Stewart Island: Island of Tranquillity

November 19, 2014

A small island lies across Foveaux Straight, 30 kilometres south of Bluff. Though it only appears as a small spot on some maps (if it appears at all), Stewart Island is one part of New Zealand not to be missed.

The original Maori name, Te Punga o Te Waka a Maui, translates to “The Anchor Stone of Maui’s Canoe” referring to the part the island played in the legend of a Maori demigod named Maui, who fished up the North Island from his canoe (the South Island). Stewart Island’s more common Maori name is Rakiura, roughly translated as “glowing skies” – in reference to the sunsets the island is famous for and the aurora Australis (southern lights) that can sometimes be seen.

Captain James Cook and his crew were the first Europeans to see the island; however the island was named after William W. Stewart, who chartered the south-eastern harbour and visited many times between 1820 and 1840.

Stewart Island

From forests and hills, to ports, bays and rugged coastline

64 kilometres long and 40 kilometres across (at its widest point), there is plenty to explore, see and do. There are only 20 kilometres of road on the island around Halfmoon Bay and the main settlement of Oban, making the island a true hiker’s paradise!

Stewart Island’s geography is truly unique – a hilly and wet climate has created lush forests around the island. The Freshwater River and its swampy valley dominates the north part of the island while a ridge runs along the south of the island where water drains into a number of rivers. Amongst 700km of coastline, you’ll find unique land forms at Tin Range, Port Pegasus, and Mason Bay. Mason Bay is home of one of New Zealand’s largest areas of undisturbed sand dunes, set on a 19 km crescent of sandy beach.

A number of smaller islands surround Stewart Island, including Ruapuke Island, Ulva Island, Big South Cape Island and Codfish Island, as well as the Titi/Muttonbird Island group.

Sunbeams on Stewart Island

Exciting experiences on Stewart Island

As of the 2013 census, the population of Stewart Island sits at just 387. The majority of these friendly, welcoming people live and work in the main settlement of Oban, home to a number of restaurants, visitor centres, accommodation options, two churches and even a theatre. While Stewart Island has a large tourism industry, there is also a big focus on commercial fishery and conservation of the island’s flora and fauna.

For those who love bird-watching, hiking and forest exploration, you’ll love the number of tracks and trails around the island, ranging from day trips to 125km treks that can take 7-12 days. Many native New Zealand birds can be found, including weka, kaka, kiwis, silvereyes and fantails. Options to take a guided walking or photographic tour through the beautiful forests of Stewart Island exist, a unique experience due to absence of beech trees that so frequently populate the forests of the North and South Islands.

Another great opportunity to be taken is a flight around the island, an aerial adventure that showcases the beauty of the island from a bird’s-eye view.

Many charter and cruise tours are offered that explore the coastline and nearby islands. Coastal explorers will delight in kayaking, diving, boating and fishing. Along with the abundance of sea life, you’ll see yellow-eyed penguins, blue penguins, albatross and muttonbirds. Ulva Island is a popular destination, heralded as possibly the most pristine native area to be found in New Zealand. Because Stewart Island lies under an anomaly in the magnetic latitude contours of the earth, the spectacular light display of the aurora Australis is often witnessed by those who visit. The island also experiences dramatic and breath-taking sunrises and sunsets – don’t forget your camera if you’re planning on viewing these!

Sunset on Stewart Island

Experience Stewart Island with Kiwi Travel NZ

Are you excited about visiting Stewart Island? We are! That’s why we’ve created this short break excursion that will enable you to experience and enjoy the best of what Stewart Island has to offer. Don’t forget to also check out these fantastic activities that Kiwi Travel NZ can help you book.

Have you visited the paradise of Stewart Island? We’d love to hear about your trip in a comment below.

Photo credits:
Tamihau Island from Boulder Beach by Tomas Sobek, CC-BY-2.0
Sunbeams by Tomas Sobek, CC-BY-2.0
Sunset at Chimon Island by US Fish and Wildlife, CC-BY-2.0

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