It was only a few years ago that backpackers would never have considered visiting Stewart Island. Now, Stewart Island (Rakiura in Maori) is fast becoming a must-see destination in New Zealand. Located at the very end of New Zealand's South Island, and often called New Zealand's third island, you really do have a bit of a travel to get there. But if you love nature you'll find plenty of things to do on Stewart Island! And the journey getting here may be long but it's New Zealand, so there's plenty to see along the way and the end result is well worth the mileage.
85% of this Island is Rakiura National Park which should immediately tell you that there is something pretty spectacular to see. In short, Stewart Island may only be an hour's ferry ride away, but once you are on the Island you will feel like you have landed somewhere in the middle of the ocean and secretly hope you never get found.
For diver's, hiker's, wildlife buffs, and girls with a boyfriend whose idol is Bill Oddie, this place is unavoidable.
Things To Do On Stewart Island
1. Kiwi Spotting
Spotting a kiwi in the wild is one of the rarest activities you can do and pretty much an activity that backpackers miss on their travels in New Zealand, sometimes because people just don't think it will be possible. This is not true with Bravo Adventure Cruises in Stewart Island because you have the best chance possible of observing the famous kiwi in their own comfortable habitat with a night time nature experience.
Unlike other kiwi spotting tours where you need to stay overnight, this tour will have you back in your bed that night so that even those with a short amount of time to spare in Stewart Island have the opportunity to experience the thrill of spending time in the wild with the kiwis.
2. Ulva Island Bird Watching
Ulva Island can be found in Stewart Island's Paterson Inlet and is pretty much the place to go to spot the creme de la creme of New Zealand birds. Even if you consider birdlife to be just another specimen of vermin littering the planet, Ulva Island is the one place that may change your mind. A quick water taxi ride from Golden Bay will get you to Ulva Island, a small island eradicated of dangers to critically endangered birds so that these birds can live in peace and luxury. You might be approached by a Stewart Island Robin, fatter than any robin you will have seen before but much more cheeky.
Birds you can see or hear on Ulva Island include: Parakeets, Kaka, Stewart Island Saddlebacks, Blue Penguins, Albatross, Stewart Island Weka, Stewart Island Robins and many more...
3. Walking on Ulva Island
If you're going to Ulva Island to go bird spotting then it's likely you'll also be doing a bit of walking. Even if you're unlucky and see very few birds (which is higly unlikely) then walking around Ulva Island is an awesome experience by itself.
It's easy to walk round the whole of Ulva Island in an hour and a half but Boulder Beach and West End Beach on the far side of Ulva Island are so isolated and beautiful, even in the rain, that they are a great place to stop and take it all in. The worst thing that you can do is rush around, you won't get to see the true gems the island has to show.
4. Walking & Hiking on Stewart Island
Walking and hiking tracks around this Island are plentiful. The many 1 - 3 hour walks are filled with unique wildlife and views.
5. Rakiura Track
For the more adventurous there's the 3 day Rakiura Track, one of New Zealand's "Great Walks" covering 36km. For the really mental traveller you can try one of the circuits, North-West or Southern, both will take you more than a week to complete. The North-West circuit is affectionately described as 'challenging' which can also be defined as 'seriously hard-core, you have got to be out of your mind to try'.
6. Mason Bay
If marine and bird life aren't your cup of tea it really doesn't mean that Stewart Island isn't worth the visit. Mason Bay is a 12 mile golden sand beach, perfect if you want to feel like a castaway; like the only person on the planet.
7. Rakiura Museum
Rakiura Museum may be quite small but there's a surprising amount of items and photographs which record the Islands history to be found inside. You'll learn about Stewart Islands early history and Maori settlement. Go and support this volunteer run museum and get yourself a small souvenir to take home with you.
8. Explore Oban
Oban is the only town on Stewart Island. According to the last census (2013) the whole island has a permanent population of just 378 people. You'll find some nice little places to eat here in Oban and they do have a supermarket as well. For accommodation there are a few backpackers, BnB's and hotels to choose from.
9. Hire an electric bike to explore
Stewart Island is littered with both black and gold sand beaches and with 20km of road to help you out you can hire an electric bike and explore the beaches and the island for yourself.
There are 2 kayak companies to choose from on Stewart Island, both offering something slightly different. Phil's sea kayak offers an accommodation option with gourmet food, hot tub and sauna in addition to the kayaking. Ruggedy range Wilderness Kayak offer a full day trip which gives you the opportunity to circumnavigate Ulva Island as well spending time walking there too. Both companies provide half day, full day and evening (sunset) trips around Paterson Inlet.
Scuba Diving is top class here thanks to the warm current from the Great Barrier Reef which journeys round Stewart Island bringing a diverse range of marine life with it. The Paterson Inlet is that good for diving that it was established as a marine reserve in 2004.
If you're into fishing then there are a few half or full day charter options you can pick from. All the gear is provided so bring yourself and just enjoy your time fishing!
13. Bunkhouse Theatre
If you want to learn a bit about the history of Stewart island there is no better way than to hear it here. A 40 minute movie telling tales of the island through the eyes of a dog (who overheard these stories at the pub!). All your questions about Stewart Island will be answered here. "A Local's Tail" is a fun little movie well worth watching for only $10.
14. Rakiura Jade
If you've always wanted a piece of New Zealand Greenstone jewellery why not make your own piece? It'll cost you a bit to attend a full day workshop, but you get to take your very own personally made jewellery home with you. A souvenir which you can treasure forever!
How to get to Stewart Island
Getting to Stewart Island requires a one hour ferry journey or a 15 minute scenic plane ride and it isn't the cheapest place to get to with the ferry costing around $60 one way from Bluff, so a day trip can be costly for a backpacker. However, there are some quaint and reasonably priced Bed & Breakfasts on the Island so make the most of it and stick around for a few days. The walks and beaches are free so why not enjoy them?
New Zealand is full of unique experiences and ever-changing landscapes but Stewart Island tops them all with it's one of a kind blend of rainforest, pristine beaches, diverse marine life and tropical bird paradise. Without fail, Stewart Island is a backpacker must-see destination.