Most of the island is covered in native forest and virtually the entire small population is concentrated in the township of Oban (also known as Halfmoon Bay) on the east coast. Commercial fishing is the main occupation for residents. The main attractions for visitors are hiking, birdwatching and deer hunting.
To get to Stewart Island requires crossing the Foveaux Strait, about 22 nautical miles or approximately 39 km from Bluff to Oban / Half Moon Bay.
There is a scheduled ferry service from Bluff, near Invercargill, with multiple departures during the day (dependent on time of year). The crossing takes one hour and is operated by Stewart Island Experience .
There is also a daily 20 minute plane flight from Invercargill Airport operated by Southern Air.
Occasionally there are other boats making the crossing however these are generally charter vessels.
Stewart Island, the southern-most island of New Zealand, shows as a dot on the map (if it appears at all). Don't be fooled. Stewart Island is large, 64 km long, and 40 km across (at its widest point). It has a 700 km coastline, but there are only 20 km of roads!
In Oban there are a few attractions (the museum, Department of Conservation Visitor Centre) and short walks.
Ulva Island bird sanctuary
There is lots to do on Stewart Island. The local Museum and Dept of Conservation both have excellent displays and are open most days. Walking is a popular activity and walks range from a few minutes and easy (Fuschia Walk) to several days and challenging (Northwest Circuit). There are fishing trips available with a number of operators, Kiwi Spotting .
A visit to Ulva Island Open Sanctuary. Partially private land and partially National Park, Ulva Island is possibly the closest to pristine of any area of New Zealand open to the public. Watertaxis regularly make the short trip from Golden Bay, or visitors may choose to take a guide.
Penguins may be seen within the village in the evenings, as are long-tailed bats and occasionally even Kiwi. Sooty shearwater nest on Ackers Point, and can be seen in late evening over the summer.
Walking / Hiking
You won't walk round the Island in a day. Even ten days tramping only skirts the northern third. Few people can claim to have seen anywhere near the whole of Stewart Island. However, there is much to see, even close to the only settlement of Oban. For a daytrip or stay longer, as there is a good range of accommodation. Some visitors from twenty years ago are still living here.
Terrain is rugged. Stewart Island is made of granite, some of the oldest rock in New Zealand. A wide range of minerals are present, though not in commercial quantities. Tin was mined at Port Pegasus for a few years in the 1890s. There's black iron sand on some beaches, others are white with quartz or red with garnet. Most beaches are gold, sparkling in the sun. Don't bother bringing a gold pan though: it's all "fool's gold"!
Paterson Inlet cuts the Island almost in half. This large expanse of water is popular for boat trips and recreational fishing and diving.
Climate is mild, and a trifle damp. Without rain, there wouldn't be a rainforest. The eastern lowlands are forest right to the water's edge. A canopy of kamahi is pierced by majestic rimu and miro. Lianes and lush fern growth adorn the bush interior.
The forest is a haven for bird-life, as there are fewer predators than on the mainland. Kaka, parakeets, tui, and bellbird give a wonderful dawn chorus in spring. New Zealand's national bird, the kiwi, is found all around the Island.
Seabirds abound offshore. Albatross, petrels, cormorants, gulls and blue penguins are common. Rarer species like yellow-eye penguins are also seen often.
Mason Bay, on the Island's West Coast is much different. It's a 12 mile crescent of sandy beach, with huge sand-hills and tussock and scrub in place of forest. This is the place to watch the white-horses charge ashore in a screaming westerly gale.
Popular trails are the 36 km Rakiura Track which takes 3 days and the 125 km North-West Circuit which takes 7-12 days.
Ulva Island (in relative isolation but with easy access from Stewart Island) is a sanctuary for both birds and plants, holding species that are rare or have died out on the mainland of New Zealand. In 1997, the island was declared rat-free, following an eradication program, and extirpated birds have been reintroduced to the island. The birds include the South Island saddleback (tieke), yellowhead (mohua) and Stewart Island robin (toutouwai). In addition to birds the general forest health has improved significantly. Many orchidscan now be seen that are difficult to find on mainland Stewart Island
Mason Bay, on the west coast, is possibly the best place in New Zealand (and therefore the world) to see the remarkable flightless kiwi in the wild.
Stewart Island isn't a shopper's paradise as much as it is a nature lover's paradise but visit the Fernery and a few other shops selling typical souvenirs: t-shirts, key chains, postcards, etc.
There is a variety of accommodation options on Stewart Island - ranging from backpackers, motels, bed and breakfasts, self catering/contained houses and lodges.