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National Parks

Rakiura Stewart Island National Park, what to do — guide

  • 5 minutes

South Island, New Zealand

In this Article

Looking for an overseas holiday with a gentle relaxed feel?

Stewart Island is the perfect place. The stars are the wildlife and a glimpse of Aoteroa New Zealand before human habitation. A place where the flora and fauna speak to visitors about a holiday where the fun and entertainment generate from the sheer exhiliteration of interacting with nature.

New Zealand’s third largest island is not easy to access. Often the weather is cool in summer with strong winds more reminiscent of autumn. The Foveaux Strait, the body of water between Stewart Island and the South Island has a reputation for southern ocean swells making the boat trip uncomfortable. At latitude 47 degrees south Stewart Island is situated right in the “Roaring Forties” – strong westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere between the latitudes of 40 and 50 degrees.

Yellow-crowned Parakeet - kakarik Stewart Island
Yellow-crowned Parakeet - kakarik Stewart Island

The ferry trip from Bluff is an hour with the journey seemingly to take much longer if you experience rough seas. Yet the charm of Stewart Island can mean the ferry is booked out, especially during summer. There are flights from Invercargville throughout the year on a daily basis. Flight time is between 15-20 minutes.

Stewart Island is beguiling, a gentle place where New Zealand’s natural evolution story is on full display. The island has just 25 km of road with other 250 km of walking tracks and only 400 permanent residents. With over 85% of the island as a national park there is only one town, Halfmoon Bay or Oban.

Visitors point of access to Stewart Island is Halfmoon Bay as well as the only place offering accommodation. The key factor for visitor decision making is the number of days to stay on the island.

Visitors have a choice between:

  • Day trip which is several hours exploring the island walks. There would not be enough time to participate in a pelagic tour observing sea birds and wildlife
  • Overnight gives the visitor enough time to indulge in both a pelagic tour as well as a half day island tour. As tours are weather permitting as well as the iconic kiwi night tour would be problematic with the amount of time required to fit all three tours into a day and half.
  • Two or more nights on the island gives the visitor the opportunity to thoroughly explore Stewart Island. You have made the effort to reach Stewart Island, undertaken an ‘international’ journey either by air or sea.  Let’s maximise the time on the island to provide sufficient time to visit Ulva Island Bird Sanctuary one of New Zealand’s highlights for native protection and sanctuary.


@Rakiura Museum/Te Puka O Te Waka
@Rakiura Museum/Te Puka O Te Waka

Rakiura Museum

Managed by volunteers the museum is home to an extensive portfolio of memorabilia, photographs and narratives of the island’s early history.

Local arts

‘A locals tail’ is a short film about the island’s history.  Rakiura Jade is an opportunity to join a half day workshop carving your own jade creation. Forward bookings essential for the half day workshop.

Small Creek in the Dunes of Mason Bay on Stewart Island of New Zealand
Small Creek in the Dunes of Mason Bay on Stewart Island

Walks and tramping

While it is possible to take self-guided walks the value of a guided tour on Stewart Island is the depth of knowledge imparted by passionate locals.


Popular tours are kiwi night spotting trips to either Ocean Bay and Mason’s Bay where the nocturnal kiwis often scuff about on beaches hunting for sand hoppers in seaweed. These are usually land transport to specific well-known kiwi haunts. Half day tours of Ulva Islands and local short guided walks are also popular.


From DOC online resource Oban day walks: Oban area, Southland region.


For experienced trampers only the Rakiura Track is a great tramping experience providing a good insight into the island’s history, flora and fauna. The Department of Conservation office issues Great Walks passes for this track.

The North-West Circuit is a far more ambitious route linking ten backcountry huts. Mud holes and very changeable weather, switching from bright sunshine to teaming rain within 30 minutes, makes this a challenge for the most experienced tramping group. As DOC describes, “Stewart Island’s weather is very changeable and difficult to predict. Strong winds, hail and heavy rain can occur at any time of the year. You should come equipped for the very worst weather conditions. Remember, exposure and hypothermia can affect anyone and can kill.”

Native Island from Stewart, Wohlers lookout, New Zealand
Native Island from Stewart, Wohlers lookout


Blue cod and crayfish charters are popular with avid fishing enthusiasts. Forward bookings are essential. These tours are between October to March.

Close up of a kiwi bird a flightless bird endemic to New Zealand.
А kiwi bird


A predator free sanctuary is the calling card for bird watchers around the world who have Ulva on their bucket list. The birds have not developed the flight refex from quiet human interaction making it possible to view bird life foraging in the forest litter in a way not possible on the mainland. Wildlife along the coast is spectacular with seal colonies, ocean going birds using the southern ocean currents as their feeding grounds. Personalised tours have to be arranged in advance.



Stewart Island ferry services, timetable, transport between Bluff and Oban check for timetable details. Forward bookings are essential in the peak summer season.


A strict 10kg luggage allowance with daily flights from Invercargill airport. Stewart Island Flights for details.

Water taxis

Water taxis operate in Paterson Inlet taking visitors to Ulva Island and to Freshwater Hutt tramping tracks and Mason’s Bay.

The Department of Conservation visitor centre on Stewart Island, New Zealand
The Department of Conservation visitor centre on Stewart Island


  • Halfmoon bay settlement, Oban has a range of accommodation, a few eateries and general store (Four Square) and no banks. Cash is necessary as outlets do not necessarily have electronic point of sale facilities (Efpos).
  • Nature Unlike the two main islands there is no beech forest, just hardwoods, tree ferns and unusual varieties of orchid. Undergrowth is surprisingly dense and the bush is impenetrable in many places.
  • An excellent resource Kia Ora, welcome to Stewart Island what to see, how to book as well as an explanation of accommodation options a must view online resource for your Stewart Island holiday
  • Ulva Island tours, a very special tour operator, whose local roots to Stewart Island reach back hundreds of years, Ulva’s Guided Walks, bird watching and botanical experiences at Ulva Island and Stewart Island, New Zealand. Highly recommended.

As described by Stewart Island visitor information.

The journey is worth it.

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