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Stewart Island

  • Invercargill, South Island, New Zealand

Last updated: 23 April, 2024

Wild, untouched and steeped in mystery, New Zealand’s third biggest (and southernmost) island is a paradise for the hiker, kayaker, hunter, angler and ornithologist. Just 40km wide, this is a real wilderness.

The terrain is rugged, with patches of thick forest and wild heath, but achingly beautiful. It’s a place of great tranquillity. It’s one of the best places to see the enigmatic kiwi, and nearby Ulva Island is a world-renowned bird sanctuary.

There’s excellent walking here for all fitness levels and abilities, varying from 10 minutes to 3 hours. The island is laced with steep trails so is not suitable for younger children. Older kids will love the adventure possibilities, from mountain biking to kayaking.

See the ‘Southern Lights’

The island is also famous for beautiful sunsets, and spectacular night-time displays of the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) – a similarly awesome phenomenon to its more famous northern cousin. Its Maori name Rakiura translates as ‘glowing skies’.


Price: Free
Minimum age: 0
Age suitable: 4+
When: All year around

Getting there & doing it

A regular high-speed ferry connects Stewart Island to Bluff (the journey takes about an hour).

Things move at a relaxed pace so you can organise most activities once you arrive. Hiking trails leave from Oban, the main town/settlement on the island. You can go guided or self-guided. There are also several great kayaking options with local guides like ‘Bill’ – see the website for details.

If you’re coming for wildlife, local outfit Ulva Tours operate a range of terrific full or half-day, small-group guided bird-watching tours to Ulva Island. This forested sanctuary is predator-free, allowing rare and endangered birds, killed off elsewhere by invasive species, to survive and even thrive.

If you do want to stay over, do pre-book accommodation beforehand since the island has limited beds in Oban, the capital, also known as Halfmoon Bay. Stewart Island Lodge in Halfmoon Bay calls itself an upmarket B&B and is the closest to five-star luxury that you’ll find on the island.

Supplies are limited on the island. It’s advisable to bring some snacks for the duration of your stay.

When to do it

Stewart Island is an outdoor destination – avoid cold and wet weather. The summer months (December to February) are the best time to visit, but the Spring and Autumn can also be pleasant.