from sea sickness. But it only lasts a hour and is well worth it!
Tickets are $85 NZD one way or $142 return. The latest timetable and prices can be found here. Be aware that sailings are often changed or cancelled in bad weather so make sure you call and check on the day of your trip.
If you book tickets for two people at once through the Real Journeys website you receive a 20% discount. There are also some deals available at certain times of year and in the Entertainment Book if you live on the South Island.
Flying is a quicker and more scenic option if you get a clear day. The flight from Invercargill only takes about 20 minutes and is definitely the easiest way to get to Stewart Island if you don’t mind small planes. Flight cost $130 NZD one way and $220 return. Because of the size of the plane flights are also cancelled often and passengers are booked onto a ferry. You can book flights here.
Where to Stay on Stewart Island
For a small community there are a huge number of accommodation options on Stewart Island from AirBnb’s to hostel and campgrounds. Unfortunately rates are quite high due to the isolation but most if the options are of a high standard. If you are only staying a day or two it’s best to base yourself in the main township, Oban. Here are some options:
Campground and dorms: Stewart Island Backpackers
Budget Double: South Sea Hotel
Mid-range Double: Kaka Retreat Motel
We stayed at Grand View Backpackers which is only available by calling (+64 (0)3 219 1328). It’s more like staying at someone’s house but there was no one else there while we stayed and the room was large, bright and has spectacular views over Halfmoon Bay.
If you are planning to walk the Rakiura Track (which you should) there are DoC (Department of Conservation) huts and campgrounds which need to be booked in advance. This can be done on the DoC website.
Weather on Stewart Island
If there are two words I would use to describe Stewart Island weather it’s wet and changeable. Even during the summer months there can be heavy rainfall and lots of wind. The weather effects a lot on the island given that the water can get rough and the trails very muddy which are the two main activities. In winter it gets cold but the weather can be more stable. Check a forecast before you go but don’t rely on it too much!
Things to Do on Stewart Island
Explore Oban Town
Oban is the only town on the island and offers a way of life very different to most of New Zealand. The small community has plenty going on and the town is a nice place to wander on a sunny day. There are a few nice gift shops, an excellent merino wool clothing shop (Glowing Skies) and a great café/bar with views of the bay. There’s the museum about Stewart Island history or the excellent displays at the Department of Conservation Centre if you want to find out more about the island.
Get Involved in the Pub Quiz
If you’re in town on a Sunday, you’re in for a treat. The local pub is filled to the brim with locals and visitors all in anticipation of the weekly pub quiz. Find a team of other travellers or simply turn up and ask around. It’s lots of fun and a great chance to mingle with some locals. The pub offers a good range of beer and food but it can get very busy so get in early to secure a table.
Hike the Rakiura Track
The highlight of Stewart Island is undoubtedly the Rakiura Track which is one of NZ’s Great Walks. The walk, usually done in 3 days/2 nights, is a spectacular example of New Zealand nature and filled with beach views, native birds and lush forest. The track is relatively easy going and there is a choice of huts or campgrounds along the way. If you’re short on time or feeling fit it’s possible to complete the 35 km track in as little as one day or small parts of it as a return day hike. Maori Beach is an incredible beach for camping or as a turnaround point for day hikes.
Go Bird Spotting
Stewart Island is a bird watcher’s heaven and is home to thousands of native birds living happily in the dense bush or haven of neighbouring predator-free Ulva Island. A walk through the bush or even just around the town will allow you to spot everything from kaka and kereru to parkeets and robins. Stewart Island is also one of the best places in the country to spot a kiwi in the wild. Frequently seen along the Rakiura Track or even just on the Oban rugby field by night these cheeky little birds outnumber people 40:1 on the island.
Relax on the Beach
Stewart Island is home to some of the countries most beautiful beaches and if you chance upon a good day the white sand and sparkling clear waters are the best spot to pass a day. Especially considering you’re likely to have the beach to yourself, unless you count a few birds and maybe some dolphins!
Watch a Movie
The Stewart Island movie theatre is a quirky little attraction in the heart of the town. The theatre is open everyday in peak season showing a comical amateur film about life on the little island. Tickets are $10 NZD and the film lasts around 40 mins. It’s a fun way to learn a bit more about local life and makes a great rainy day activity if you get caught with a downpour.
Eat Fish and Chips
We’re still dreaming about the fish and chips on Stewart Island! Served from a caravan in a little park this is the freshest and tastiest fish we had on our travels. Blue cod is the specialty but they also have fresh squid and whatever else was caught on the day. The caravan opens for lunch and dinner, get in early in peak season as there can be a long wait but trust us, it’s worth it!
Go to Ulva Island
A day trip to Ulva Island is a common side trip to you Stewart Island experience. You can take the ferry ($20 per person return) or hire a water taxi to drop you off and pick you up at set times ($25 per person return). The island is a predator-free zone and there are several walkways which take you through the bush in search of bird life. There are also guided tours of the island by day and kiwi spotting tours at night.