Beautiful, remote and truly untouched - Stewart Island - New Zealand's smallest island is a paradise of rugged peaks, rainforest, windswept beaches and rare wildlife. Home to just 400 humans and over 13,000 kiwi, this remote isle may only have one town, but its potential for off-grid adventures is literally endless. It only takes one visit to fall in love with this beautiful, faraway corner of New Zealand.
A haven for wildlife, Stewart Island is also home to many native birds including the rare yellow-eyed penguin, weka, and tui. Seals and sea lions loll on the rocks, while whales and dolphins often come close into the bay. Albatross can also be seen on their migration south. Hand in hand with some of the kindest and friendliest locals - you’ll want to up and move here immediately!
Anyway, if you’re still on the fence (um, why?) about paying NZ’s little island a visit here’s seven things you didn't know about Stewart Island to help tip the scales.
1. Everywhere is a national park
Known as Raikura in Maori, which translates to ‘the land of the glowing skies’ nearly 90 percent of the island is National Park. Over 280 kilometres of walking tracks criss-cross its breadth, offering both short and multi day hikes, while 700 km of coastline lies ready to explore. With regular ferries over from Bluff it’s easy to get here too.
2. Dig into the best fish and chips around
If you’re gonna dig into a classic kiwi dish of fish and chips, Stewart Island is the place where it’s fresh and abundant. Grab some dinner and sit out on the beach and watch the sunset.
3. It's one of the best places to see the famous Southern Lights (Aurora Australis)
As one of the most southerly corners of New Zealand, on Stewart Island you have a good chance of seeing The Southern Lights. A remarkable sight for anyone lucky enough to experience it. Instead of the classic greens that you might be familiar with of the northern hemisphere, here they are often brightly colored. As Stewart Island has a low permanent resident population and is primarily a national park, light pollution is not an issue.
The best time to see this phenomenon is from March through to September.
4. The Ulva Island Bird Sanctuary has some of the best wildlife around
Ulva Island is a real treasure on Stewart Island, tucked away in Paterson Inlet. Filled with untouched natural wilderness and a great place to see some of New Zealand’s iconic bird species, a trip to this part of Stewart Island would be incomplete without checking out the best nature reserve around. A completely a predator-free environment you can often see South Island saddleback, mohua, rifleman, Stewart Island robin and you might even meet a weka on the beach. It's also one of the best places to see a kiwi in the wild!
Our Ulva Island Explorer cruise showcases the stunning scenery including the hidden coves and unspoilt beaches of Paterson Inlet with daily departures throughout the year (excluding Christmas Day).
5. There are other amazing walks beside the Rakiura Track
If you’re a keen hiker with a lot of experience, consider doing the Northwest circuit instead of the popular Rakiura Great Walk. More challenging and much longer, it’s wilder and more remote, and exceptionally beautiful.
6. Sometimes you can see a kiwi during the day
It’s no secret that Stewart Island is one of the best places to see kiwi in the wild in New Zealand. The Stewart Island Brown Kiwi or the Southern Tokoeka is numerous here, and without the presence of stoats their population is greater than many of their counterparts. Noisy, you can often hear them calling at night and they are active during the day too.
Jump on our Wild Kiwi Encounter tour departing daily from Oban, where we take small groups across Paterson Inlet to Little Glory Cove where you will search for a kiwi by torchlight.
7. A visit in the off-season can be just as good
You might find that the best time to visit Stewart Island is during the off season from May through October, when the summer crowds have died down but the weather is often calmer and quieter. While there is a chill in the air, it never really snows here. It’s the perfect time of year to go for walks in the sunshine without anyone else around and then curl up by the fire in the evenings.
If you feel the urge to get off the beaten track and discover New Zealand’s third island, then click here for more information on the range of activities we offer.
About the author: Liz
Liz Carlson is the creator behind Young Adventuress, one of the biggest travel blogs in the world. An American based in the mountains of Wanaka and always on adventures around New Zealand, she is passionate about Instagram, strong coffee, and saving the kākāpō.